Man, we Melburnians love us some po-faced industrial chic, don’t we? Given the choice between a velveteen wingback and an old keg with a cushion, we’ll take the keg every time.
I turned up to Hobba on a wet, grey day and saw an big old tyre garage with cantilevered doors cranked up, exposed brick, hard edges, and strange, plywood-y booths. The weather was cold, and I needed warmth. And coffee.
Two steps in and I’m hit with the warmth of really sweet waitress who seats me and gets me sorted with water and a menu. Then I start looking around. Hmm, I might have been too quick to judge you, me ol’ Hobs. Within this large, flexible space, there’s a big potted tree heading skyward, with stools and bench seating around the square planter. There’s a communal table, small booths, tables for two. There are hanging lamps and heaters.
And then there’s the menu. Despite Hobba’s industro-chic, the menu is solid and homely, putting stylish twists on comfort classics with the use of quality produce (and serious cred from the kitchen). Think Glenloth corn-fed chicken schnitzel with spiced slaw and mash, or Bubble and Squeak with farmhouse slab bacon and brown butter hollandaise.
Breakfasts feature eggs (slow poached in the shell at 62.5°), granola, bacon butties (hi, have you come for my hangover?), a spunky grilled Tasmanian smoked salmon with cream cheese and capers, like a Melbourne take on a classic bagel with lox, and a luxy grilled pear brioche French toast with apple and rhubarb creme fraiche and hazelnut streusel. Lunch heats up with dishes like chickpea fritters, crab and smoked salmon cakes with apple and herb salad or a rockin’ range of sandwiches (available until sold out).
Now the coffee. Hobba is using 5 Senses, and the coffee of the day is generally a single origin. I ordered a filter, and the sweetpea waitress said the barista would be over to have a chat about it. (Oh the joys of being able to have a justified coffee geek chat.) Barista Alan Huang bounced over with a slinky carafe of the Kenyan keratina, roughly 2.5 cups of winey goodness (the amount will depend on the individual blend and how it best responds to the coffee to water ratio). It was slightly acidic (in a good way) but with an overarching satin feel. It was smooth and perfumey â€“ not a kick-up-the-arse coffee, but a lazy twilight of a blend. Alan talks about coffee with an interest and enthusiasm you usually reserve for your favourite band’s rare album of B-sides. On his recommendation, I followed up the Kenyan (after a rest-stop of a couple of chapters of Steve Hely’s hilarious novel) with a carafe of the Panama geisha – a richer, earthier, oh-so-good-lookin’ drop.
Hobba is the latest cafe from the guys who brought you Willim in Malvern. While Willim is small and sunny and slightly genteel in a Malvern sidestreet, Hobba’s more like its renegade cousin who’s just blown back into town after a sketchy, nefarious jaunt overseas. It’s sophisticated, a great racounteur with fabulous taste, and just a bit minxy and mischevious.