Rokeby Street. It’s a weird place. Between the truck docking stations and drab factory frontages you’ll see the odd, heavily guarded warehouse where women roll up in chauffeured vehicles for exclusive fashion viewings. But it's the smell of soda bread fresh from the oven that's drawing us here of late.
Follow your nose and you’ll find yourself face to face with the neon signage of Lemon, Middle and Orange: a chirpy yellow bird with an olive branch in its beak. Tucked behind a perforated metal awning, this new café is a looker, for which you can thank John Wardle Architects (housed above) along with Spacecraft Studios (housed next door) and Projects of Imagination who were responsible for the paint-factory-to-café conversion.
Chef Sam Morris has bashed the pans at trashy-burgers-meet-refined-salads joint Rockwell & Sons and the Auction Rooms – the North Melbourne café where you can get confit duck leg for breakfast – and he’s taken to his new role with a vengeance.
Lemon’s signature dish stars plum-cured house-smoked salmon. Thick fillets of smoky-sweet salmon flank poached eggs, delicate fingerling potato latkes and fine ribbons of fennel laced with horseradish crème fraiche.
Or there’s the nest of curly pea tendrils, beans, peas, crisp pancetta slivers and sourdough croutons turned into a self-saucing salad as the pale yolk of a poached duck egg breaks and mingles in. There are also daily croquettes (perhaps red capsicum, basil and parmesan) that make for a calorific morning with the crisp, golden orbs encasing a molten flow of cheese.
It’s too hot when we visit for the black pudding served with colcannon (creamy potato and cabbage mash - pride of Ireland) and some slabs of dense, house-baked soda bread, but we’re coming back for that – a hat tip to owners Margaret Lawless and Liam Ganley’s Irish heritage.
Prepare for an onslaught at midday. A myriad of customers flock through the doors, from hi-vis vested workers to bespectacled architects. The sandwiches are a no-brainer, particularly the confit chicken ciabatta that comes with a cavalcade of apple slaw, pickled celery, and onion/raisin relish.