Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Reading Room - specialty coffee near Footscray Park

Waiting in the line, juggling books and backpack, my mobile rang.

"Hi, it's your dad."

"Oh hi Dad.  How are you?  Just a minute, I have to order my coffee.  Yes, I'll have a latte with caramel syrup, please.


"Are you there?"

"...after all the places I've taken you...all I've tried to teach you...this is how you repay me.  CARAMEL SYRUP!  WHAT ARE YOU THINKING!!?!"

True story.  It wasn't my fault, though.  My university cafe made what I am sure was certifiably the world's worst coffee - pallid, stinking of wet, burnt grinds, its insipid foam deteriorating with the first desperate blow across its surface as one tried to cool the magma-like liquid beneath.  Syrup was the only thing that made it drinkable.


Well, I obviously didn't go to Vic Uni, the students at which are absolutely spoilt rotton with the Reading Room cafe who do fabulous specialty coffee.  They use a Synesso and have three separate grinders buzzing madly all day long.  Even a bog-standard latte gets the choice of Candyman by Small Batch, Chompy by Sensory Lab and a regularly-changing single origin.  Best of all, it's open to the public!

The weekday spread

I have gone down in the week when it is abuzz with students but I feel a bit left out without my yellow highlighter and giant brick of readings.  On weekdays there's a huge spread of ready-to-go quality sangers plus a full a la carte menu.  The hot tip is it's now open on weekends with a totally different, chilled-out atmosphere and special breakfast, lunch and high tea menu.  Reading Room invited me to check it out as their guest.


Oh, such consistently great coffee.  I love the Chompy in particular.  The single origins are always nice to have as an espresso so you can really taste the varietals.  I know that sounds wanky but honestly, if you give it a try - especially with two different blends next to each other - you'll really notice the difference.


Reading Room have espresso and cold drip available in the week, while on weekends they also offer siphon and pourover.  Melbourne, I know it's hard to wrench ourselves away from the espresso machine teat, but the new brewing methods of coffee are really worth trying.  When done right, the coffee is so flavoursome you honestly can't bear to add milk or sugar.


This siphon method is like a science experiment - the water is sucked first up and then down due to changes in pressure, mingling with the coffee in the top bulb before being forced down to the lower and leaving the grounds behind.


Somewhat similar to filter but with an even more crisp finish, it had such a clean taste with pleasant red berry acidity.

Fritter's Lane, $14.50

The food is really nice.  It doesn't break through the sound barrier, but it's well made, generous in serves and tasty.  My fritters were fresh and super crispy, quite lovely with the avo smash.  The sunny spill of egg yolk was so pretty against the matt black plate.

Eggs Hemingway, $9.50

DIY brekkie was an easy choice with roasted tommies and avocado and ricotta mash.  Loved the dry-cured bacon (out of shot is my greedy side order to go with my virtuous-looking vego fritters, heh heh).

The BFG, $14.50

"The BFG" looked super indulgent with more of that fabulous bacon curling around big slabs of brioche French toast and covered in maple syrup and crushed candied walnuts.  J remarked that with her Filipino heritage, it was quite familiar to her to combine sweets with savouries.

Great Expectations, $13.50

This breakfast piadina was filled with scrambled eggs, gruyere and shaved ham.  The eggs did look a bit watery but S loved the bread which was satisfyingly toothsome.


Cakes were really fabulous - the scones were proper scones.  One of the things I find most exciting is that the Reading Room is open until 6pm on a Saturday or Sunday.  After 3pm it can get hard to find a cafe that will be open for much longer or where the kitchen's not closed.  I look forward to dropping by in the late arvo for a coffee or a spot of high tea, which involves a three-tiered stand with sweets and savouries, like chicken and tarragon sandwiches.  Ooh la la.


Check out the website for details of The Reading Room's charity giving initiative over the next eight weeks.  There's heaps of room on the forecourt outside for kids to go mental.  Footscray Park is right next door too which is a delight to meander through with a takeaway coffee, down to the river with that gorgeous view of the city which always makes me think how lucky I am to live here.

Disclosure:  The above meal at The Reading Room was provided free of charge by the owners to me and three guests as part of their weekend trading launch campaign.  The offer was not conditional on me subsequently writing a post.  The Reading Room has not been given any editorial control of this post.

Reading Room Cafe on Urbanspoon

The Reading Room
Building P, Victoria University, Footscray Park Campus (easy entry off Hoadley Court, Gate 2)
Phone:  0413 842 690
Hours: Mon-Fri 7.30am-7pm, Sat-Sun 8am-6pm (open Easter Saturday, Sunday and Monday - bookings via the website)

View Footscrayfoodblog reviews in a larger map


  1. What a great find for a lazy weekend brunch or afternoon tea. Food looks good too.

    I would not have thought to go into VU campus on a weekend for something like this...will give it a go. Does it have a view of the park/river?

    1. No, you would never think to go wandering around the uni campus on the weekend in search of coffee and breakfast, would you?! No view unfortunately but a nice stroll down there afterwards is good. I hope you like it Andrew :)

  2. Looks like they are quite serious about coffee indeed! Third wave beans, single origins, siphons and cold drips!

    I smiled at your little story about dad's phonecall and caramel syrup, was also inwardly slightly outraged, hahahahha!! This coming from a boy who enjoys his kopi w CONDENSED MILK!!! Hah!

    Incidentally, I'm currently using Chompy beans at home, can't make my coffees taste as robust as how the cafes do it though.

    1. Haha! You know, Dad would probably have a fit if someone suggested he have filter or siphon just as much as caramel syrup. He's a double short mac man and that's that.

