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 2nd 2011
At 9 Errol St, North Melbourne, Hot Poppy Cafe Bar is an airy cafe with outdoor tables. Like Cafe Andiamo on Degraves St, Hot Poppy is unsurprising - in a good way. You could probably list off the menu right now without too much trouble: foccacias, pizzas, risottos, burgers, fish of the day, and so on with standard Italian-Australian fare. Unlike Andiamo, though, it's out of the noisy CBD and is dog and family-friendly.
Hot Poppy Cafe Bar began - and continued - as an early-morning hangout for the tired and hungover. This in itself is not remarkable, since most of Errol St can claim the same thing, but Hot Poppy stands head and shoulders above the rest with its breakfast pide, a messy affair complete with a rich sauce and runny eggs. This is Melbourne, after all, so there is a vegan version heavy on the tofu and kecap manis. It's dark inside, for those with sensitive eyes and blinding headaches, and even the outside tables are cool and shaded.
The coffee is good, if not great. Hot Poppy Cafe is no Degraves Espresso but they do a decent enough job. Try a cappucino or a chai latte for something different with your breakfast. One minor problem: for some reason coffee service is quite slow. Order as soon as you get in, especially if you're desperate for your caffeine fix.
Lunch is a little classier - the lunch pide includes calamari and rocket, two ingredients you don't want to try on an upset stomach. Also in this category is the crayfish omelette: delicious but dangerous. Meals are cooked remarkably quickly, although not as quick as Don Don: you'll probably be halfway through your dish by the time your drinks arrive.
Dinner is classier still, with glasses of red wine coming out around the tables. Definitely try the rare, peppered kangaroo fillets with sweet potato. The sumac-crusted lamb fillets, chargrilled with herbed cous cous, tzatziki, black olives and rocket, is a good option here as well, but honestly none of the menu options are too bad. Breakfast is all day, so you could even have bacon and eggs for dinner if you want. Stranger things have happened. Go decadent for dessert with the sticky date pudding and icecream.
If you've been a fan of Hot Poppy Cafe Bar for a long time, but haven't visited in a while, be aware that the general atmosphere has changed. he hipsters have moved up Errol St to places like Auction Rooms, leaving Hot Poppy Cafe to the locals and tradies. This is almost certainly a good thing, as when the cafe gets busy service slows down and orders can get confused. The staff are guilty of cutting corners during a rush as well, with bread unpleasantly cold or mushrooms that look and taste like they're fresh from the can. This is bound to happen at any busy cafe, though - it's no terrible condemnation of the staff at Hot Poppy in particular.
Should you visit Hot Poppy Cafe? If you're looking for a fancy restaurant or fine dining, probably not - but that's not what Hot Poppy Cafe's trying to do. It's a great place to go for a relaxing meal, and one of the few places in the city that will genuinely welcome your children or dog. You probably already know about it if you live nearby; if by some chance you don't, give it a go. It's so comfortable, it might just become a habit.