Local haunt: Lady Bower taps into the community vibe. Photo: Craig Sillitoe
1A MARCHANT AVENUE, RESERVOIR
Tues-Sun 8am-4pm (no bookings)
When Lady Bower opened in Reservoir a couple of years back, the suburb was still something of a frontier in terms of cafes. House prices in the inner north hadn't yet pushed younger buyers and renters this far north, and you wouldn't have found a Five Sense coffee within a five-kilometre radius. In just two years though manager, Andy Hughes, says the cafe's clientele has shifted significantly.
"The whole social demographic of Reservoir has changed - a lot of people that used to live in Thornbury and Northcote are moving here. People who have just finished uni moving out to afford a house with a bit of land, people buying their first houses… so obviously all the hipsters are finally moving out this way, which is good for us because they don't want to travel to Northcote or Westgarth any more," he says.
The citrus-cured salmon, potato and pea salad. Photo: Craig Sillitoe
If Lady Bower was my local, I'd stay put too.
With a simple menu focusing on fresh, seasonal produce, and warm friendly staff, Lady Bower attracts locals old and new. "We still get the old Italian community, the old guys coming for their extra hot coffee, as well as the mums' groups and the young families with kids," says Hughes.
And the locals have a hand in determining the menu. Lady Bower is on a residential side street and the owners have become friends with their neighbours, who routinely bring produce from their gardens in exchange for coffee.
"About three of our neighbours bring in vegies and herbs. We have a great relationship with them. It's mainly herbs and one customer supplies us with rhubarb, which we use in our rhubarb and cranberry spritzer ($4.50 for a 420ml jar - yes, Mason jars) and in our Bircher (served, along with next door's rhubarb, with raspberry and poached pear, $8.50)," says Hughes. "It's a bit of an old-school barter system. We also have our own plot in the Reservoir community garden, where we grow all the greens."
They change the specials regularly - and, for winter, the soup changes every couple of days - but there are a couple of dishes that are so popular he daren't remove them.
The citrus-cured salmon salad, "on the menu since day dot", is Lady Bower's most popular breakfast order. Served with potato and pea salad, herbs, cucumber and home-made labne ($14/$18 with eggs), it's an all-season winner - refreshing in summer and with oozing poached eggs, perfect on a cold morning.
"And the smashed avocado with chilli oil and sour cream ($11.50/$15.50 with eggs) is the other. They're both staples that everyone likes," Andy says. "We put a lot of things on as specials that have been such hits we've had to make them permanent, like the cauliflower salad (caramelised cauliflower, mixed grains toasted sesame, green apple, cucumber, yoghurt and mustardy leaves, $14/$18 with eggs) and the (lunch menu's) pork belly roll (with apple coleslaw and Sriracha mayo on Turkish bread, $12)."
There are no bookings here and weekends are busier than ever, with an ever younger crowd, says Hughes.
Broadway and its surrounding streets, though, have so far resisted any hipster infiltration - you can still find genuine bargains in the nearby op shops and stock up on cheap spices from the local Indian and Asian grocery stores.
"That main drag hasn't changed but the residential area has changed completely since I've been out here," he says, a local himself. "I love it - there's a real community vibe, but it's all a bit behind the scenes. There are so many people who know each other that we've been thinking about organising a local street party." Now that's old-school.