This is a small, bright and deliciously stylish cafe in finest single-origin tradition with brilliant coffee delivered from a squeaky-clean Synesso by a barista who knows his stuff.
Owners Mark Jacobson (the gun barista) and Duncan McCance (the inventive chef) nailed it when they signed up for these compact but charming premises in an area alive with coffee-drinkers, but tragically short of memorable coffee.
Collective is positioned in a street that runs east off Burke on the high side of Camberwell Station – in a former fashion boutique, looking down on the grand old building which not even the intervention of Barry Humphries and Geoffrey Rush could protect from the vandalism of greedy developers and dim-witted government planners.
Nothing, however, can touch Collective with its gilt-trimmed and brown-tiled shop front, period signage and intensely communal interior in which fine coffee – teased from a range of 5 Senses blends and singles – as well as some very decent food is on offer.
First, the coffee: milk orders are made on a 5 Senses house blend – currently the Compton Road which is alive with rich, dark flavours, and with more than enough acid to cut through. Black coffees – espresso, pour-over or French press – are constructed on a single-origin, currently a fetching Sumatran.
Both Jacobson and McCance know their stuff: Jacobson, mercifully, has managed to forget most of what he learned, as a 16-year-old trainee in Starbucks, Auckland, to develop into a master-extractor; and, when it comes to food, McCance clearly knows his onions, not to mention his quinoa.
There is lots happening on the menu – even a vegan breakfast of tomato-baked chickpeas. Beetroot cured salmon arrives, with spinach, slow-roasted tomatoes and aioli, on a potato rosti, and a “collective sigh of relief” is the house breakfast special – scamblers on sourdough or grain, spinach, and three kinds of mushrooms.
Lunch offerings include an array of serious sangers ranging from chicken-of-the-day through roasted pumpkin and toasted quinoa to the inevitable pork belly – this one with red cabbage, apple puree and more.
But the real excitement is to be found on the chalk board menu, adjusted daily. It could be, as it was when last I visited, a gloriously opulent mushroom soup garnished with a ribbon of rosemary crumbs and a sprig of thyme, followed by duck confit on couscous. Honest. In a backstreet cafe.
After which, of course, you will almost certainly need another impeccable coffee as you express, or even manage to contain, your collective wonderment.