A work colleague quite jokingly suggested to me, after I was complaining about some coffee in our work surrounds, that I should do a review of coffee in the area…
She laughed. The wheels turned in my head. Little did she know my alter ego is SmikG.
Never one to run away from a creative coffee-inspired project, and despite all my other ongoing creative endeavours, I decided to do a full-fledged rundown on a variety of Docklands cafes, from the month of July to August of 2016. I have provided my personal experience of the cafés based primarily on the above month experiences, but also have drawn upon my earlier visits there to help paint a greater picture, where relevant. I have a ‘in a nutshell’ section at the end of each review, however with some of these I have also added in a ‘September Update,’ which mentions improvements with any cafés that previously held negatives.
And at the very end of the following 8 café reviews, lies my final say… so keep reading ’til the end!
So if you frequent the land of the Docks, and enjoy your caffeinated beverages to the point that you need to have the BEST one, read on…
Story Coffee & Foodstore
700 Bourke Street Docklands
This café is positioned just on the concourse in between the shops and cafes bordering the Bourke street side of Etihad Stadium, and Southern Cross Station. It’s dimly lit with high ceilings and a touch of industrial style, providing temporary relief from the hustle and bustle of work life. And this place definitely caters to its known demographic, providing a wide range of food and coffee that you can conveniently takeaway to eat at your work desk.
Breakfast provisions like muesli, juices and yoghurts, alongside lunch items such as sliders, cream cheese and smoked salmon bagels and bacon and egg brioche buns adorn the glass display. Their food sells out quickly with much more constantly in production, and their sweet side doesn’t fail to disappoint the eyes either. Doughnut bombs, pastries and other custard-y things are on show next to the register where you order in the middle of the shop. There is no usual bench separating the cashier from the customer here, with the person taking your order standing beside you as they punch in your large cap with 1 thanks.
The beans used are Dukes of course, since this is a relative of their Chapel Street café. A hipster-type with a long beard was making it that day, and looked seriously into the coffee making. The flavour of the coffee was very smooth, my best description being ‘gentle on the tongue.’ The only issue with their coffee is that it tends to be on the warm to lukewarm side, even if you sip it immediately after they have handed it to you. This is obviously upsetting in Winter time, since as soon as that Antarctic breeze wafts over you it loses a further 3 degrees, and then some as you walk on over back to work. And that’s the thing, if they are accommodating to the office crowd, possibly 99.9% of their clientele, supplying them with food and coffee to take and run away with, well they need to know that their coffee needs to be hotter. I’m not saying burnt. Hot doesn’t mean burnt. This applies in all seasons, but most particularly on the cold July morning that this review is based on.
The service is quick, making sure the orders keep coming in and out due to the high volumes of people and often long lines, but this is where the customer service fails, because in all of this they have forgotten ‘niceness.’ In particular the woman who served me for this review, she was brash at best, and when handing my colleagues coffee to him, hastily slid it across the bench to him. Woman, you are not Tom Cruise in Cocktail. Sliding a coffee cup like that is just a bit rude thanks. It kind of says ‘here; now get out.’
In a nutshell
Coffee: $4:30 for a large. Ordinary sized cup, I’ve seen larger given the description. Smooth taste, just slightly too lukewarm.
Food: Looks delish. Expensive, for corporate types. I mean, $8:50 for a medium sized bagel with cream cheese and smoked salmon? I could eat two of those, easy.
Service: To be improved upon. Not speed, but kindness.
Last word: I hope the customer service improves because I like the place.
‘September Update’: Since my initial July review, a few things have improved… first the temperature. Coffee is hotter. Tick. Secondly, the service…though I got a few not-so-friendly greetings on one or two occasions afterwards, there are a few newbies there who are making the experience of ordering and collecting your coffee a joy (maybe there were observations and suggestions made by other slighted customers…?) so again, tick.
The cranky lady is still there, I think she’s just picked up her game.
This place also has consistently continued to produce amazingly smooth coffee, despite ALWAYS being busy, so a huge thumbs up by me 🙂
Hortus X 7 Seeds
131-141 Harbour Esplanade Docklands
Bang smack in the middle of Harbour Esplanade, across from AFL house and with views of the water, it’s hard not to miss this café reminiscent of a tented greenhouse that’s been plonked down amidst the greyness and height of the buildings surrounding it.
And the display serves its purpose, with plans for the temporary café that was opened in March ’14 to be slated for an 18 month contract… seeing as it had surely passed that timeframe at time of writing, perhaps this means the impermanent looking space will be a regular amidst the Docklands coffee drinkers?
