Head out Brunswick or Carlton way and you would likely expect to come across all things Italian (Underbelly anyone?). Nestled just off Lygon Street however, is a café of a different European persuasion; The French Milk Bar.
Run by restaurateurs Anthony Humphries and Lisa Malaspina, the small cafe is light and cheery – much like the service. With large front windows, white tiled walls and hanging glass lights, it follows the design formula of many modern cafes. Yet take a look at the counter with an array of delectable pastries, tarts, fresh bread and shelves lined with jars of jams, chutneys and pasta sauces and you are instantly transported to a little French bouchon. Ooh la la!
The premise behind the cafe is simple; everything is made in house – so you know the food will always be fresh and tasty. The obvious things (and let’s face it, the things that catch my eye first) are the tarts and pastries arranged on the front counter, calling to you as soon as you walk through the door. There’s a miniature army of infused vinegars in little rounded bottles, and homemade jams and chutneys in a whole range of delicious flavours. We couldn’t resist taking home a couple of goodies – the hard part was deciding what.
Anthony happily talked us through the menu, which will change according to what produce is available and seasonal. The menu is relatively small, but has a good selection on offer.
But first, coffee. And coffee wouldn’t quite be complete without a sneaky side of homemade biscotti. We were given some bread and butter to nibble on while we waited for food, and it was soft and fluffy like only freshly baked bread can be. Next we got a mini taster of the classic Marseille Fish Soup ($19). It ‘s the perfect warmer for cold Melbourne days, rich and creamy, with the fish flavour coming through on the aftertaste.
Their signature dish is the Charcuterie Plate ($25) which has a selection of duck prosciutto, pate, black pudding, rillette and terrine. Anthony very kindly also makes us a taster of the Salmon Gravalax with Celeriac Remoulade ($17) which is available as a light meal. The celeriac remoulade is rolled up in the shaved salmon and served on crisp bread, giving a contrasting texture and fresh feel.
The savoury pate is topped with crab apple jelly, a surprisingly tasty combination. The duck prosciutto is fatty but rich in flavour, and even though I psyched myself out a little with thoughts of pig blood over the black pudding, it is quite pleasant in taste. On the side there is also an olive tapenade and a super tasty nectarine and ginger chutney that goes down very well smeared on the bread or crisp bread.
While it may not look like a large amount of food, it is fairly rich, flavoursome, and clearly high quality. This, paired with the generous supply of bread that continues to our table, is enough to satisfy. Of course, there is still room for dessert. We went for a classic Creme Brûlée ($10) and the Chocolate Praline Tart ($9) that had been screaming at me from the counter since we walked in.
The tart is super rich with a strong cocoa taste and crispy base, and is combined with a light vanilla bean cream to pour over. The Creme Brûlée is a satisfying combination of the cracking toffee layer and light, airy, vanilla-bean custard.
There is nothing better than fresh food made from scratch, and in the case of The French Milk Bar, you can certainly taste the difference. I’d definitely recommend stepping off Lygon Street and into the little Parisian haven of good food and friendly service – you won’t be disappointed.
The French Milk Bar 153 Weston Street, Brunswick VIC Phone: (03) 9079 6496 Web: www.thefrenchmilkbar.com.au
I Ate My Way Through dined as guests of The French Milk Bar