Saturday, 13 July 2013

Brunetti - an iconic Italian cafe

Lygon Street in Carlton is amazing.  It has been home to multinationals MacDonalds, Starbucks and Borders.  Each of them has closed their store here.  Yet local independent businesses Readings Bookstore and Brunetti cafe are going from strength to strength.  No doubt the proximity to The University of Melbourne helps.  I have been visiting Brunetti's cafe for years (decades actually).  Recently it has move premises and expanded in a spectacular way.  It is time I wrote about it.

A few months ago I decided I would go and take a last photo of Brunetti's before it moved.  Above is the sight that greeted me.  The last visit was only weeks before with my dad and Sylvia on her birthday.  It made me a little sad as Brunetti's has been in Faraday Street ever since I moved to Melbourne after leaving school.  But it was always a little out of the way.

Of course I was curious to visit the new Brunetti's around the corner in Lygon Court (above).  I hope it will convey the size of the shop if I tell you that it has taken over the huge space left when Borders closed last year.  The concrete tables have been moved from the old Brunetti's.  They are a bit grey for my liking but inside is a different story.

Inside is marble tiles, pretty light shade covers, huge black and white photos of recognisable faces, objects of interest and rows and rows of food for as far as the eye can see.  The space is huge and yet it is cleverly partitioned up into smaller spaces that are quite cosy. 

Brunetti's has always been fun to visit and pour over dainty Italian cakes.  They are not the sort I grew up eating.  I still remember going to Lygon Street after my first Open Day at the University of Melbourne and being treated to a chocolate eclair.  I think I was upset when I found it was filled with a custard rather than the cream I was used to.  That was not an eclair as I knew it.  Years later I have a rather expanded understanding of cakes and pastries.

On my first visit to the new Brunetti's cafe, I came away with a warm flaky chocolate croissant from the bakery section.  The many sections - bread, pizza, gelati, cakes, coffee etc - give you an inkling of the breadth of the range of food.  Most of the food is out on display but there is a menu with many Italian standards such as pasta and risotto that you can order from in the restaurant or at the counter.

And you can eat anywhere.  You can sit on a stool looking out into Lygon Plaza (for excellent people watching), in a restaurant (above), by an old coffee machine, outside at the concrete tables, in tables in a cosy nook, or on high stools at a bar.   Or on a balmy summers night you can take your focaccia or gelati and eat it as you walk down Lygon Street or sit in a park.

I am including this above photo of the gelati area.  It is hard to believe how spacious it is.  This is significant to me because I remember Brunetti's when it was just a little shop with two small rooms.  In one was the gelati along with lots of little chocolate and wrapped sweeties.  The cake display was in the other room.  This was before the first expansion in the former Faraday Street store.  I must have gone there on quite a few occasions because I had a favourite gelati.  One scoop of raspberry and one scoop of baci.  It was heavenly.  I remember going there with fellow students and crowding into that tiny space.

The gelati display now looks appetising and colourful but I was disappointed to find there was no baci (chocolate and hazelnut) flavour.  Possibly there will be more options in summer when the gelati is more sought after.

I also have strong associations between going to the Cinema Nova (not that it was there when I was first at university) and grabbing a coffee and cake afterwards.  So it was that soon after Brunetti's moved to Lygon Court, E and I decided to have dinner there before a film (Trance - not a film I would recommend).  We both chose pizza and shared a salad.

I chose the Pizza al Taglio Campagnola with "pomodora salsa, mozzarella, melanzanefritte, pomodoro secco and ricotta fresco".  I had to check if the pizza was vegetarian because the names were only in Italian and my Italian is not that good.  When it came (with tomato, eggplant, mozzerella and ricotta), I was surprised at what a large slice I had.  It was very good and the garden salad, which came with a bread roll, was also good.  (The dressing came in funny little bottles so we had to check with a waiter about opening them.)

As you may have gathered by now, there is a hint of theatricality about the place.  Presentation is very important.  This is a space that is created to transport you to Italy.  In fact they hit the headlines with a  news story about needing to employ Italian staff.  (Though if this was the case, I don't know why the first waitress I asked about the pizza didn't know any more Italian than me).  It is best seen in the section where the baristas make coffees like they are dancing a ballet.  This is the first thing you see as you enter from Lygon Court.  The coffee dance is framed through the large doorway like a prosceum archway.  (See below photo)

After our dinner, E and I decided to have a cake.  Cake at Brunetti's is brilliant.  You are sure to find something you like among the rows of cakes, tarts, pastries, macarons, chocolates.  Some are large enough to share and others are just a mouthful.  I chose a small sacher torte and E chose a strawberry tart.  Both were delicious wee morsels.