It sure has gained steady traction in that time. With its large interior garden plantation growing up from the middle of the café, consisting of edible plants no less, the natural variety isn’t the only reason why people are coming far and wide to view this pleasing affront to the buildings beyond it.
A fave with cyclists who are constantly riding past, you will also frequently see fellow work-goers using their spare time to borrow some paddles and ball for a free round of ping pong on the table outside. This independent space contains seating inside, bordering the coffee area and surrounding the large plant garden, as well as on the nifty and cute wooden stools and tables outside.
There is a lot of wood in this café, further adding to the natural glasshouse feel, which I just love.
It’s to be assured that Seven seeds is one of the coffees on offer, and with all of the above positive reviews I have just one negative.
The coffee size.
The only takeaway coffee size is a tiny cup, and I don’t even know if they consider that a regular but to me it’s a small. The coffee was incredibly strong upon first sip, evening out as I got halfway through. $4:30 is a decent price to pay for a little cup, yet the hipsters and bicyclists happily fork it out here.
Pastries, pies and sweet treats also adorn the front counter (lycra from the bicyclists too), and from experience I can say that the sweet stuff is GOOD. I had a blueberry-something a while back, and it was incredibly moist and moorish, not at all mass-produce tasting, more like Nanna tasting.
In a nutshell
Coffee: Strong, but in too small a cup. I would go here more often if they up’d their takeaway sizes. Having said that the bean flavour is a bit too harsh for my liking.
Food: Amazing. It’s probably the food that would get me in there again rather than the coffee, and I would get it in a deal to save coin because this joint is on the $$$ end.
Service: Friendly, and sometimes hipster too. I’ll let you decipher what that means.
Last word: I like the concept, but just want an improvement on the coffee and cup size. Otherwise a great idea, and I hope they stick around.
2/800 Bourke Street Docklands
Aptly named as it sits on the ground level of the NAB building on the corner of Harbour Esplanade and Bourke Street, this high-ceiling-ed, wood-abundant, amply-spaced café sees its share of customers. It has also seen its share of owners, having changed hands in its time, which may or may not be its downfall… that’s yet to be seen, as only time will determine.
This is probably one of the best spaces for a café, with the large floor to ceiling windows allowing in brilliant sun to heat up the inhabitants within. On a cold Winter’s day as you walk through any one of the two main revolving door entrances, the heat embraces you and tucks you away under it firm café grasp. A long counter displays your everyday assortment of takeaway lunch and breakfast items, including sweet treats and of course coffee. Think egg and bacon muffins, wraps, sandwiches, yoghurts and muffins. The interior is vast with many options to sit at, with the long communal table in the middle of the room, the smaller tables and chairs bordering the café, and also the seating area under the panelled stairs going up into the workspaces on higher levels! The wood fascination continues in yet another Docklands café, with beautiful warm tones everywhere, and in particular I love their long table sitting opposite the ordering counter, it’s like something out of a workman’s shed, lovingly restored and brought back to life.
Their coffee is fairly consistent, though it has its up and down days at times – strong, generally pleasing, potent – as is their service. Which is where I lead back to my earlier point.
The first lot of owners from a few years back were extremely friendly, which is why the new owners and their staff draw such a strong comparison against. On a good day, they are ‘working a Monday.’ Which is to say, they are only mildly interested in your business and happiness in buying there. I used to frequent this café much more, before the rudeness and arrogance of the staff took shape. When I handed back the bottle that rolled away from the staff member who was angrily loading them into the fridge, and didn’t receive at least a glance of recognition (no thanks or smile at all), and my colleague had his name TOLD to him by another staff member who thought it amusing to poke fun at, and then many more of us from our work received a major superiority complex by the male staff there… well it grows tired. This place may never fail because of the sheer volume of NAB workers and other accompanying nearby businesses which keep it going… but it sure as hell wont flourish with that attitude either. They need to wake up and smell the gratitude coffee this crew.
The food here is ok, nothing fanciful, it fulfils its purpose. It’s more affordable than other places, and this could be its other saving grace. This could be a café that really takes off if some of its lacking components were up to scratch, and simply due to its favourable location both in terms of people volume and capacity to take in the sunlight, I can see this café making itself home to many a business lunch for a long time to come.
In a nutshell
Coffee: $3:70 for a medium coffee of decent-sized cup. Strong (sometimes harsh). Interesting flavour.
Food: Your standard café fare, but it comes up alright.
Service: Minimal care, plenty of ‘tude and ‘I can do without your business’ types.
