‘Gods and angels in the kitchen’: Melbourne’s brunch revival

Key points

  • Brunch, the meal that chefs love to hate and diners love is having a revival in Melbourne. 
  • Brunch has been criticised over the years as a corruption of breakfast and lunch and a waste of money and smashed avocados.  
  • However, Beatrix Bakes owner Natalie Paull says the meal is having a resurgence in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic with diners having a new found appreciation for chefs skills under pressure. 

Brunch, the meal that chefs love to hate and diners simply love, is undergoing a revival in Melbourne with queues stretching out the door at popular cafes.

Beatrix Bakes owner Natalie Paull says the brunch shift is one of the toughest and requires the highest level of time management in the industry.

Natalie Paull of Beatrix Bakes devised a brunch menu for 1,600 people on Saturday for the World’s Longest Brunch. Credit:Paul Jeffers

“When you’ve got an egg that is literally a second or two away from being overcooked for a really hungry, just-woken-up customer, and to get it right, it is just like they are gods and angels in the kitchen,” she says. “[Customers] have had a hit of coffee and they just want their eggs and their toast and they want it done perfectly.”

Paull helmed the World’s Longest Brunch in the Treasury Gardens for 1,600 diners on Saturday and says the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival event left her with increased respect for brunch chefs.

After closing Beatrix Bakes cafe and limiting her business to whole cake orders, Paull has been able to enjoy brunch herself which she says is having a resurgence in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

“I think it gave us an appreciation of what brunch actually entails,” she says. “It’s tricky to learn how to poach an egg at home and these people have such incredible skills to be able to poach so beautifully and on mass.”

Brunch has been criticised over the years as a corruption of breakfast and lunch, a waste of money and smashed avocados, both frivolous and tedious.

“The ‘B’ word is dreaded by all dedicated cooks,” Anthony Bourdain wrote as long ago as 1997 in an essay for The New Yorker. “Nothing demoralises an aspiring Escoffier faster than requiring him to cook egg-white omelettes or eggs over easy with bacon.”

In last year’s critically acclaimed Disney drama The Bear their mutual frustration with brunch briefly unites chefs Carmen ‘Carmy’ Berzatto and Sydney Adamu.

Sitting out the back of the restaurant after service, they agree “F-ck brunch” but it’s unclear whether it is the very idea of the in-between meal itself that they detest or the act of creating it.

Queues for brunch at Florian Cafe in North Carlton have caused consternation with neighbours.

Pat Nourse, creative director of the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival, says the influence of social media is partly to blame for brunch’s bad reputation in recent years.

“There are so many brunch and breakfast players who have ‘put a hat on a hat’ with a lot of food to try and get a slice of the fickle influencer market on the ‘Tok and the ’Gram, which doesn’t always have positive outcomes for the deliciousness,” he says.

Nourse is an advocate for the return of ugly delicious food and brunch menus that put flavour first.

“I understand breakfast and brunch to be some of the least popular shifts with frontline hospitality workers but I think we’re poised for a brunch revival,” he says.

He points to the popularity of brunch destinations like Carlton cafe Florian which inspires queues out the door and along the footpath, much to the chagrin of neighbours.

Chef Darren Robertson of Three Blue Ducks in Bondi and at Urbn Surf at Tullamarine is backing the brunch comeback but says the in-between meal requires a delicate balance.

Rachel Holt, Meredith Tharapos andSheila Di Paolo enjoying a glass of bubbles at The World’s Longest Brunch at Treasury Gardens, Melbourne.Credit:Paul Jeffers

“You can’t go in too hard,” he says. “Like most chefs I’m a big fan of offal but you’ve got to read the room a bit, you want something that is easy, not too challenging, and most of all delicious.”

Robertson says diners’ experimentation in lockdowns with making their own sourdough has given a new-found appreciation for simple eggs on toast.

“I feel there is a genuine acknowledgement for the amount of work that goes into making it decent,” he says.

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