Hide and seek in Melbourne's sweet streets

Quirky flourishes like ground-level street art, Spanish sweets and 19th century tailor's suits are mainstream in Melbourne's hidden laneway cafe culture.

Australia's favourite food blogger, Not Quite Nigella, aka Lorraine Elliott is tickled by the genteel masculinity of Melbourne's laneways cafes.

I think that Melbourne has just got to hold the record for quirkiest shop/cafe/restaurant names per capita. Allow me to explain with this list of eatery names:

Naked for Satan, Pope Joan, Dr Jekyll, Coin Laundry, Omar and the Marvellous Coffee Bird, Dead Man Espresso, Friends of Mine, ESC, Mr Tulk, Three Bags Full, Huxtable, Proud Mary, Hardware Societe and Captains of Industry among many others.

When people in a city offer to show me their city, I am delighted. Especially when they want to take me to somewhere that I’ve been dying to visit for the longest time. Tim (a travel writer) and his wife Narelle (a vampire novel writer) offered to show us some of Melbourne’s famous blue stone edged laneways and share brunch at the Hardware Societe in Hardware Lane. We arrive and it is buzzing and full. There is a ten minute wait so we walk around the corner and they show us various laneways and other cafes of note.

Melbourne’s eateries, stores and galleries have quite a collection of quirky names and we particularly like this laneway with galleries to each side. Narelle points out the "cut here” scissors along the centre of the lane. In Melbourne these laneway places are where small but driven shopkeepers, chefs and restaurateurs open up and flourish as the slightly hidden locations allow them a chance to survive paying less rent than a main street location. Before you know it, a place becomes a cult place and as Tim tells us "Melburnians like to discover secret laneway places, the places on the main street are for tourists”.

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Before we know it, the ten minutes are up and we head back to the Hardware Societe where we take a seat at the end of a communal table. We receive our copy of the menu and two words pop out at me: Fried. Brioche. Holy heavens, yes please. My order decided, Mr NQN orders the Spanish milk rice and Tim and Narelle order different things. "We order different things, is that how it goes?” Tim asks – words to my ears! Narelle explains that she is used to waiting for him to take photographs, so we have lucked out as far as Melbourne guides are concerned. The menu is a mix of French and Spanish influenced dishes and there are displays of Spanish and French sweets on the counter.

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...Our laneway adventures didn’t stop there. Tim shows us a nearby cafe called Captains of Industry which was originally set up as a cooperative with a tailor, cobbler and barber who operated independent businesses out of the same location. They started up a cafe called Captains of Industry and up some stairs which look like they don’t promise much, is a lovely cafe full of what Narelle calls "genteel masculinity” crossed with a slight grunge factor to it. We are stuffed from our brunch but we feel compelled to stay for a coffee.

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