Pope Joan is my favourite café in Melbourne.
An old friend, when it comes to the Pope, there have been many great times, many good times, and some rough patches in between. Sometimes making up can be part of the fun!
I have been here to grab a quick “Pope Joan”, a fancy bacon and egg roll with HP sauce, even taking it away once. I have been here to sit around doing the form for Melbourne Cup day for hours, eating breakfast and dessert (the rice pudding is particularly good, especially when mangoes are fresh, but the rhubarb and blueberry are great too), and sipping up to four cups of their standard (read – good quality but not fancy) long black from All Press. Today my wife, Catherine, and I are doing the “usual” of having some breakfast and a couple of coffees.
I am biased towards the Pope because I have been here over 30 times, driving from Richmond no less, and it has only let me down a couple times. Every other time there is something that delivers that extra 10%. One of the let downs is a funny story. [You can skip down to the review if having a quick read!]
Having waited the usual 5-20 minutes for a table, we waited a further 30 odd minutes for coffees which came just after our breakfast. I think this was because the new wing (Bishop of Ostia) had just opened and their timing was out with another 20-30 seats available. In any case, I could live with this. However, Catherine tried a new dish, which at other places you might stay away from but the hit rate at the Pope is exceptional so she took a stab. It didn’t turn out well. On being asked at the counter as we paid, in a bit of a mood over the coffee wait, and the oddity of the dish (it was croquettes with a creamy sauce, some leaves and I think some beetroot (apologies but this is over 2 years ago)), she replied “it was average”. The unusual comment was met with a look by the chef at the time (I actually think it was Wilkinson himself) and a glance down at more of these dishes going out. Anyway, the reason the story is funny is because a week later we returned and the dish was so refined it was practically a new dish that didn’t contain such a jumble of flavours and textures and by all accounts was now delicious!
Today I decided to have the “Kinda Full English Breakfast” ($21). I am not a huge eater so this is my kind of full breakfast. One piece of toast, a couple of fried eggs, amazing bacon smoked next door (Pope also owns “Bacons and Hams” which you can get a takeaway or wait coffee from), an apple & cider sausage, and their amazing baked beans. Every aspect is as it should be, and every item on the plate has something better about it. It’s a case of one-upmanship ingredient by ingredient.
While I love the rolls, and dishes that are often on the menu from time to time like the crab omelette, my favourite dish is the golden egg (crumbed egg perfectly cooked) with their homemade black pudding (which is less offally than normal, with a great amount of spice). Watch out for it!
As we finished, I couldn’t help but make sure Catherine’s rice pudding (this time with blueberries) was as good as ever and following a couple of coffees we were on our way. Another great experience at a very comfortable place doing the best café food in Melbourne.
Pope Joan Post Script
Yet another visit to Pope Joan revealed some new dishes on their menu. Having always been a big fan of the “golden egg” I was persuaded towards the salmon pastrami dish. As breakfast is more and more often becoming as gastronomically competitive as dinner, it was not surprising how beautifully presented this dish was. Everything on the plate worked beautifully together and calling the star “salmon pastrami” was justified as it had the constant reminder of classic pastrami through the depth of spice used. The only letdown was the golden egg which had been slightly overcooked meaning the normally runny goodness of the yolk was not able to combine with the other ingredients to add that extra burst. Definitely worth ordering though.