Last word: The reasonably priced coffee for these parts is not enough to outdo the attitude that comes out of here.. but the Sun in Winter is reason enough. The rays coming through the window is often enough to melt any frosty stares that may come your way… if you so dare.
AFL House Café
140 Harbour Esplanade Docklands
I don’t know why it took so long to get over to this café, only a short stroll from my work… oh hang on, I know. It’s the fact that you can’t see it from the main street, that may have something to do with it. Oh, and the fact it’s within AFL House, and you know, for many people it could be quite daunting to walk into an arena of this sort expecting a café to just ‘pop up.’
But it does. You walk through the doors, and immediately to your right just in front of reception you’ll see a little cart-like stand with quaint umbrella rooftop and everything. A few rolls and sweet things displayed in the case, but we don’t care: we came here for the coffee.
The coffee is smooth, fairly ok, made even more so by the $3 price tag, the discount we received being from a neighbouring work place. Even so their prices are good compared to some other skyrocketing coffee prices happening in Docklands at the moment.
I’m extremely jelly that AFL house should have a cute little café like this offering coffee at such close proximity to its employees. And what a great idea too. For anyone coming into work there at their regular place of employment or visiting the premises for a meeting, the necessary and convenient coffee stop as you wait to be checked in is ideal. Hell it should be a prerequisite for businesses to offer their workers. And for those on a break or with more time to spare, you can sit by the window and watch the road and footpath traffic on the Harbour pass you by… or look past that all towards the boats, amusingly behind a fellow café competitor, Hortus X 😉
In a nutshell
Coffee: $4:00 for a large coffee. Fairly smooth and non-offending. Lavazza.
Food: Some basic fare, if you need a selection of it keep walking into the Wintry winds outside.
Service: Really friendly, and I don’t think it was only because we are work neighbours, the guys looked pretty nice.
Last word: I’d be happy to go back there for the great service, decent coffee and the proximity to work… but their proximity is also the downfall, as the walk up there and back just doesn’t give us enough gossip time 😉
818 Bourke Street Docklands
I was excited when my coffee email prompt to my colleagues one Friday morning resulted in one such colleague telling me she had discovered a new hipster café in the area – woo hoo! We hightailed it down Bourke street, past all the other eateries and so-so places ‘doing’ coffee, and I nearly clapped with glee when I saw the shop. She didn’t have to tell me we had arrived. The hipster vibe was all over the name: Blended Beard.
My colleague commented that it looked a bit like Story, however I felt in Beard there were more metal tones in amongst the wood panelling the place, with copper a prominent theme too. Up at the counter it was a well-oiled production line of taking orders and making coffees, with about 4-5 people going through their paces. Beside the cash register was a display unit of lunch items such as sliders and soups, with some sweet things on top of the case exposed for all to point at. The pastries looked delish, the Nutella doughnuts and bombolones were looking fresh and very mmm-worthy, however my gripe of exposed food items at the counter hasn’t changed: anyone can cough at it, and breathe their Winter germs on it, and for that reason I don’t buy anything that’s exposed. Sure it looks good… but it looks better covered up. A pretty glass dome covering them yet still allowing customers to see what’s inside isn’t going to ruin the appearance.
Behind us were a bunch of tables and chairs, and I could see there was a further walk-through into the Ericsson building that was connected to it, so this place would definitely get some much-needed foot traffic being a new cafe. The service was pleasant, one of the girls seemed to be focused on remembering her prior customers which was refreshing to see, and as well as being promptly served our coffees, they tasted good too. All three of us agreed, smooth and creamy, though I did find one little un-ground coffee particle at the end of my cup that ended up in my mouth, and I did notice upon drinking through it that there was a ground-coffee taste at times, as if some grounds had high-jacked the coffee tamper and jumped into my cup… I’ll forgive them this one slight due to all their other positives, as long as it stays a once-off slight.
But, taking advantage of the café bearded hipster image… gold. I love it.
In a nutshell
Coffee: Smooth and creamy. Decently priced too – they had large and regular sizes, and the regular actually looked like a regular, not an itty-bitty teeny-weeny babycino cup that my daughter drinks from… $3.80. under $4? What?!
Food: Sliders, soups and sweet things. It appears they do breakfast too judging by their blackboard out front. Not too bad prices either, for a Docklands café… why I never…
Service: Genuine, and friendly. It looks like they’re trying to show their care factor, and I hope this continues.
Last word: In Winter, I gotta pray for a mildish day so that the longer walk over from our work isn’t made too depressingly cold… yet in Summer the walk along the water would be much-enjoyed 🙂 Which way do you look at it? I like the Bearded man, that is all. Great new find goes to this venue.
