650 Little Bourke St
Melbourne, VIC 3000
To date, my favourite place for brunch is probably Top Paddock (with special mention to Hammer and Tong). However, Top Paddock is by no means an only child; the same folks are also responsible for other brunch big-name such as The Kettle Black, Two Birds One Stone, and formerly Three Bags Full. Given that every single one of these cafes are popular in their own right, it was no wonder that their newest addition, Higher Ground, made a splash when it opened in a former power station near Southern Cross.
Higher Ground is painfully cool, there’s no other way to put it. It has everything that is currently on trend – indoor plants, exposed brick, furnishings of marble and wood. The music is an on-point blend of effortlessly chic indie, and it sounded amazing in the cavernous, 15 metre high space. If you go up the stairs, there’s even a fancy, dimly lit loft featuring a bar, and a collection of sleek sofas made for lounging with a classy cocktail. I imagine George Clooney’s bachelor pad would’ve looked something like this.
Although most people will call it a cafe, Higher Ground is so much more than that. By all means, come here for brunch and a morning coffee (and the famous hotcakes!), but maybe also bring that business client you want to impress for lunch. Or settle in for an indulgently long dinner with a bottle of wine. They even cater for the in-between times with a truncated, but no less refined menu. Whatever you want, Higher Ground can provide.
The Cured Kingfish ($21) was a wonderful start to the meal. The firm ribbons of snapper sashimi were super fresh, dressed with a simple combination of soy and ponzu that was simultaneously savoury and tangy. Scattered on top was a fragrant combination of dried seaweed and toasted sesame seeds. It was simple, but incredibly delicious.
The special of Salted and Roasted Snapper Belly ($8.5) came highly recommended by our waiter, and he certainly wasn’t wrong. The piece of fish, grilled in banana leaf, simply melted in the mouth with a symphony of spices from the combination of red curry paste and whole kaffir lime leaves, with just a smidge of coconut cream to temper the heat. A double serve of this on some fluffy white rice would be heaven.
The Overnight Lamb Ribs ($15) were everything good lamb ribs should be – succulent and juicy, with crispy edges and meat that just falls off the bone. It came with a fantastic salsa verde that was grassy and tangy, cutting perfectly through the fatty lamb.
The accompaniment of Charred Sugar Snaps ($11) again came at the recommendation of our waiter, and although it’s not something I would normally order, I’m definitely glad that I did. Each little pod was refreshingly crisp, their natural sweetness balanced by the slight bitterness of the plump succulents. It was all tossed in a creamy emulsified vinegar, and it was, once again, simple but wonderfully tasty.
To finish off, we shared a dish of Roasted Bundarra Pork Shoulder ($35). The meat was moist and rich, accompanied by a herbed lemon puree rather than the usual apple. On the side were firm, sweet bulbs of grilled fennel. This lacked in pizzaz compared to the other dishes, but it was a solid plate nonetheless.
Higher Ground may not be anything groundbreaking, but it achieves the remarkable feat of being all-round excellent, and manages to make it seem effortless at the same time. I really enjoyed the entire experience, and although all the staff were lovely, I have to give a special kudos to our waiter, who was friendly, fun, and super knowledgeable. And I was too shy to say this at the time, but I love your hair.
Rating: 15/20 – next level.
This rating reflects my personal experience at the time of visit.