Accountancy is boring; open up a café instead. Thus one Saturday afternoon, one non-practicing certified accountant met another in a café on Glenferrie Road, Malvern. Ankit, the co-owner of The Laughing Girl, told me the story of how he tried his hand at accountancy but ultimately built a career in the food and beverage industry out of working at Macca's and Healthy Habits. The result? The Laughing Girl, a clean, brightly lit, unpretentious café which specialises in healthy breakfasts and lunches.
Why did Ankit and wife Bavika name it 'The Laughing Girl'? We named it after my mother. Her name is Aneetha, but we call her 'Nithu', which means 'the laughing girl'."
I visit the café on a Saturday afternoon, around 3pm. It strikes me how light and airy it feels. Nothing obstructs the sunlight. Three white walls and pine wooden tables contrast with one brick wall and dark, almost black wooden chairs. Each table has cutlery, salt and pepper, a napkin and two stalks of purple orchids in a funnel-shaped glass bottle. A nice touch, I think. There is a cosy little corner, just under a group of framed photographs, right at the back of the café. I sit on the grey-blue cushions, trying to take my photos discreetly for fear of waking up the boy sleeping in the stroller at the next table, his father clearly trying to get some quality reading time.
Indeed, as I look over the rather wordy menu and order the 'Tasmanian smoked salmon, asparagus, potato rosti and two poached eggs topped with creamy hollandaise sauce', I notice how there are a few children in the café. One of them quietly reads a book, while her parents eat. The other toddles around, but doesn't make much noise. The café seems to have a calming effect on children – parents, this is the place to take your kids when you have shopped your heart out and need a break.
At AUD$15.50, I thought that the dish was a bit pricey, but when it arrived, served by none other than Ankit himself, it was visually pleasing, a splash of colour, generously portioned. The salmon was peppered with capers and drizzled with some kind of greenish sauce. The bloated white eggs stared up at me. I dug in. It tasted good, warm and cold at the same time. If I hadn't eaten an hour or so before I had come in, I would have finished it. I also had a flat white, which Ankit says is of the Gridlock variety, the best coffee brand in Melbourne. The Laughing Girl also offers a few salads, which are proudly displayed at the counter, including one interesting-looking cauliflower and mushroom one.
I describe The Laughing Girl as unpretentious as the waitresses don't wear uniforms. That's not to say they walk around in pyjamas. I learnt something new when I visited The Laughing Girl; cafes have 'opening music' and 'closing music'.
When we play more 'poppy' music, then customers know that we're closing down," explains Ankit.
For example, when I went in, it was to the light, smooth sounds of some girly R&B song, but when I left, about half an hour before closing time, it was to the lively, old-school sounds of 'The Way You Make Me Feel' by Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder's 'Isn't She Lovely?'