West Side Story: Benchtops

Sipping on a long black (or coffee-flavoured hot milk) while reading a book that makes you forget about the loud chatter around you is one of the small pleasures of enjoying cafes of Melbourne.

The cafes and spaces to do so and genuinely enjoy however, are few and far between. They either work with an excellent bean and a La Marzocco but are overcrowded, or they have an excellent space that allows for endless people-watching, but the coffee tastes more like licking a coin.

Melbourne’s west side offers plenty of awe-inducing cafe spaces with great coffee, food and most importantly, quality benchtops. Here are the top four:

  1. Little Sister

Even if you rock up at 8am on a weekday and no one has sat in the courtyard yet, the waitress will switch on the industrial heater and you’ll get the best seat. An old church pew with faded brown cushioning sounds grim but it’s better than it looks. It’s quiet, usually empty before 11am, and there is nothing but the chirping of birds and the grumble of the heater for ambient noise. The benchtop is inside by the door, so you will cop a strong breeze every couple of minutes. If you’re a sweaty betty, or you simply don’t care because it’s spring, sit on the bench to perve on the tradies in their hi-vis gear or the ladies in their activewear.

Eat: Quinoa porridge with poached pear or seattle salad.

Drink: A long black served in a double wall coffee glass with a shot of mineral water, done the Italian way.

What I read: Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

2. Mister Hoffman

An intimate, pretty, scandinavian interior means you can eavesdrop on almost every table and you’ll feel like a dud if you show up in trackies. Off-peak hour, grab a spot on the communal table that sits next to the coffee machine and the sink–Aesop handsoap tells you they are a classy establishment. If that’s taken, the bench by the table lamp is the best spot for reading. You’ll be next to a fire extinguisher, but it’s away from the door-breeze so who’s the real winner?

Eat: Superfood salad (order it with chicken).

Drink: The long macchiato is served with mineral water on a wooden board to make you feel like a true artisan.

What I read: Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler

3. St Rose

Probably the most famous cafe on the west side and arguably the most aesthetically pleasing interior: scandinavian chic with spinach-green plants and exposed white brick. The best seats are out the front with ample space or inside at the window benchtop. They usually have an Oyster, Fete or Frankie magazine just waiting to be photographed with your 5 Senses coffee. You cannot fault their menu, which makes sense as they have been open since 2013. Seemingly flawless, St Rose encourages you to live your best life.

Eat: Bircher muesli (Not too sweet, and you’d struggle to find another like it.)

Drink: Long black, Long macchiato, flat white, soy latte, strong-sparkly-unicorn-friendly cappucino–they’re all absolute winners.

What I read: Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

4. Cornershop

This is the trendiest, yuppiest corner of the Yarraville hub, and if you don’t get a seat by the window, at the very least sit at the large communal table. The cafe looks like an interior design catalogue brought to life, but add a few more laptops and books. Although it’s usually a busy spot, once you sit down at the floor-to-ceiling window and open your book, clattering and chattering become ambient noise. Service is great and the coffee is brilliant, black or white. Make a stop at The Sun Bookshop across the road before you come here for lunch. There’s a solid collection of Australian authors and new releases. Plus, it smells like buttered popcorn from the cinema next door.

Eat: Smashed avo with mumbo-jumbo toppings.

Drink: Long black or a flat white, depending on how you’re feeling.

What I read: Everywhere I Look by Helen Garner

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