Stovetop is a relatively new venture just north of Melbourne CBD, right in the hub of the University of Melbourne zone, in Carlton. With nearby competition from cult-cafe Seven Seeds, having a point-of-difference of stovetop brewed coffee alongside their typical Synesso machine poured coffee, Stovetop hopes to set itself apart from the norm in the Australian coffee capital, banking on it’s location near two major universities, and being the first in Melbourne to bring stovetop coffee to a specialty level.
Using beans from Perth-based roasters Five Senses, and featuring a rotating menu of three coffees, we were unfortunately informed on our visit that both the blends typically used for their specialty stovetop coffees were unavailable at the time, and were instead offered a Rwanda, usually reserved for their normal machine coffees – disappointing for a venture who’s namesake relies on specialising in stovetop coffee to have to offer a lesser alternative to their customers only shortly after opening.
The coffee – Guest Blend; 4 cup (12.0) – was over-extracted, very dark, and was missing characteristics typically associated with stovetop brews: heavy chocolates, and caramels. Though an innovative idea in a city dominated by expensive coffee machines, specialty roasters, and internationally renowned baristas, the heaviness of the stovetop coffee we sampled reaffirmed our belief that it has little place in the specialty coffee market, and the method does not seem to be the best way to showcase single origin coffees.
Upon entering the premises, we seemed to be just as confused as the staff were on service arrangements. With two separate entrances (the street entrance, and the internal building entrance servicing University of Melbourne staff and students) both near the coffee machine where takeaway patrons were eagerly awaiting their coffees, the poor floor staff seemed confused as to who had just arrived, who was waiting to be seated, who was waiting to pay, and who was waiting to order a takeaway.
We finally spotted a vacant table and, after waiting to be seated for several minutes to no avail, sat ourselves down. The staff seemed to have had some miscommunication in their zoning, and we were asked several times whether we wanted to order or had already ordered by multiple staff. Throughout our time at Stovetop, we also spotted the staff walking around aimlessly, looking for things to do, while tables around us tried to seek their attention as they waited to order. Oddly enough, the moment we made the smallest gesture to leave at the end of our meal, our table was swooped upon by staff clearing the table, and awkwardly blocking our exit, leaving us waiting to leave. I would have been a little more understanding had there been a line of people waiting on a table, or even if we had not already sat for a solid 15 minutes after finishing our meal without once being attended to by staff checking if we wanted to order anything more, or even to clear our table. It was made abundantly clear that the staff and service were still fresh, and needed a little more direction and some sort of floor management, before a more fluid service could be achieved.
After reading a few reviews from fellow Melbourne food bloggers (I’m So Hungree; Concrete Playground) prior to our visit, not to mention the high Urbanspoon rating, I had high hopes for what seemed to be a comprehensive, varied, and rather experimental menu that – though quite small – seemed to capture the dietary requirements and cafe food trends of the moment.
Brioche Corned Wagyu Beef, Sauerkraut, Swiss Cheese and Seeded Mustard in a Toasted Bun (14.0).
As a lunch menu item, the bun was disappointingly small, almost the size of a slider, especially for the relatively high, almost Perth-like price. A side salad or fries would have been appreciated, if not even a suggestion from the waitstaff, but only on further inspection of the menu later did we realise that an add-on side of Garlic and Rosemary Roasted Chat Potatoes (6.0) was an option. The burger itself was pretty non-event. As self-confessed sauerkraut lovers, Stovetop’s addition was a particular lowlight for our visit. Bland and barely pickled, it tasted as if it had either come directly from a jar, or had been pickled in-house earlier that morning with not enough time dedicated to developing the flavour in the pickling process. Also odd was the generous serving of housemade seeded mustard that accompanied the slider. Though delicious, as a side it required a deconstruction of the slider before devouring, and seemed a little too fiddly and unnecessary; almost a novelty in an attempt to add dimension to an otherwise one-dimensional dish. If you were after a decent burger in that price-range, you would definitely be better off heading to Rockwell & Sons on Smith St in Collingwood for a Double Patty Smash Burger (10.0).
Melbourne Pantry Black Pudding, Poached Eggs, Keisler Fleish, Braised Cabbage with Apple, Pear Chutney and Toast (18.0).
The eggs were also rather disappointing, with the only textural contrast on the plate stemming from the juxtaposition between overcooked, rubbery poached eggs, and the under toasted bread, braised cabbage, and apple & pear chutney combination mash that the eggs were sitting in. No #yolkporn here, that’s for sure.
All the elements on the plate smashed together to form one bland, soft mush, that left nothing in particular to desire in my palate. The braised cabbage was overdone and almost flavourless, reminding me of the miscellaneous vegetable slop served up during my time at University residential college. Ironically however, there was a more developed flavour in the braised cabbage than there was in the sauerkraut featured in the Brioche Corned Wagyu Beef. The Keisler Fleish was lacking in both saltiness, smokiness, and crispness, further adding to the lack of texture on the plate.
The saving grace of the dish was the Black Pudding, fatty, juicy, and crisp, and not too overpowering in flavour as some black pudding can be. Unfortunately (or fortunately, considering the standard of the other plated elements), this was a component outsourced from Melbourne Pantry.
Considering the size and number of staff busying themselves in what seemed to be a relatively large and well-equipped kitchen, not to mention the glowing reviews I had stumbled across prior to our visit, I was extremely disappointed in the calibre of food that come from the kitchen. Taking a more in-depth look at the menu, it seems that a lot of the plates feature ingredients that can be outsourced or prepared by third parties, before being “assembled” on premises.
They do, however, seem to make their own chutneys and jams, on display and available for purchase at the counter, alongside other coffee-related paraphernalia (Keep Cups branded with the Stovetop Logo, beans), cakes, and ready made lunch options.
Stovetop in Carlton is open on weekdays from 7am to 5pm and on weekends from 8am to 4pm.