Freda's Café, in Lilydale Melbourne, combines country, community and a touch of Albania to the outer Eastern food belt. It is uniquely tucked away in Clarke Street, protecting it from the hassle of Main Street, which guarantees no-stress parking. Open from 8.30-5pm Mondays to Fridays and Saturdays 9am-2pm, you can always get a coffee and a meal, without feeling that you are delaying closing time or interrupting staff. For Lilydale residents, this is a breath of fresh air, as most cafes in town close at around 3pm which if you are returning from the city, is troublesome.
Freda's make probably the best coffee in Lilydale because she bothers to get it right. The cake and desserts menu is a visual delight and is a menu-line that is clearly important to Freda and her regular customers who often call in for morning and afternoon tea. Some small cakes, such as the generous carrot cake are made in-house, as are the muffins and scones, while others that are equally fresh and luscious, are bought in daily. As a side-garnish to tartes and cakes, Freda often adds super-sweet fresh berries which are sourced from local farmers and berry farms (e.g., Direct Berries). Lilydale and the Yarra Valley is all about fresh food and where possible, Freda does buy local. Freda has home-made biscuits from which to choose all of which are priced at $3.50; slices are $4.00 and small cakes and tartes are $5.50. This is well-below competitive prices: in Lilydale you can pay up to $8.50 for a carrot cake.
Freda's small cakes and slices lead the eye to her specialty and novelty cakes, all made-to-order. You can order from a large selection such as Chocolate Mud, Chocolate Swirl, White Mud, the ever-popular Raspberry White Mud, White Citrus Mud, Black Forest, Chocolate Mousse, Chocolate-Vanilla Sponge as well as continental varieties. Freda, or one of her super-relaxed and hospitable staff members, discuss your hobbies or passions to gain an idea of just how you would like your cake to be decorated. If you are really stuck, there are photos to spark ideas. When I was relaxing at Freda's, she had three cakes on display: a green fairy-leaf decorated cake for a children's party; another decked out as a gentleman's tuxedo for a 50th; and another designed as a boat fare. Prices are determined by size and complexity: the small specialty cakes start at $50 and may rise to $145 for sizes 'to feed the masses'. Generally, you need to give Freda a week to bake and decorate.
Freda's offer a specialised cake-making service. Choose from chocolate swirls, mud-cakes or continental treats to celebrate milestone birthdays or children's parties.
Freda's is a café where you can call in and enjoy breakfast, lunch and light meals and not have to pay a fortune. She also does take-away. Her café menu includes sandwiches and rolls for $8.50-$9.00, open grills for $12, chicken schnitzel rolls for $9.00, as well as salads and gluten-free options. She has gourmet-style focaccias for $10 take-away, or an eat-in plate for $15 which includes salad and home-made chips. Freda's follow a similar price structure for her home-made pie and pastries selection: $6 take-away or pay $10 for a dine-in plate that includes salad and chips.
Freda has a very special menu-line that not only gives her café an edge, but also which tells a story of her love of family and passion for home-style cooking: 'Nanna's Menu'. Every day, Freda's Albanian mother-in-law, 'or Nanna', comes into the café to make 'the special of the day'. On Mondays, Nanna cooks European Panna and Rice; on Tuesdays there is Stuffed Peppers and Home-Made Pastizzi; on Wednesdays try her Gourmet Burgers; Thursdays always draws a crowd with the traditional Lasagne and Burek; and on Fridays it's 'Ron's' Roast and Scalloped Potatoes. These are all original Albanian recipes, passed down through generations. All lunch dishes on 'Nanna's Menu' are $13.50.
You can enjoy a focaccia with home-made chips and salad for just over $10.00. Freda's creates lunch packs, eat-in or take-away. The average cost of lunch is $12.50.
As well as the familial warmth and respect shown for traditional home-style cooking, 'Nanna's Menu' has also honoured 'Ron' from the trophy shop next door. The story is pretty simple: Ron requested a weekly roast and has been famed on roast day ever since! This is just one small way that Freda's is a local story and caters for the community of Lilydale. As I was enjoying my generous-sized focaccia platter, another couple who once lived in Lilydale walked in: they travel to Freda's every week just to say hello and to enjoy her hospitality. Freda and her staff extended care to the couple when their house burnt down and the welcome mat is always open.
The average price of a lunch-time meal at Freda's works out to $12.50. What is really worth investing in, however, is her all-day breakfast menu. You can opt for an egg and bacon sandwich for $7 or lash- out with the Gourmet Breakfast which is the most expensive menu item at $22. It all depends on how you want to start the day!
Kate, who has become part of the 'Freda family'. Over summer, outdoor tables takes Freda's family-community vibe onto the street. In Clarke Street, there is always a place to park.
Freda grew-up on a vegetable farm and then married an orchardist. Her life has always revolved around food, as she knows it to be a part of caring for people and making friends. Freda's Café exudes warmth: people walk-in, shouting hello from the doorway because it is their home-away-from-home. Community groups, such as Anglicare are always around and telling Freda about their day, as are many welfare and community groups and workers from Lilydale and surrounds. Freda's Café is built on family. This is reflected in the food: made with love and generous, generous servings that are below competitive prices. Freda's Café offers a catering service. Spreads and platters can be prepared for off-site functions or you can hire Freda's as a venue, which can cater for up to 50 people. Freda's catering presents set-menu options, smorgasbords, finger food, or menus that heroes favourite dishes such as Lasagne, Tortellini or Roasts. Popular salads such as pumpkin, spinach and pine nut, or the Mediterranean can also be added. Spreads are all home-made and organised according to budget, taste and function requirements. Freda's catering service is highly recommended for local welfare groups and businesses, especially those organising Christmas functions or celebrating other important events.
Freda's Café looks to be tucked away but is actually becoming a central Lilydale community hub. Just follow the locals: here, there is home-style cooking, generous servings and a smile and welcome mat to greet you.
Freda's has an in-house and off-site catering service. Popular in the human-resources field, Anglicare is a regular client of this cafe.