Sean Goedecke is a freelance writer trying to visit every cafe in Australia. If you enjoy his articles, it can't hurt to click the 'like' link at the bottom or subscribe.
Published October 19th 2011
Auction Rooms Cafe, on 103-107 Errol St, is housed in the old WB Ellis auction house. It's a coffee roaster and cafe, like every other fancy Melbourne coffee shop. You can go there for breakfast or lunch every day of the week if you can find a table. It probably goes without saying that Auction Rooms is full of hipsters, from the patrons to the staff, but if you're not made physically ill by the sight of flannelette shirts then it's definitely worth a visit. The real question is why you should visit Auction Rooms rather than nearby Seven Seeds.
Auction Rooms takes an advantage over Seven Seeds right off the bat with the way it's laid out. The front windows are large enough to cover the entire wall it's a large wall and when they're opened, the cafe feels more like an open-air gazebo than a dingy warehouse. The atmosphere is free and easy, reminiscent of Lot 6 Cafe in Melbourne University. Above you, the warehouse ceiling is pretty high and holds a series of cylindrical lights and whirling fans. To complete the retro quota that all Melbourne cafes seemingly have to meet, each table holds a battered Heinz pea and ham soup can (cleaned out, obviously) full of raw sugar.
Opinions vary on the service. Some say that the staff are aloof and "too cool", but what do you expect from Melbourne cafes? If you want a smile with your meal, get your mother to cook you dinner. The only problem with the service at Auction Rooms is that it can be hard to get a table (and to get a waiter or waitress once you're seated). Almost every popular cafe has this problem, and the only real solution is to go during less busy times of day.
The espresso-based coffee is predictably excellent, whether with soy milk or normal milk, and Auction Rooms offers other kinds of coffee as well, including syphon and French press. If coffee's not your thing, try a soy chai latte. It comes in a battered metal teapot and is deliciously smooth on the sweet side rather than the spicy side. Seven Seeds comes out a little ahead here, since it's also got clover coffee, but for regular latte-drinkers there's minimal difference between the two.
If you haven't been to Auction Rooms in a year or two, they've changed their food menu for the worse, sadly. The wagyu beef sandwich has deteriorated in quality and a lot of the complex dishes have turned into deep-fried sludge. The portion sizes have shrunk as well, going from hearty meals to fine-dining style snacks. It's still worth trying the Shady Deal breakfast (not as shady as it sounds) or the knuckle sandwich (less painful than it sounds), but don't get your hopes up too high for the other options. Everything is pretty expensive as well.
A good general rule for visiting Auction Rooms is to show up before ten in the morning or after midday. That way you'll miss the crowds and be able to find a window table. There's something to be said for attacking a Moroccan tomato stew with chorizo, fetta, olives, coriander and toast in the morning. If you want, you can find breakfast or lunch somewhere else on Errol St and visit Auction Rooms for what it does best: its coffee.