‘September Update’: This place has continued its consistency in terms of very pleasing coffee and fantastic customer service. One to watch.
Capri @ The Quays Café
New Quay, 28 Aquitania Way Docklands
The location of this café might make you think it is only for the use of local residents living in the apartments in the tall complex above, or accessible only to those visiting nearby… it is not. This café, positioned on a corner within viewing distance of the boats alongside New Quay, is a hidden gem worthy of discovering.
I had originally and wrongly thought that this was a breakfast location solely for resident holiday-goers within the building to brunch at during their stay in this windy part of Melbourne. Turns out that the café sits on the ground floor of a multi-purpose architectural award-winning apartment building, and that ANYONE can come in for a bite to eat. And a takeaway coffee too.
Since discovering the place, all the times I’ve been here the service has been friendly. One of the guys there was so friendly on one occasion he was terrified (first day jitters?) but I always take softly to workplace jitters, rather than shyness clouded by affronting arrogance (Banc Café anyone?)
There is plenty on offer at this café alongside the Docks, with the large display case up the front showcasing a hefty dose of lunch fare, breakfast items (so many sit down here formally that I believe there may be a more extensive menu) and lots of sweet treats. Here is where you will find a decently-sized macaroon like nowhere else! They are fully licensed with plenty of bubbly on offer, though my visits there are always strictly caffeine-based, you know, being at work and all. I love the lighting, with the suspended lightbulbs strung throughout the café, and along the ample amount of small and big tables for you to sit at, there is a cute and cosy little nook where you can lounge at by the front door and wait for your coffee to be made, or just make yourself comfy reading some mags.
The coffee comes in regular and large, and though the sizes aren’t really indicative of that – well the small is definitely a small, but the large I’d call a regular to be honest – the prices at least aren’t too ridiculous for coffee.
In a nutshell
Coffee: $3.70 for a small, $4:20 for a large… nice flavour, I don’t mind it, but I do realise they were generous with the sugar as my cap was also tasting quite sweet.
Food: There’s so much to choose from, from your everyday café lunch items such as rolls, sausage rolls, to more interesting kale quiches, and then there is a multitude of cakes which are really good eye-candy. The coconut cream cake looked amazing. The macaroons I will eat at some stage. There is so much quality-looking food, that I might just grab something for lunch from there tomorrow…
Service: Really friendly, part of the reason I like going there, apart from the decently priced coffee. And they’ve been consistently nice with that, despite seeing them being swept off their feet on a Sunday morning with an influx of customers checking out from their nearby accommodation, and having some brekkie right before/after they do their depart from the docks.
Last word: I am quite happy going to this café for either coffee or lunch or cake, and I haven’t even tried the food yet. The cosy corner and cute lightbulbs add a feel that remove you from the harsh unnerving elements of Docklands, and keep you cosily tucked away in a friendly atmosphere of calm and warmth.
766/768 Bourke Street Docklands
The reason for the / instead of the – in the address, is because there are in fact two separate De Gusto shops. One has a red sign, the other blue, both accessible only via Bourke Street, though there is the window in between the two cafes allowing fare to be passed through the eateries.
I’ve been frequenting this one for years. In fact, this is the place I first starting visiting at the beginning of my love-affair with coffee. Back then it was at the blue De Gusto, the more cas one, with a sandwich display, basic yet hearty brekkie fare, and of course coffee. A few small spaces to sit at by the window, but this was primarily a takeaway café.
Then after a while, and after trying out a few cafes in the Docklands vicinity, we went back to De Gusto – the red one now, that is. This café seemed like it catered for office folk, while the blue café (blue-collar) seemed to be aimed at the tradies building up the sky-rises in the city. The red café had sufficient seating and a wider menu. Coffee was still a main focal point, with decent cooked breakfasts, bagels, quinoa dishes and other fancy lunch sausage rolls and quiches up on offer. They were also into their smoothies, with a blackboard showcasing all their trippy-blended concoctions.
I speak in the past tense, because when this café was in its absolute prime, it was PEAKING. And the barista then, the daughter of the owner (the owner worked in the other red café, yet owned both) was absolutely brilliant, not only remembering your coffee order but your name, AND the correct spelling too! (extra points, as those with a ‘different’ name can attest to).
Sadly though, months ago it changed ownership, so the volume of people heading in has considerably dropped as they too like me and my work colleagues have noticed that the love and care, the knowledge of name and coffee preparation and just friendly atmosphere, has disappeared.
