156 Pakington Street, Kew
Good grief I love Ora.Ora Cafe is the newest addition to the Eastern-suburbs’ slew of cafes, and a very welcome addition to Kew. Champion barista John Vroom, who’s worked at Liar Liar and Auction Rooms, and recently came runner up in The Australian Siphon Championship, has opened the place with his partner Stephanie Manolas (who used to work at The Grand), joining forces with chef David Masters from the Commoner. All the credentials are there, so it’s no surprise everything comes together so nicely.Siting in the quaint Willsmere Village, Ora is a coffee-focused cafe that, I have discovered over multiple visits, also has great food and a vibe that is bang-on what customers want. Casual and friendly service, fresh and seasonal food and freaking excellent coffee. Win.
The room is small, the fit-out is simple and shiny, but the focus here is on the coffee and on the food. Pleasant wooden tables are glowing in plenty of natural light during my first visit, and the coffee machine and filter bar take up one corner of the room.
Specials are written up on a blackboard with daily single origins, filters and the warming house blend . Food specials include a soup, a salad, and a “mini”, a brilliant morsel of an idea for only $5. The day I went it was lamb, mint yoghurt and rocket on a mini roll.
On my first visit, I went for brunch with A. Mid-morning on a Saturday and the place was buzzing, but we managed to get two window seats. Perched on high stools, we sipped our coffees. Holy hell I love a good coffee.
My magic (double ristretto 3/4 flat white, beans from Proud Mary) was faultless, a slight bitterness to the crema, wonderfully soft body with chocolate tones and heated to just the right temperature. I struggled not to order another.
Masters’ menu is thrillingly adventurous, and A and I had a difficult time choosing what to get. Breakfast regulars are there, but so are a number of newbies. A eventually chose the pancake with roast hazelnut, pear puree, blueberries and milk ice. The milk ice was a sorbet that cut through the sweetness of the pear. A said he really enjoyed it and liked the pear puree and the crunch from the hazelnuts, but sadly said the milk ice melted too fast and made the pancake soggy. I do like the presentation.
When I read “fried duck egg” on the menu, I just couldn’t pass it over. Here is my fried duck egg with black pudding, breakfast radish and parsley salad. Ahhhhh, SUCH a brilliant, brilliant dish. Obviously quite meaty, I wouldn’t recommend it for someone who would struggle with the deep taste of black pudding, especially in the morning.
However, it being 11:30am, I found this to be a fantastic and filling brunch. I particularly loved the strength of flavour from the black pudding (courtesy of The Melbourne Pantry Co.) and the duck egg (which is slightly bigger than a chicken’s egg). The radish and herbs provided the perfect contrast of freshness.
I’d only been here half an hour but could already see myself coming back. It’s great to see a cafe owned and run by a group of young people who have a clear passion for good coffee and good food.
Ora has managed, I believe, to bridge the often-seen gap between the owner and front of house manager. The owners here have a good sense of what people want from a suburban cafe (testament to the fact that the owners also run the front of house, instead of just contributing capital), and I have excellent faith in their ability to deliver.
The next week I returned alone, intending to try their smoked trout with soft boiled egg and avocado dish, but my eye was caught by the special salad of the day: beetroot, fresh goats curd, pine nuts and fennel.
When it arrived I was blown away by the presentation, completely taken with the purple tumble of squares and rectangles and triangles of beetroot. Beetroot geometry. Am still somewhat reeling at the standard of food at good cafes in Melbourne these days. Honestly, this looks like it belongs in a restaurant in the CBD. Presentation gets a massive tick, and so does taste.
The beetroot cubes were lovely and sweet and counterbalanced by the tangy goats curd, but my favourite element was the surprisingly nutty beetroot puree. The addition of pine nuts finished the dish off perfectly.
I returned again to Ora (yes, again), this time with A and C in tow, again for lunch. Feeling brave, I decided to try my first filter coffee; the waitress recommended a Kenyan ichimara (I hope I spelt that correctly) from Market Lane, $8. It was, surprisingly, quite lovely. Filter has a completely different taste to a milky coffee, and it’s easier to pick up on the different sharp/sour and warm notes in the coffee.
C ordered a simple but delicious looking breakfast of scrambled eggs and bacon, which was pleasantly pink. He said the scrambles were very good.
A ordered the duck egg, since he was jealous of mine the last time we’d visited. I ordered the special sandwich of the day, the hot roast pork roll with coleslaw and green pepper sauce. This was fan-bloody-tastic, full of spice and tang. The bread was great as well, a crunchy crust with a super-soft interior. I’m really getting into pork-based sandwhiches these days, what with the awesome pulled pork at Taste of Melbourne and then the pork belly at Proud Mary.
I bet you all thought that third visit was my last – oh how wrong you are! I came back to Ora AGAIN, this time with A, a friend of mine from school, for lunch and roughly four cups of coffee. I had two magics, one of which was made a single origin at the whim of the barista (sweeeet) – the El Salvador. Such a brilliant coffee, the crema was almost lemony.
I’d just like to illustrate again how nice the staff are here. I arrived early and there weren’t any tables open, but they were very apologetic about it and offered me a coffee while I waited on the bench outside. Five minutes later I was told to “get ready for the ride of your life, because a table’s just opened up”. Polite and funny! So I sat sipping my first magic and people watching.
I did think it was funny how all of the women in the cafe who were over 40 had exactly the same hair colour, length and style. Straight, silver blonde, shoulder-length. Welcome to Kew, where the coffee is good and everyone appears to go to the same monopolist hairdresser.
The past three times I’d been, I’d eyed the Woodbridge smoked trout on the menu. It’s served with a torn soft boiled egg (although I actually got three halves), avocado and herb salad. I’d never had eggs done this way before, but I’m already a fan. That gelatinous yolk, sitting coddled like softened butter in the torn half of white, was a real sight for the eyes.
The Woodbridge trout was such a standout – apparently they use it at Attica. I loved the freshness of this dish, what with the light slithers of trout and the green bundle of parsley, mint and dill sitting on top.
This last visit was the first time I noticed the word “Spring” on the top of the menu. While I’ll be sad if they get rid of the duck egg or the trout, I’m also excited to see what David Masters has in mind for the next season.
My feelings about this cafe are akin to a desperate girl falling upon her boyfriend, half screaming, half sobbing “Thank God you’re here!! My life before you was a miserable sort of half-existence!!!” But I have my dignity so I’m not going to express that. But I will say that I am extremely pleased at having such an all-round brilliant cafe opening up in my general area. Thank you, Ora, you came at just the right time*.
*(“ora” is latin for “hour”)