DOC Espresso

June 16, 2011

362 Lygon Street, Carlton
It was noon on a chilly Tuesday afternoon in May, and Carlton Espresso was pleasantly busy. Busy, casual, Italian, coffee oriented, good food – this place is Carlton in a nutshell. My parents often speak about the “old” Lygon Street (they went to Melbourne University too, back in the day), and regret that it seems to have turned into another mediocre shopping strip with high street fashion (yes Country Road, Witchery and FCUK, I’m talking to you), and largely unimpressive restaurants on offer. In some respect I agree with them, but I’m also hoping that a new era is arriving, and Carlton Espresso is what I want the new Lygon to be like.
As I stepped up to the counter to order my coffee my eyes caught on an attractive wooden display case offering the most delicious looking morsels. I liked the look of the pistachio biscotti, and the raspberry friands, but decided on a pear and rhubarb tart, because I can rarely go past rhubarb. Under the cafe lights it almost twinkled. There was a lovely nutty (pistachio?) sponge at the bottom, and of course the punchy flavour of rhubarb.
Soon my coffee arrived. Oh yeah, that’s good. That’s really good. Like, 7 Seeds good. Very strong (classic Italian characteristic), aromatic, perfect temperature and a silky smooth froth. As I sipped my latte I perused the menu, which offered up an appealing assortment of pastas, foccacias and piadinas, including one with speck (smoked prosciutto), porcini mushrooms, rocket + truffle oil, and another with salami, sicilian vegetable caponata and cavelo nero (a bitter Italian cabbage, tastes fantastic sauteed with garlic and chili). On the breakfast side I also liked the sound of the Zuppa di Latte, “an old school bowl of coffee and milk with biscotti” – definitely going to try that one morning before an economics lecture.
I was there with R and H, who had a latte and a mocha respectively, and H also bought himself a Kinder Surprise. The two of us begged him for the prize and as he munched on the milky-chocolate goodness we sprung open the little case (note they have a safety latch now – and I thought half the fun was sending all the bits flying everywhere and having to crawl around on your hands and knees to pick up the scattered pieces!), and began assessing the task at hand.
While this was going on, the chef pulled out a massive tray of freshly cooked lasagna, and H went and got himself a plate, as did T when she arrived a few moments later. With T came C, who chose a piadina with prosciutto, buffalo mozzarella and rocket. The lasagna smelt amazing, H and T both agreed it was fluffly and light, with well cooked pasta and a tomato sugo that wasn’t overpowering. Said H, “perhaps a little on the cheesy side, but the cheese is so delightful I don’t mind. I just wish there were, like, 8x more, size wise”. Typical man. Delightful cheese, what a wonderful thought.
Hunger sated, we set ourselves to work constructing the miniature piano within the kinder surprise. I loved these as a kid, and it was fun to relive it, fiddling around with the tiny pieces, sticking your tongue out in concentration while attaching the stickers, staring uncomprehending at the instructions, and trying to read them in French or Spanish to see if it gave you any clues. The end result; a piano with a keyboard the size of two of my fingernails – the picture below is R holding it steady as I press down on the keys to reveal a little note-bug, dutifully singing.

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Filed under: Carlton, Coffee, Italian