To think of Cafe Lafayette as just a cafe, would be an understatement. A sibling to Grand Lafayette in Prahran, Cafe Lafayette is well hidden in the inner Melbourne cobblestoned laneway of Niagara Lane (no.30 - ph 9670 1888) in the city. The closest train station would be Melbourne Central, however if you feel like a 15 min walk, you can't go wrong getting off at Flinders Station either.
Operating hours are from 10am to 3pm Monday through Friday and 10am to 4pm on the weekends. Opened just 2 weeks ago (9 Jan 2020), it's like walking into the neon-lit streets of Tokyo. Colours abound, however, without the harshness, blending into each other softly yet quite separate in hues, giving it a modern twist.
Designed by Hassell Studio the decor is a fusion that seems to work together. You wouldn't expect any less in a Japanese inspired cafe with a name of French origin. A stainless steel wraparound bar and cafe area, black tables that heroes the food, Scandinavian inspired light timber seating from Finnish company artek and Rabbit Ears beech wood chairs with unusual ergonomics designed by Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa from Japanese company SANAA and manufactured by Maruni Wood Industry all sit comfortably together in a modern sleek look.
The food is not traditional Japanese food, but creative Japanese inspired dishes. I ordered the Japanese Pasta with scallops, baby octopus, fish roe, homemade sesame sauce, egg yolk, radish, seaweed, chilli mayonnaise and spring onion soy sauce that came separate in a black cast iron teapot. The second dish was a Citrus Miso Salmon which was a sous vide citrus miso salmon with pearl cous cous, yuzu, mentaiko, seaweed crumbs, fennel, pickles and a 62.5°c egg.
For drinks we went a little indulgent with a couple of Super Freaky Shakes. That's exactly what they're called with an appearance to match. Your hand is not going to come away clean. We had the Matcha Matcha which is a green tea crumble, rainbow cereal and mini Kit-Kat and the Black Sesame Surprise which is crushed chocolate cookies, good quality marshmallows and an edible butterfly. After all that, there are but two dessert to be had at the Cafe, considering the Shakes can double as dessert. I ordered the Dutch Pancake, made for at least 2 people to share, which arrives in a hot and heavy cast iron frypan with lemon curd, cream and season fruit and mint to garnish.
It was decidedly heavenly sinking into the Salmon and cous cous. The slightly tart yuzu (citrus lemon) mayo mixed with crumbled seaweed lacing the top of the plate it came in was just taste perfection and added to the flavour of the salmon. The cous cous was the largest pearls I've ever seen and was beautiful and light unlike rice, which the Cafe does not serve at all. Next to the salmon, the Japanese Pasta was a little heavier with its dense tasting noodles, but the sesame sauce was beautiful and light to taste. The scallops that came with it on the other hand, was just orgasmic.
A food orgasm according to UrbanDictionary.com is the reaction a person has after taking a bite of a dish they find especially delicious. A food orgasm usually includes one or more of the following: tilting the head back, rolling the eyes upward, gasping, moaning and/or cooing. Yes, this is a technical definition and exactly how I felt with each mouthful of the Mains, as I let each and every taste rest on my palate, savoured before it disappeared down my throat.
After the Freaky Shakes it was hard to imagine we could fit dessert in, however the light and delicious warm Dutch Pancakes topped with blueberries, strawberries and bananas with cream and lemon curd resolved any will power we might have had left. It may be one of only two desserts, but one worthy enough to make up for lack of choices. Keep in mind though, it's not unusual not to have a dessert menu in an Asian restaurant.
The Matcha Matcha Freaky Shake was very matcha and not too sweet. It goes down easy and you can't go wrong with a couple of Kit Kats and rainbow cereal to sweeten the deal. The Black Sesame Surprise was quite chocolatey and obviously sweeter than the Matcha and the paper like, slightly sweet, coloured edible butterfly, was a surprise novelty.
The dessert we didn't order was a Raindrop Cake which is not quite a cake, but more a stylish blob of jelly made of house-filtered water and agar. Very Asian with almost zero calories, it's light, delicate and refreshing with four flavours (brown sugar, rose, Japanese green tea, mint) to choose from. Since I mentioned the Shakes could double as desserts, the other Shake options were Double Trouble Choc (chocolate brownie, candied pop corn, mini pretzels) and Very Berry (mixed cereal, mini waffle cone, rainbow sprinkles).
On the menu there are Twin Gua Baos to be had: Fried Chicken, Braised Pork, Confit Pork and Panko Eggplant. Other lunch/brunch options include Ham and Cheese Croissant, Panko Eggplant, Confit Duck, Beef Short Rib, Pork Belly Katsu, Fried Chicken & Waffles, Octopus Takoyaki Fritter, Bird's Nest, Unagi Hotdog, Beef Pie, The Benny (braised pork belly with mentaiko potato croquette, poached eggs, sauteed kale, hollandaise sauce and balsamic dressing), Matcha French Toast, Cauliflower Steak, Vegetarian Crepe and Extra Sides like bacon, chorizo, salmon, avocado, tomato, mushroom and chips.
Under the heading of MUST TRY, the Bird's Nest is housemade okonomiyaki, yuzu mayo, tonkatsu sauce, fried leek slices and a 62.5°c egg. Unagi Hotdog is a charcoal-grilled unagi (eel) with tamagoyaki, kale, picked onion, yuzu mayo and seaweed chips. The Beef Pie is a crispy kataifi pastry over a beef bolognese and mashed cauli filling, served with mozzarella and a side of onion gravy. I did have a latte but you didn't need to see a picture of a cup of coffee. There's also Rainbow, Golden and Matcha Latte, along with other coffees (iced, mocha etc) and tea, bottle drinks and orange or apple Farmers Market Juice.
As I was saying, this is no ordinary cafe. The food is delicious and beautifully plated, easy on the eyes and sure to entertain your senses. Head over to their Facebook page for a bit of food porn taken in daylight. A cafe well worth discovering, inconspicuously sitting in a laneway till you arrive at the door and are bathed in soft neon lights. Amen to that!