Some meals are intrinsically linked to the identity of the place in which they’re eaten. For Melbourne, that meal is breakfast. Far from a basic kickstart to the day’s activities, in Melbourne, breakfast is the day’s activity, stretching from midmorning until well into the afternoon. Cafes open their doors early and keep the egg poachers simmering all day, offering the opportunity to commune over coffee and avocado toast until thoughts turn to dinner plans. The first meal of the day is taken extremely seriously, presenting a compelling argument for Melbourne as the best breakfast city in the world. Best of all, this is no isolated phenomenon relegated to a corner of the city or specific time of day; in Melbourne, there’s a great breakfast to be had anywhere, any time.
Of course, the notion of the all-day breakfast exists outside of Melbourne — it’s a core tenet of the American diner, after all — but thanks to Australia’s broad immigrant base and its proximity to Asia, few cities can claim to offer breakfast with the same levels of culinary diversity. There’s barely a cuisine Melbourne’s breakfast obsession hasn’t enveloped: French, Greek, Italian, Sri Lankan, Cambodian, Japanese; breakfast in Melbourne is a culinary passport-stamping experience. And as diverse, innovative, and storied as Melbourne’s daytime culinary landscape might be, breakfast around here isn’t just about food. Getting a great latte, flat white, or cappuccino is a primary factor in choosing a venue, and a reputation for substandard coffee puts cafes out of business.
The origins of Melbourne’s contemporary cafe culture can be traced back to the now-iconic Pellegrini’s on Bourke Street, where the Pellegrini brothers began pulling shots from what’s said to be the city’s first espresso machine in 1954. The coffee boom quickly expanded to the inner suburbs, boosted by an influx of postwar immigrants from Italy in neighborhoods like Carlton and Fitzroy. They demanded — and subsequently supplied — the roasted, freshly ground beans and expertly steamed milk they had grown accustomed to at home. In the ensuing decades, Italian expats opened cafes across the city, particularly concentrated along Carlton’s Lygon Street, serving shots of espresso along with biscotti and cake. In the process, family names like Brunetti became venerated institutions. (The Brunetti cafe, opened in 1974, has grown into an expansive multilocation operation.)
But breakfast continued to be eaten at home, the typical spread broadly inspired by British traditions of fried eggs, bacon, porridge, and toast. It wasn’t until the early 1980s that Melbourne’s cafe culture expanded beyond coffee to include significant dining opportunities, with ready-to-eat sandwiches (often served on Italian breads like focaccia) and premixed salads. Soon, the local neighborhood cafe became known for its reliable, if uninspiring, all-day food offerings.
In 1982, the Black Cat Café on Fitzroy’s colorful Brunswick Street set the mold for cafes as community hubs in which the growing local population of students and self-ascribed bohemians could spend great swaths of their day. In 1986, fine-dining waiters Mario De Pasquale and Mario Maccarone (who had previously worked at Black Cat) opened the doors to Marios just down the street, serving all-day-breakfast, Italian food, and, of course, coffee. For many, these cafes and others like them became ersatz living rooms, as accommodating to lone diners wielding Kurt Vonnegut novels as they were to more social meetups.
By the mid-1990s, meeting friends for breakfast had become the new meeting friends for lunch, urging cafes to break free of the classic morning fare — muesli, toast, banana bread — that merely replicated what people could throw together at home. So relentless was the popularity of places like Degraves Espresso Bar throughout the entire day that breakfast service continued beyond the morning hours. An afternoon of bacon, eggs, coffee, and (for those looking to lean a little further back into the cafe’s vintage cinema seats) sangria was an indulgence Melbourne could now facilitate.
The arrival of the new millennium’s second decade brought with it the dawn of the destination breakfast. In 2010, Duchess of Spotswood opened in Melbourne’s western suburbs, and soon the cafe’s unique British-inspired breakfasts, showcasing house-smoked salmon, grilled ox tongue, local freshwater crayfish, and blood sausage, garnered such positive reviews that even those in the far-eastern suburbs would carpool to this new western frontier. The fervor inspired other restaurants to launch creative menus that catered to this eager new market of nomadic breakfasters, those prepared to make a special trip for a noteworthy crayfish omelet or cacio e pepe-inspired scrambled eggs.
That timing happened to coincide with the rise of Instagram, which meant breakfast was no longer just the most important meal of the day, but an important content opportunity. As food snaps began to fill feeds and the influencer gained sway, chefs began crafting dishes designed, above all, to be photogenic. Eggs on toast gave way to stacks of hotcakes dressed with freeze-dried fruit powders and edible flowers.
