500 Tooronga Rd
Hawthorn East, VIC 3123
Before moving to Sydney, I had heard my share of horror stories about the city, along with the accolade for the beaches, weather, and Asian food. ‘The rent is so expensive!’, everyone would say upon hearing about the move, before following up with ‘and the roads are just awful!’ In my naivety, I wrote the warnings off. I mean, it’s not like Melbourne is exactly cheap, and I’ve seen the M3 at peak hour – I figured Sydney could only be so different. Oh how wrong I was.
The evidence of how much Sydney’s traffic has broken me came when I punched Shanklin Café into my GPS, and the distance of 14km came up. I immediately baulked at the distance; in Sydney, a 14km drive is about 40 minutes on a good day, but could be twice that if you were so unlucky. But thankfully the GPS reminded me that no, I was in Melbourne, and I could be there within 25 minutes, even taking parking time into account. Brunch was saved!
Located inside a converted Victorian-styled house painted in the prettiest shade of pale greyish-blue, Shanklin Café is a favourite with locals and foodies alike. Despite the vintage façade, the interior of the restaurant has been repanelled to feature a curved ceiling of wood, and the entire front wall has been replaced with ceiling-to-floor windows overlooking the courtyard, and lets in copious amounts of natural light. The staff are full of beans, taking care to greet each customer like a regular, and to make them feel heartily welcome. Though apparently the staff were actually feeling rather tired that day, I was told with a conspiratorial wink; it’s been a very busy week, and they’re usually much more energetic – something I frankly find difficult to imagine.
Whilst perusing the menu, I sipped on my Skinny Flat White ($4), which came in a satisfying large cup. Whilst the roast was a bit too dark and strong for my liking, it did a good job of waking me up.
The owners’ Middle Eastern background meant that the menu at Shanklin – whilst largely traditional – bore an unmistakably ethnic slant. You’ll find shakshuka instead of baked eggs, smashed avo sprinkled liberally with dukkah, and in this case, scramble in the form of Eggs and Shanklish ($22). Though simple, this was done exceptionally well. The creamy swirls of golden egg were garnished liberally with a bouquet of soft herbs, and the salty, spice-encrusted cheese that’s popular in Middle-Eastern cuisine. Cherry tomatoes add some sweetness, and the pile of sautéed spinach hidden beneath ticks off the daily requirement for leafy greens. And although $22 may seem steep for eggs, trust me when I say the serving is monolithic – I was basically full after working through my half of the plate!
As I lamented that I couldn’t have the Portobello mushroom dish because K hates mushrooms, Francis kindly offered to bring me out a single mushroom – just for a taste! He was clearly proud of it, and so he should have been. Because the chefs are all Asian, Francis explained, the Portobello mushroom dish took on a bit of a Japanese flavour with the usage of panko crumb, alongside the Middle-Eastern influence of zaatar and tahini yoghurt. And honestly, this was probably one of the best fried mushrooms I’ve ever had. The batter was as crispy as you’d find on freshly fried chicken, yet there was no greasiness to interfere with the robustly earthy flavours of the mushrooms, brought out by the nutty zaatar incorporated into the crumbing. And the mushroom itself was so plump and meaty that for a moment, I almost felt as if I could give up steak, as long as I could have this in its stead.
I was basically full from my coffee, the eggs, and the huge mushroom, but then the Nutella Stuffed Pancakes ($20) came out. And frankly, even if I didn’t have a separate dessert stomach, I would’ve grown one for this.
I mean, look at it.
Look at it some more.
Isn’t it beautiful? This towering confection had it all – chocolate, ice cream, cookie crumbs, fresh strawberries, bananas, and of course, two pancakes stuffed with Nutella. The pancakes were heavier and denser than I had expected, but to be honest, it actually worked well in this dish. The cake-like texture meant that it was able to carry all the toppings without falling apart, and perhaps most surprisingly of all, I actually didn’t find this dish to be overly sweet or cloying. In fact, the whole thing was so over-the-top that instead of feeling guilty, eating this filled me with a child-like glee.
I was promised cake at the end of my meal, but unfortunately I was well and truly saturated with food and sugar by this point. I can totally get why Shanklin is so popular; in an era where the experience of brunch is often muddled by gimmicky dishes, it’s refreshing to have a hearty, unpretentious meal. But that’s not to say the food is boring – in fact, what I like the most is the way each dish feels like a fresh interpretation of the classic, rather than a tired rehash. And the best bit is that when I’m back in Melbourne, it’s only a 25 (not 40!) minute drive from home!
Rating: 14.5/20 – look at the pancakes. now back to me. now back at the pancakes. now back to me.
This rating reflects my personal experience at the time of visit.
Sweet and Sour Fork dined as a guest of Shanklin Café.