It is difficult to do justice to this venue in words. It may be the epitome of what a next generation cafe looks like. This is without doubt, one of the most beautiful converted and renovated buildings I’ve ever seen.
To have a place like Higher Ground in our incredible city is a testament to the rise, and rise, of Melbourne as a dining destination. Indeed this would be a difficult undertaking, even in the world’s busiest cities. To go ahead with a project such as this, you need the funds, but much more importantly, the overt confidence, to know you can execute in gusto.
The owners and connections of Higher Ground have built up the funds and confidence for this ultimate of dining projects over a long period of time. High ceilings, several open mezzanine levels, arch windows, sleek lounges, and modern furnishings, show extreme attention to detail. Even after the hour long wait, and the time spent perusing the menu while sipping my first coffee, I couldn’t get over the architecture which needs to be seen to be believed.
The Square One coffee being used is roasted only a couple of streets away from where I live, and it is excellent, with two single origins from Kenya being offered today. I try them both, but the decision on what to eat is not as straightforward. We came for breakfast but it is well and truly lunchtime, and we have been up and about shopping for a couple of hours, building up an appetite in the process.
Catherine narrowed her choice down to either the mushroom and polenta dish, or the slow cooked beans. Unfortunately she chose the latter which needs some work. Under a generous serve of perfectly poached eggs sits too few beans, dominated by the green sauce which lacks seasoning. The main question mark is what the slow cooked beans have been cooked in, because on their own they lack flavour too. Neither of the star ingredients have impact.
My dish on the other hand is up to the standards of sister cafe, Top Paddock. While I’ll definitely be back for the wagyu short rib roll which looks fantastic, I went out on a limb to try the lamb sausage roll. For $20 you expect something out of the box, and this one delivers flavour in spades. The lamb mince is rich, the pastry is delightful, and the anchovy and garlic sauce adds the usual softness. This is a well thought out dish, with the pickled cucumber working beautifully, adding acidity to cut through some of the richness, whether in the same bite, or separately.
On the whole I thought service was reasonable, considering this was the first Saturday the cafe had been open, but I expect some natural improvement. One thing I did notice is the staff knowing a customer on our communal table and that seemed to translate to their order coming far quicker than anyone else. It’s fine to have a network, but I suggest offering special people their own table so our thirty minute wait (after happily waiting in line for an hour) isn’t even harder watching the newcomers get served first having ordered long after us!
You can tell that as Higher Ground settles into its groove that this will become a flagship cafe, with a must-go reputation for locals and tourists. Perhaps it will be mentioned in the same breath as Cookie Rooftop, Supper Club, or Chin Chin one day? There is reason to be incredibly excited. Places that set the scene like Higher Ground are why I live here.