We still gave it a shot initially upon transfer, but after a few burnt coffees we left for other (coffee) grounds. We only decided to come back today, on the writing of this review, after hearing there was a new barista.
Yes, new coffee lady. However, the café is sadly missing its vibe, both with its poppy and really old but awesome music it used to have. The coffee was ok, not burnt, but there is a flavour which I’m undecided about, so I don’t think I would go back when I have other more pleasurable cafes on offer.
There are still the smoothies, the lunch fares, and all the other things that used to inhabit the café of old. Just missing that love we used to feel, which kind of, is everything, and makes everything look and feel and taste that much more lovelier. If you are new to this café, you probably wouldn’t know the difference, and just regard it as a standard city café, nothing too spesh. And probably better it stays that way too, in your head, for their sakes anyway.
In a nutshell
Coffee: $4 bucks for a regular. And the regular is a good size too.
Food: Average city lunch fare – rolls, bagels, quiches and muffins.
Service: It’s nice. Nothing bad, no pretension, I just miss the old crew.
Last word: It’s a decent café, but I just can’t help comparing it to the old one and thinking it’s somebody that I used to know… a bit like Gotye…
‘September Update’: We have been here a few more times since, and there was yet another barista, who did not too bad of a coffee. Nothing to rave home about, but at least it was adequate. It’s still missing the vibe (and all the clientele) but this one may just come up in time…
Mill & Bakery
Central Pier, Shed 9
161 Harbour Esplanade Docklands
The Mill was the first café to really excite us at work a few years back. It was only a short walk away, alongside the water’s edge looking out over the docked boats, with nearby fisherman stationed calmly on the boardwalk and waiting for a catch to excite their disposition. You cannot deny, the position of it is pretty. There is outdoor seating, and inside too there is a large communal table, a smaller round table, and chairs set up alongside the perimeter of the café with some looking out onto the waters beyond.
This really is a beautiful little café: visually striking, a cross between French provincial and quaint Grandma’s cottage, the space is quiet and comforting, added to by the large window on one side of the café showing through to the bread-making process happening in the adjoining room. They make bread that you can buy in loaves, or in their rolls, and this authentic touch adds some further artisan class to the atmosphere.
Alongside the coffee, they have delicious rolls, an assortment of VERY pretty almost (almost) too attractive to eat pastries and tiny cakes, and cute little bikkies or fudge sometimes abound the quarters too. It is all very pretty and fancy, and so too is the price… but it is worth it. The quality of the ingredients is apparent and very much valued. I’ve often had some of their rolls, and their pastries too, and can attest that the muffins, bombolone and danishes are amazing. You can tell the difference between a proper pastry place and a try-hard, and this is definitely the former.
Where the food revels in its consistency, the coffee lacks. In fact, the only think consistent about the coffee is how inconsistent it is.
Back in the day there was a great manager/barista who hailed from France… her coffees were consistent and superb, however she couldn’t stay in the country due to Visa issues, and since her exit the coffee has been up and down depending on who makes it. On the day of this writing, the coffee was strong, and not bad in flavour.
But not bad doesn’t quite cut it always, does it?
The service has always been fairly straight-forward, and where others receive, how shall I call it, more personal service (?!) I’ve never really gotten more than a customer-produced smile. Yep, French lady was the best.
One of the advantages of this café is that it is open every day, even on weekends (yes! when I have to work a Sunday) and is even open, for us/those poor fools who need to work public holidays, on those sacred days too – though in case this does change in the future, best to confirm before heading down.
In a nutshell
Coffee: A bit of a controversy amongst some of my work colleagues, when the price of a large coffee jumped from $4 to $4.50 overnight. Many were upset. (First world problems I know). The large is more a decent-sized average cup size, while the small (don’t you dare try to tell me it’s a regular) is just not cut out for my caffeine addiction. Flavour: definitely strong, not smooth.
Food: Amazing. Savoury or sweet, you won’t be disappointed.
Service: We’ll call this one ‘just enough.’ Sometimes you get a worthier smile. I think they might just be under-staffed.
Last word: This is a great place to revel in beauty, and calm yourself with watery views. If they improve on their coffee-making skills, alongside the already great food on offer, it will really be a café to be reckoned with.
THE FINAL SAY!
The most impressive and best-tasting coffee to date has come out of Story. If they keep their coffee temperatures just that little bit higher than what they started at, they can safely hold this top spot of superior Docklands coffee within the area.
However a very close second comes the coffee from Blended Beard, and with their friendly and caring service and delicious menu, Story should watch its heels very carefully…