After I posted about the Paragon Chocolate Orange Cake recently, Cindy asked if you could still buy a slice of it at the Carlton Paragon Café in Rathdowne Street, North Carlton. It is so long since I have been there that I couldn’t tell her. But the wonderful cake filled me with nostalgia for my student days when I frequently visited the café. As it happened, we had to visit Rathdowne Street soon after so I was able to seek some answers.
Last year I wrote about how much I love Rathdowne Street in the autumn. This year the autumn trees were aglow and the terrace houses gleamed in the sunshine as we headed off to the Paragon (actually the photo of terrace houses is on Newry Street where we like to park the car). I had Sylvia in a baby pouch and she slept the whole time. It’s been a while since we went out for brunch so it was all the more pleasurable to take the weekend newspaper and do the Samurai Sudoku while E nursed his coffee.
One of the reasons I loved the Paragon was that it had a sophisticated ambience. It was always buzzing with a crowd filling the room of eclectic ornamentation. The café was quieter than I remember it, which may be because we arrived for brunch in the middle of the afternoon (and ordered 5 minutes before they finished serving the breakfast menu). But I still marvel at the decor. The Paragon is a spacious café with big windows for people watching. The lights are art deco wonders and angels trumpet on the wall opposite you upon entering. But most impressive is the trompe-l’oeil mural to your right. I love all the little details in the dresser such as the Mona Lisa teatowel hanging from the open door.
Although I have fond memories of going to the Paragon Café as a student I think we mostly loved the cake and pondering over how the name originated. I don’t remember eating other food there. The current menu didn’t excite me much. The breakfast menu was mostly full of egg dishes and the rest was the old-school style Carlton menu of pasta, risotto and meat. Not much to tempt a vegetarian with an egg aversion. And it doesn’t offer much competition to some of the more modern places that offer fresh juices and dense sourdough bread, as well as interesting vegetarian dishes.
However, we were able to find something to satisfy. As I have mentioned before, I always love pancakes for brunch. I chose the pancakes with butter and maple syrup. E had the paragon eggs (which had salmon). He enjoyed it but looked at my pancakes with envy. My pancakes were light and fluffy and deliciously decadent drowned in maple syrup. Some berries or stone fruit would have been nice but it is not summer any more so I can’t really expect that. They were filling enough that I was happy to leave a substantial amount for E who loved them.
The Paragon used to be the pretentious youngster of Rathdowne Street in my student days. Nowadays it is an old dame who has known better days but still retains her dignity. As we left I surveyed the tempting cake display and failed to find the chocolate orange cake. I asked a waitress if they still served it and got a vague ‘not sure’. So a fine brunch but no answers on the cake!
The Carlton Paragon Café
651 Rathdowne St
Carlton North VIC 3054
(03) 9347 7715
Open Tue-Sun 8am-10:30pm