One of the lovely aspects of Melbourne is that almost every corner of the earth is represented somewhere in some way. Even the gross corners. But something that isn’t gross is the almost identical replication of the foodie laneways I remember visiting in places like Brussels, Rome and Prague (cue name dropping), here in sunny Melbourne. So imagine my absolute thrill when stumbling across Issus in Centre Place, making me feel like I was sitting in a cozy alleyway in Paris, sans beret.
I’d like to know how Centre Place has eluded me for this long. I’ve lived in Melbourne my whole life – all 31 years (or 27 years depending on who I’m trying to impress), and I have never once heard of or stumbled across Centre Place. Ever. How? HOW did I let this happen? I am utterly ashamed to call myself Melbournian at the moment. It is exactly what makes Melbourne so fascinating.
What is even more harrowing is the fact that I have never – not once – heard of Issus. Which is insane seeing as I’m constantly trying to prove my worldliness through my cultural knowledge and dining areas of the CBD in particular.
Issus is a small, welcoming and dimly lit café dug into the side of this lively laneway. The orange and brown décor automatically makes you want to order a hot chocolate in the cooler months and a hot chocolate in the warmer months for that matter, while the Moroccan-style spices hanging from the ceiling in strange little glass bauble thingys make most people wonder why they don’t travel to exotic spice-loving location more often. Like Darwin.
Pre made baguettes and spanakopita line the entrance to the café like a guard of honour, while Alcoholics like me are hard pressed not to notice the wine bottles stacked along the small bar area in the corner. Taking all of this in, I grabbed a seat in one of the booth-like tables, had a chat to an overly friendly, suited up older chap who wanted me to let you all know the coffee is ‘creamy’, and ‘perfect drinking temperature’ (as opposed to perfect bathing temperature), and digested the menu. The beauty of the Issus menu is that it’s neither too long nor too short, it has just enough of the traditional breakfast food options as well as a few ‘oh! Fancy!’ options, a stack of amazing looking juice combinations, and amazingly not a hint of pretention. Which in the CBD is refreshing, seeing as recently I drank a milkshake out of an old coke bottle. There is also a daily specials menu, which includes one or two breakfast specials. Amazing so far.
I ‘ummed’ and ‘aahed’ between the Poached Avocado Salsa and Eggs Issus, eventually choosing the salsa option, mainly because I couldn’t bear to face another English muffin (no sexual pun intended – get your mind out of the gutter). Unfortunately I come from a family that likes to chew the fat (literally), so I ordered a side of bacon to go with my salsa, and took the opportunity to order a ‘heart starter’ juice because there were moments in the day where I actually thought I had died, so naturally I wanted to be on the safe side.
The juice appeared at the table within a few minutes, followed by the meal, which came out pretty swiftly considering how busy the place was. It was pretty as a picture, bit with only one piece of toast I was happy I’d ordered the extra bacon, if for no other reason than to have a good argument for why I have high cholesterol.
Ok, so let me just say that I had high hopes for Issus. The décor itself seems somewhat edible, and luckily when the dish came out is was an absolute delight to gawk at. These high hopes were not dashed. In fact, salsa was being flung all over the shop because I ate with such gusto and was unable to keep everything on the plate.
The avocado was ripe and delicious, there was the perfect mixture of tomato, red onion and avocado was an absolute winner, and the sprig of what I think was cress was charming. If the egg was cooked for just 30 seconds less, it would have been one of the best eggs I’ve ever had the privilege to shovel down. Often a dish can overdo it with the balsamic jus, but at Issus they were able to serve up just enough to actually make the dish more amazing, if that was even possible.
The toast like most ciabatta, was very tough though, this being one of the main reasons I wasn’t able to keep all the food on the plate. In the end I threw the cutlery down and my arms up, admitted defeat and ate the last few mouthfuls with my hands.
Yes, I ordered bacon, and yes is was perfect in every way, but you only get two pieces for the extra $3.50. you pay, and I found I didn’t really need it. However, I wouldn’t call the servings at Issus ‘hearty’, so if you’re just ‘normal’ hungry then skip the added cost and stick with the standard menu options, otherwise if you love gluttony and earn stacks of cash then splash out and get some…and get me some while you’re at it.