"If you would lift me up you must be on higher ground"I couldn't say it better myself. I'm assuming that when American poet Ralph Waldo Emerson penned this famous quote he was looking well beyond his 19th century existence. His crystal ball was tuned to February 2017 and focused firmly on Little Bourke Street, Melbourne Australia.
I've eaten at Higher Ground twice now and I'm convinced it's the best brunch in Melbourne. Tucked away as it is, just opposite Southern Cross station and underneath a sky scraper, we almost walked past it on our first visit.
I had a feeling Higher Ground was something special and read up a little after my first visit. I was right, it is something special. Less than a year old, Higher Ground is the brainchild of Nathan Toleman, the guy who along with his wife, pretty much INVENTED SMASHED AVOCADO ON TOAST. Dear god, what a man!! All Hail Nathan Toleman!
Oh as if that's not enough, he also has a string of successful foodie ventures under his belt. His head chef Nate Wilkins has cheffed in all the best places and his team's experience is equally impressing. They are well and truly a power duo.
Let's look at the foodAlthough I couldn't fault any of the four dishes I've tried at Higher Ground, this one was my favourite. Spiced Cauliflower, Scrambled Eggs, Curry Leaf, Roasted Chilli & House Made Flat Bread. Ooof… where to start?
Incredibly fragrant crispy fried chilli leaves topping the softest bright yellow scrambled egg, thinly sliced cauliflower and toasty roasted broccoli florets. The spicing was subtle enough to not smother the vegetables but somehow, at the same time, enough to warm your palette. Honestly, could not fault this dish.
The salty, creamy anchovy mayonnaise was the winner on that plate for me and like a roast leg of lamb studded with garlic and anchovies, it paired the sausage meat perfectly. The pastry was flaky and gloriously calorie laden and don't get me started on the spiced lamb filling. Let's put it this way, Patrick only let me have the smallest of bites!
On my second visit (for Dave's birthday), despite being sorely tempted to re-order the scrambled eggs, I went for the Minced Lamb Fry Up with Eggplant (Aubergine), Fried Eggs, Pickled Rhubarb, Smoked Yoghurt, Pine Nut Dukkah and Sourdough. It was good. It wasn't as good but it was good.
As the plate came down in front of me, two fried eggs with their bright orange eyes winked up at me from beneath their dukkah fringe. I don't need asking twice, I was straight in there, breaking open the perfectly runny yolks with gusto. My favourite element on the plate (surprisingly for me) was the pickled rhubarb; a sweet acidity to cut through the rich, fatty lamb.
There was a lot on the plate and honestly, I couldn't taste the smokiness in the yoghurt. I see why it was there, to add a softer, wet texture to the plate alongside the smear of aubergine but it probably wasn't needed.
Dave had the Kale & Cauliflower Salad with Miso, Almond Hummus, Avocado, Poached Egg & Salted Seeds. Seeing as it was his birthday he also chose to add a side of Cured Kingfish.
The salad was nice (although being a big bowl of green it wasn't overly photogenic) and the cripsy kale was delish. Really though, the star of the meal was that side of delicately cured kingfish with yaki nori, sesame and house made ponzu. It was exquisite. Delicate, glorious, dazzling, heavenly… I'm going to stop before I run out of superlatives.
And the drinkies…On my visit with Patrick we enjoyed a couple of glasses of vino to toast his arrival in Melbourne and my success at having found such an awesome place for his first brunch. After telling him how amazing the Pinot Noir was in Australia, Patrick found that after this first glass (2014 Jamsheed 'Pepe le Pinot', Yarra Valley) nothing else came close for the duration of the trip.
My Sauvignon Blanc was nice but not neatly as exciting, nor was it from just up the road like Patrick's.
Just excellent food in a stunning, creative space. I ate during the day on both occasions. We queued on both a Monday and a Saturday. That's just the way it is as you can't make day time reservations. If you want to go at night you can (and should) book. Given how busy the staff were, I was surprised at their friendliness and impressed by the efficiency.
Expect to pay a little more than brunch elsewhere (across my two visits, the bills were an average of $59) which I actually think is really bloody reasonable. It's about £19 a head. If you want cheaper food brunch, go somewhere else. This is a special place and I'd happily pay double.