More recently I went to Brunetti's with my friend Heather when we saw Farewell My Queen at the Cinema Nova (a movie I highly recommend).  We went on the Queens Birthday holiday afternoon and stopped for a coffee and chat after the film.

I eschewed a hot drink in favour of a slice of New York cheesecake.  It was a baked cheesecake that was incredibly soft and fluffy but with a hint of lemon.  Heather had a cream topped hot chocolate and a small biscuit.  No wonder Brunetti's has expanded to more cafes around Melbourne

If you look in the display cabinets you will see that whole cakes are also on offer.  Around Carlton they are well known.  Whenever there was a birthday or other celebration at my university workplace, the instantly recognisable Brunetti's box would often appear.  And we could be sure there would be something delicious inside.

Brunetti
80 Lygon street
Carlton Vic 3053
Phone: (03) 9347 2801
Opening hours: Sunday – Thursday (6am – 11pm), Friday – Saturday (6am – Midnight)
www.brunetti.com.au

20 comments:

  1. That looks like an amazing and perfect place for eating and people watching (two of my favourite pastimes!) How lucky to have something like this nearby!

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    1. Thanks Elizabeth - it is perfect for people watching - they even have a lovely large window with a tiled frame that even makes the watchers look like they are in a special frame - it doesn't seem that near but I guess from Scotland anywhere in the city seems near :-)

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  2. What a wonderful place! I want to go there NOW!!!! What temptations!

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    1. Thanks Jac - it is full of wonderful temptations

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  3. What an amazing place!!! Thank you so much for sharing. Greetings from Montreal, Canada.

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  4. Wow! It looks like much more than a café- art gallery more like! I imagine vegan options were scarce but eating in those surroundings must have been incredible.

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    1. Thanks coconut and berries - there is a touch of art gallery about the place - but yes I am not sure of the vegan options - though there might be something with the pasta

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  5. Ahhh Brunettis how I have come to love it my favourite is the profiteroles stack. My husband and I go on our birthdays. Im moving to Hobart soon and it will be one of the things that I will miss.

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    1. Thanks Helen - never had the profiteroles stack but it sounds amazing - hope you will visit Melbourne when you are in Hobart - so many great places to return to

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  6. I haven't been to Brunetti since the old place, I haven't bothered going now as I'm assuming there's nothing vegan in the way of dessert. But Brunettis was always an experience :)

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    1. Thanks Veganopoulous - not sure about vegan options - wondered as I was writing it up - thought maybe pasta but it is probably egg - and most food seems premade so I don't know - if I feel brave enough to ask I will when I am visiting.

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  7. I have fond memories of Lygon Street from my Melbourne visits, simply because the atmosphere is so wonderful. I'm glad all those chain stores tried and failed! It is always a bit sad when a long-term place moves (although less sad than when they close), but the new premises look amazing. I love the scale and different seating areas!

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    1. Thanks Kari - Lygon Street is full of so many great places to eat though I regret that a few have closed esp the vina bar :-( I am not so sad about brunetti moving - it actually makes more sense to have it on lygon st proper rather than around the corner in faraday street and the former incarnation was not the original anyway - I still get nostalgic for the original place though

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  8. So the mention that the area had driven out multi-national corporations reminded me of something funny that happened here.

    The Broadway Café is a great coffee shop on ... well, Broadway in the Westport area of Kansas City. A Starbucks moved in sometime when I was in college. After I graduated and moved back home, I lived down the street from the two coffee shops. I always noticed a bigger crowd hanging around outside Broadway. Eventually, the Starbucks packed it in. A triumph for loyal fans of local business. :) What was once a Starbucks is now a chain frozen yogurt place, and the number of chain stores remains at a minimum in Westport. The Peachwave survives because the only other frozen awesome stuff is Murray's Ice Cream, and since they don't do frozen yogurt, nor does Peachwave do handmade ice cream.

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    1. Thanks Jen - that is a great story and I am pleased to hear of other streets where the local offerings are strong enough to compete with the multinationals - it is so lovely to go somewhere with local flavour

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  9. My friend who lived in Melbourne used to rave about Brunetti's all the time! She particularly loved the cakes :D

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    1. Thanks Lorraine - I am sure you would love the cakes - just amazing and worth raving about

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