Sometimes it's easier to identify when a cafe is doing something wrong, rather than when it's doing something right. Bad decor, poor lighting and acoustics, indifferent wait staff, bland food - these are all obvious markers. But a cafe that gets things right often does so in an unobtrusive way: the vibe just feels right, the coffee is good, the food is interesting and well executed, and you leave feeling upbeat.
Cornershop in Yarraville is a cafe that's doing things right. Run by a former partner at Le Chien, it ticks all the boxes. The vibe is warm and welcoming. Seating options include seats looking out of the big windows onto Ballarat St, at the rectangular communal table, at little tables along the wall or outside in the small, sunny courtyard which is heated with gas heaters in winter. Solitary diners tapping away on laptops, people reading books or newspapers and mums with bubs and prams in tow are all part of the mix.
Despite the large windows, the interior is quite dark but it's more welcoming and clubby than drab and uninviting. The dark floor and dark wooden tables are brightened by splashes of colour from the very busy, but not noisy, red coffee machine and the work/bar area is lined in pale-green pressed metal. The specials are featured on an old bookies' tote board , while the generous counter is lined with old-fashioned cake stands and platters full of cakes, biscuits and muffins.
A long black, made with the house Supreme blend, arrives quickly and is sweet on the palate, while the flat white is one of the best I've had in Yarraville. It's smooth and sweet, with no bitter aftertaste. Breakfast options include the usual suspects - scrambled or poached eggs, fruit toast and jam and Bircher muesli - plus some more special offerings such as ricotta hotcakes, Spanish beans with paprika and chorizo, and baked eggs, the composition of which changes each day. The lunch menu includes zucchini fritters, a steak sandwich, crystal bay prawns, salads and toasted pides.
Avocado on sourdough appears on both the breakfast and lunch menus. Rather than serving the toast with pre-mashed avocado smeared over it, this dish comes with a perfectly cut half of a large ripe avocado, topped with a jumble of rocket and fetta crumbles, beside two smallish pieces of thick sourdough, toasted to just the right golden-brown shade and generously buttered. It's a lovely and fresh summery dish, with the rocket and lemon juice adding a zing to the creamy fetta and smooth avocado.
Ricotta hotcakes come with fruit adjusted for the season: perhaps basil-poached peaches in summer and poached autumn fruits later in the year. Three misshapen ovals, shaped like pikelets but with a lighter texture thanks to the ricotta, are piping hot and barely any time must have elapsed since sliding them from the pan onto the plate and out the door to my table. The poached pears and dates are nicely spiced, with peppery star anise adding some bite to the soft cinnamon flavours.
There are several outstanding cafes already in Yarraville Village but Cornershop has carved out a comfortable niche for itself in a short time. Great coffee and an innovative menu ensures that this cafe is never short of a customer, despite the local competition and imminent demise of the restaurant industry predicted by pessimists spooked by the global financial crisis. Cornershop proves that cafe owners and operators who understand their market and get the fundamentals right will always have a loyal audience.
Cornershop, 9 Ballarat St, Yarraville.