Top Paddock

July 20, 2013

658 Church Street, Richmond
Is it wrong of me to say that I want to marry this hotcake? I’ve never met such an attractive hotcake before. Honestly, there is nothing I want more in this world. Well, besides eat brunch again at Top Paddock, that is …

Top Paddock. You may have heard of it. Heck, my bet is most of you have already been here. Winning Best Cafe of the year in the latest Age Cafe Guide has that effect on a place. I visited a couple of weeks ago with Alex (we cleverly avoided the weekend where it is near impossible to get a seat all morning).

The first thing you’ll notice is that it’s a BIG place, and that it’s nearly always busy. The second thing you’ll notice is that there are plenty of staff all bustling around being efficient and cheerful and all other things good staff should be. Both times I’ve eaten here the staff have been friendly, switched on and informed about the menu and the coffee. The third thing you’ll notice is that everyone looks like they’re having a great time. After reading this post, I’m sure you’ll see why.

The design of the cafe is just beautiful. Unfussy and bright with pale wood tables, black ceilings and a white tiled bar, it’s an uplifting place to spend some time in. You may also notice quirky touches reminiscent of the owner’s days at Three Bags Full, such as the outdoor seats with traffic signs printed on them, or these upside down teacup lights.

You’ll also notice similar design details from their other cafe in South Yarra, the vastly popular Two Birds One Stone, including the molecular-looking chandelier and the floral lights on the back wall feature.

I’m writing this blog post from an Amtrak train, somewhere between Washington D.C. and New York. I should disclose this is a bit of a mammoth post because I’m quite bored – just make yourself a mug of tea or pour another scotch to drink while reading.

Writing about Top Paddock has me thinking about food in general. I love America, but they really don’t have the same cafe culture that Melbourne’s got going. And their coffee is, in general, pretty awful. In order to access any reasonable form of wifi, I’ve been sitting in Starbucks sipping overly sweet iced teas and the occasional black iced coffee. No frappuccino rubbish for me, no sir!

Even worse, there’s not much by way of casual, food-centric cafes either. Lots of chains, sure. Some of them are reasonably good, like a salad bar chain I’ve been eating at most lunchtimes. But most aren’t great, it’s difficult to get fresh vegies into sandwiches and, as my friend H recently said, the words ‘chicken, bacon, blue cheese’ invariably fall under the description of ‘salad’ in a menu. In a nutshell, I miss our cafe culture! Really I do. But I digress.
The coffee at Top Paddock (and I’m almost crying writing about it given how far away I am) is pretty great. I mean, it’s reasonably spectacular. Consistently smooth and nutty. They’ve got an enormous white machine and about four people working it, some pulling coffees, some heating milk, others pouring. They also have a second machine at the back counter, which I think they might fire up for peak hours and use to do takeaways.

I had a very difficult time deciding what to eat – Top Paddock’s menu is one of the best I’ve seen in a long time. I enjoy Mexican food, so why not the grilled snapper with chilli-fried egg, avocado, salsa and blue corn tortilla? Perhaps the interesting sounding pulled pork on rye with prunes and goats curd? But then how about the soft shell Queensland mud crab roll with fennel, dill and lime mayonnaise in a brioche bun, celebrated as one of Melbourne’s best sandwiches in Epicure? What of it? What of it all??

I sat there, genuinely a little bit upset that I couldn’t have all of those things at once, immediately, right now, if you please. I tried to strategise, as I so often do: ‘What are the key dishes here that would be good to write about?’, ‘Is there a foil dish to Alex’s omelette that would provide a clever contrast?’, ‘Is there an obvious popular favourite?’, ‘Which single dish would I kill for?’. None of the usual inquiries yielded any useful answers.

My despondence soon turned to joy though, when I realised that I had the perfect excuse to eat here repeatedly, until I was satisfied that I’d tried a significant portion of the dishes I was most curious about. Here, before I’d even ordered, before I’d even taken a sip of my coffee (at that point they hadn’t yet arrived), I’d already decided I would be back. I already knew I loved it, and the coffee and the food only confirmed this feeling.

Ultimately, I went for the white anchovies and jamon serrano with fried eggs, padron peppers and manchego on toast, and was not disappointed. It was a sensational dish – salty and chewy and briny in all the right ways. As you can see, I pulled and ripped and scraped my way through the plate, devouring every last salty piece of manchego.

Alex decided on an omelette with purple potatoes, padron peppers, brie and chorizo. I immediately braced myself for what would invariably be a boring photo of a yellow semicircle on a white plate, perhaps gussied up with a sprig of parsley or some alfalfa. I am pleased to say that I was proven wrong, as it turns out Top Paddock produces a very attractive omelette!

I mean, for goodness’ sake, I had though that no one could make an omelette look pretty, not even Nigella herself. Because the omelette was sort of deconstructed, all elements could be tasted separately or mingled together in a cheesy, heady mouthful. I stole several mouthfuls of this dish and am well inclined to order it the next time I visit! Loved the purple potato as a point of interest.

Now, please enjoy several beautiful photos of Alex relishing his omelette.

As you can tell, our first visit blew me away, and my poor crazed mind couldn’t think of anything else for hours, and even days, afterwards. Three days later, like some addict, I was back again with N, who was also hugely impressed with the menu, service and general design and management of the place.

I had my usual coffee order, and N was convinced into trying one of the filter coffees, the Ethiopia Hachira, by our very down-to-earth and enthusiastic waitress. I’m not normally a fan of filter coffees as I find them too watery and bitter, but even I thought this was lovely and smooth. It had a beautifully fragrant, almost sweet flavour that was greatly enjoyed.

I went with another fishy dish this time, the gin cured trout with potato galette, beetroot relish, goats curd and poached eggs. I don’t think I enjoyed this dish quite as much as I did the anchovies with manchego, but it was still wonderfully put together. A large piece of perfectly cured trout sat in the middle of the plate, surrounded by everything else, including a ridiculous amount of goats curd. The trout was the clear star here – pink and glistening and mighty tasty.

How beautiful does the trout skin look, here, puckered and glistening in the sun?

Like me, N had a difficult time choosing what to eat. After being assured by me that the two of us will definitely be eating here again to try other things, he decided on the ricotta hotcakes with blueberries, maple, seeds and organic mascarpone. According to our waitress, Megan Gale ate here a few weeks ago and ‘devoured’ a plate of these. Kudos to the woman who can devour a plate of these and look that good. Kudos to you.

Reservations about the veracity of the Megan Gale story aside, this turned out to be a sublime rendition of a cafe stalwart. The batter is made fresh to order and one pancake rises into a fluffy, golden, buttery mound, before being decorated with fruit, seeds and micro herbs. Just beautiful.

I’m feeling like a broken record here but I will be hard pressed not to order the hotcakes the next time I’m at Top Paddock! Basically, this place is good. No, it’s great. And you’re a fool if the prospect of crowds or a queue at the weekend puts you off. Be smart about it and pick a weekday, or don’t go at peak times. Those hotcakes will be waiting!

Top Paddock on Urbanspoon

Filed under: Brunch, Coffee, FAVOURITES, Richmond