Special Dispatch: European, Melbourne, Australia
161 Spring St
+61 3 9654 0811
by Rhys Chris Peese
It is an article of faith Down Under that whereas Sydney is like an American city, Melbourne is like a European one. The café / restaurant European seems dedicated to proving this point. With its dark panelled walls, bent wood chairs, and crisp linen, it’s more like Europe than Europe itself. It’s almost too good to be true. Sophisticated, glamorous, dusky waitresses, dressed in black, glide across the check floor, promising such treats as pikelets, homemade baked beans with ham hock, and Huevos Madrileños – baked eggs with black pudding and chorizo to the uninitiated.
With the aroma of darkly-roasted coffee in my nose, and a continental disregard for bacon in my soul, I plumped for the roast mushrooms with wilted spinach and marinated feta. Served on toast with red pepper, this was a simple, perfect balance of flavour and texture; a balsamic sweetness in the mushrooms cut through with the mineral notes in the spinach. One of my companions enjoyed crumpets with jam, the other, Eggs Benedict; creamy Hollandaise slathered over perfectly poached eggs, a generous quantity of artisanal ham, and a heavy muffin. Tea was loose-leaf, and true to Europe, not strong enough for our British palates. The whole spread came to around AS$60, which felt reasonable despite the exchange rate. The British, moaning about the exchange rate on the continent? That’s what Europe is for.
European is an expressionist dream of a lost Europe of the nineteen twenties; Baltic formality meeting an Italian love of simple food cooked well, tucked away in a darkened Budapest alley, all in the bright sunlight of the Antipodes. As we strolled out to face the day, did I see Tristan Tzara sat in a corner, sipping absinthe, and discussing the AFL? I think I did.