Today, no matter which part of the city’s sprawling suburbia you find yourself in, there’s a cafe quite literally around the corner ready to fuel you with a memorable morning meal. Take a rattling tram journey into one of the inner suburbs on a Saturday or Sunday morning, or a stroll through whichever part of Melbourne you find yourself in, and you’ll spot clusters of crowds gathered every few yards, waiting for an in-demand table or emerging satisfied and caffeinated into the sun.
In the heart of the city, where Pellegrini’s nears its seventieth anniversary and Degraves Espresso continues to draw crowds, the old guard keeps a watchful eye over the new, with breakfasters amassing for the city’s mature culinary institutions as much as for the newcomers. As in any thriving culinary landscape, it’s an important mix that keeps innovators grounded and encourages the stalwarts to innovate, resulting in a thrilling perpetual state of evolution.
Whether you’re looking for a hearty, classic breakfast, or something at the cutting edge of culinary innovation, Melbourne’s breakfast scene has you covered. And while the choices might be overwhelming, with new contenders for “best coffee” or “most creative avocado toast” sprouting almost every week, relax: In Melbourne, when it comes to breakfast, you’ve got all day. Here are the cafes that define Melbourne breakfast culture.
Degraves Espresso Bar
Spilling out into one of the busiest laneways in a city renowned for its busy laneways, Degraves Espresso has been serving excellent coffee and uncomplicated food in a vaguely Montmartre-esque atmosphere for decades. Tuck into a pan of Spanish baked eggs or a couple of poached eggs on toast in the shadow of the city’s tall buildings while you watch the suits hustle to and from meetings.
Degraves Espresso Bar 23-25 Degraves St., Melbourne; no website
In lively Flinders Lane, Cumulus Inc. has endured many winters and survived many temporary fads. (Remember when we put matcha on and in everything?) The 11-year-old “all day eating house,” which celebrates local produce throughout its eclectic menu — put together by executive chef (and Melbourne restaurant empire-builder) Andrew McConnell — is as popular as it ever was.
Cumulus Inc, 45 Flinders Ln., Melbourne
A Fitzroy institution for over 30 years, Marios continues to serve its unadulterated, comfortingly homely style of breakfast fare (eggs Benedict, French toast, cheese omelets) until 5 p.m., when it transitions into a buzzy trattoria. The mostly local wine list is an all-day offering, making a pre-lunch pinot grigio an option, if not a necessity.
Marios 303 Brunswick St., Fitzroy
Opened in 1982 by Henry Maas and Brian and Toni Edwards, Black Cat was a key player in Fitzroy’s establishment as the heart of Melbourne’s cafe scene. Rather than innovating its food offerings, the Brunswick Street cafe focused its efforts on building a strong local community; the cafe’s importance is such that, after the contents were auctioned in 2001, a Black Cat Café collection was donated to Museums Victoria. These days, under different ownership, its interests lie more in craft beers and cocktails served to a local DJ’s soundtrack, but it remains a comfortable place to grab a coffee after 11 a.m.
Black Cat 252 Brunswick St., Fitzroy
A pioneer in Melbourne’s chapter of the Third Wave coffee movement — wherein coffee is treated as an artisan product, encouraging a wine-like focus on regionality, production techniques, and delivery — St. Ali started its life as a small roaster and cafe in South Melbourne in 2005. Founded by Mark Dundon, known as “the godfather of Melbourne coffee,” the cafe is named after the 14th-century Sufi saint credited with introducing coffee to Arabia. Today, its breakfast remains one of the city’s best, and the diverse range of roasted coffee beans has spread across the city.
St. Ali 12-18 Yarra Pl., South Melbourne
Named for the auction house that once occupied this spacious, light-filled building, this North Melbourne establishment has spent over a decade satisfying breakfast seekers with a neat menu that’s not afraid to combine diverse flavors, like miso, sumac, and haloumi, in a single comforting dish.
Auction Rooms 103-107 Errol St., North Melbourne
Since 2009, this cafe, named after the Creedence Clearwater Revival classic, has seen to the coffee and breakfast needs of those in the inner northeast, inducing food comas with inventive twists on classics like breaded bacon terrine, scrambled eggs with brioche, and potato hash with creamy, anchovy-spiked bagna cauda.
Proud Mary 172 Oxford St, Collingwood
Archie’s All Day
This is the crowd favorite in Fitzroy, with an inventive menu riffing on breakfast standards. It’s a tidy representation of not only the city’s playful attitude to classics — why settle for a simple bacon-and-egg roll when you could have a brioche roll stuffed with scrambled eggs, chile, and bacon? — but also the broad influences that define Australia’s modern cuisine. Charred broccoli with preserved lemon, labneh, and haloumi? Check. Kimchi-spiked poached eggs with edamame? Yep. Fried chicken and waffles washed down with a tequila-and-chipotle-spiked Dirty Mary? Yessir.
Archie’s All Day 189 Gertrude St., Fitzroy
Only 15 steps away from Archie’s, Arcadia offers a fine alternative for those who don’t care to queue. The unpretentious, modestly furnished cafe keeps things simple and seasonal. Dishes like the corn fritter, smoked salmon, and poached egg stack and the rosemary and garlic potato rosti on light rye toast celebrate ingredients over innovation.
Arcadia 193 Gertrude St., Fitzroy; no website
The enormous dining room here hasn’t inhibited Higher Ground’s ability to fill every seat and leave a queue waiting. Promoted as “not quite a cafe, not quite a restaurant,” the cold, exposed brick walls of this former power station’s interior are interrupted by giant windows, shelves of thriving indoor plants, and plates of hearty-yet-modern food. The two menus are broken simply into “day” and “night,” the former blending modern takes on breakfast and lunch dishes without distinction. Got a 9 a.m. craving for a slow-cooked steak with parsnip puree while your partner fancies a bowl of walnut granola with buffalo yogurt? Join the queue. The founders handed over the keys to new owners in 2018, but Higher Ground remains one of the city’s most popular breakfast stops.
Higher Ground 650 Little Bourke St., Melbourne
Built from a collection of shipping containers arranged on a vacant lot, Rudimentary seemed to emerge fully formed and into immediate renown in 2015. Herb and flower garnishes for the cafe’s breakfast congee, crumpets, and porridge are plucked from the on-site garden, where bees dutifully attend to their work as diners take post-breakfast strolls around the compact but picturesque grounds. Prior to Rudimentary’s opening, Footscray had long been overlooked by many Melbournians, attracting only those seeking budget Vietnamese or Thai. But the emergence of a handful of noteworthy cafes has created culinary momentum in the area, leading to the opening of a wealth of new bars and restaurants.
Rudimentary 16-20 Leeds St., Footscray
THE CULINARY INNOVATORS
With a menu of traditional Thai dishes, Oneyada might seem more suited to later dining, but in a city where breakfast defies definition or restriction, they’re welcome additions to the morning table. Satisfy your egg requirements with a hearty plate of kai gra ta (baked eggs with Chinese sausage), a warming dish of kai toon tom yum (steamed egg custard with a tom yum broth), or have them scrambled through the diner’s signature dish: the breakfast fried rice — served with or without gai tod (Thai fried chicken).
Oneyada 239 Victoria St., Abbotsford; no website
This Fitzroy cafe takes a modernist approach to breakfast, coffee included. Its menu is scattered with references to foams, gels, and edible soils, and the cafe takes a similarly scientific approach to coffee processing and brewing techniques in pursuit of that perfect cup, extracted before your eyes from a seemingly space-age, digitized Modbar espresso machine.
Industry Beans 3/62 Rose St., Fitzroy
Located in Carlton North, Babajan in many ways summarizes the contemporary state of Melbourne’s cafe culture, particularly in terms of its broad influences. Founded in 2016 by two chefs, Ismail Tosun and Kirsty Chiaplias, the former born in Turkey and the latter in Australia, the cafe presents comforting, familiar dishes with Middle Eastern flair from unlikely ingredients. With options like the toasted eggplant, Aleppo pepper, and Turkish Cheese jaffle (a sealed, toasted sandwich beloved across Australia) topped with fried eggs, sumac, and fermented chile, the edict here isn’t to revolutionize breakfast, but to explore the thrilling potential of a country so open to new flavors.
Babajan 713 Nicholson St., Carlton North
Tristan Lutze is a food and travel writer and photographer from Melbourne, Australia, now living in Sydney. He is a regular contributor to publications such as Gourmet Traveller, Broadsheet, Delicious ,and Qantas Magazine, as well as writing and photographing recipes for a range of companies.
Jez Hunghanfoo is a communications professional and photographer in Melbourne.
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