      I find home espresso machines largely disappointing - I guess they just can't match the pressure of a $20,000 commercial machine.

  3. Nice one, seems like another worthy addition to the burgeoning number of cafes in Footscray. Just wanted to clarify though... when you wrote "Reading Room invited me to check it out as their guest", does that mean they shouted you the food and did the kitchen know that you would be reviewing specific meals? (i.e. could they potentially have put some extra care into the dishes?). Not casting nasturtiums at you or Reading Room, but I think it's good to be clear about what "guest" means.

    1. Yes Macpherson, they shouted me the food (although we didn't pre-plan the menu). Maybe I should have been clearer but the way it's sometimes done, with a big header reading "DISCLAIMER: I ATTENDED READING ROOM AS A NON-PAYING GUEST" as the post's first line, I think looks clunky.

      I have been thinking about this more lately. I've been to my first-ever two freebies in the last two months, the Rickshaw Run and now this. I'm thinking of asking you the readers what you think - does the fact that it was a freebie immediately put you off, or do you have faith I'll be honest? Do *I* have faith I'll be honest? It's something I'm continuing to grapple with and I'm not really sure what the answer is. Blogging can be a sometimes expensive hobby with comparatively little reward, so it's honestly nice to get a little free swag. Whether or not readers want to hear about those experiences is another matter. If you're reading this, please weigh in with your thoughts!

      Maybe I should put a line down the bottom like journalists do, "Mr X travelled to Hong Kong as a guest of Cathay Pacific". (I should be so lucky one day - Vietnam Airlines, I'm standing by!)

  4. I wasn't questioning your integrity, but if the cafe knows that you are there and they are providing the food at no cost, what's to stop the owner saying to the chef "this order is for the food blogger's table... make sure everything is spot on". I'm just saying that in those circumstances, the food you are reviewing and photographing may not be quite the same food that I get when I turn up to that cafe.

    1. There's nothing to stop them, but there's also nothing to stop them whether it's free or not. Local restaurants and cafes are becoming more aware of the blog (and all blogs) and sometimes they recognise me before the camera comes out. Maybe that's my fault because I've got my pic on here. When I first started blogging I used a pseudonym and had a vague pic, but eventually I just wanted to be myself. I think seeing someone's face is actually quite nice to relate to, rather than the back of the head or an eye or something.

      So yes, what I review and photograph might not be exactly what you get, but there are many variables that go into that - be it that it's an explicit free meal, they work out I'm a blogger, or I got a good (or bad!) day at the place whereas you might get the opposite. I do believe, though, that there are basic things that come through whether they know the mea's for a blogger or not. You can't change the vibe of a place on demand or its cleanliness, and you can't change certain parts of a dish - say I order a curry, they can't cook a whole new "improved" curry on the spot.

      But no, I can't control if I got extra bacon or they really hovered over the pan to make sure the eggs came out just right. I don't know how I get around that except by doing what I did, saying I was invited as a guest, but I'll try to be clearer next time...if there's a next time! :)

    2. Interesting discussion - I, too, have been thinking about such things. Lauren's right - it can be quite expensive when you're doing it at the rather intense level we both are. Right, too, in saying that a blinking neon disclaimer at the top is probably too much; maybe the journo practice of disclaimer at end is the go. I'm also interested to know what those who read and use blogs would be comfortable with. Does "Kenny was a guest of Restaurant X" cover it? Or does it need to be something more explicit in mentioning that no money changed hands?

      AFAIK, the Reading Room promotion was the first by a western suburbs eatery to target bloggers, who they presumably figured would be more relevant to them than a potentially frustrating effort to get more mainstream traction.

      In a more micro sense, I'd like to believe that for the most part the kinds of places this blog, my own and others review are too busy to really tart up blogger food.

      Bennie and I had lunch today at a place we like and where we are known. Yes, I took pics and will put a post up tomorrow. But so far as I could see our meals were no different to those of any of the other customers.

      As well, whatever short-term gain is to be had by serving different or superior food to bloggers and other reviewers could likely turn sour when subsequent customers are disappointed. I think this is a point most places would take into account. In many ways, it's really in their best interests to deliver just what they always deliver.

  5. All very reasonable points from both of you, Lauren & Kenny. I'm sure your blogs are huge labours of love and I don't begrudge you the occasional freebie. However as a blog reader and potential customer of the places you review, I'd simply like to be aware of any hospitality offered to you in return for a review.

    What you both write carries a lot of weight... you are quite influential (well, certainly in my household!) when it comes to deciding to check out a new establishment. I think that as "citizen journalists" or whatever the vogue term is for bloggers these days, there is an onus on you to be up-front about what you are receiving in return for what.

    Exactly what form that disclosure takes, I'm not sure, but as Kenny said I'd probably lean towards a disclaimer at the end of the post... "My meal at XXXX was provided free of charge by the owner in return for me a writing a review. XXXX has not been given any editorial control of this post".

    1. Macpherson, I reckon that is a good, comprehensive disclosure and one that I'd be happy to add at the end of any future freebie posts. :)

      This is a tricky area. A while ago there was a violent flame war on our Melbourne food bloggers Facebook group between the anarchist, give-me-independence-or-give-me-death blogger/s and those who are accused of being "floggers", ie, they "flog" in return for swag. There was no resolution and I and other bloggers I'm close to are still working out how to walk the line.

      I try to think of Mark Dapin's rollicking good read that was his trip to Christmas Island, which was paid for by the Christmas Island tourism board or some such. I really enjoy his brutally honest, self-deprecating, darkly funny columns and felt that the Christmas Island piece was just an extension of his normal enjoyable style - I didn't get the feeling I was being "sold" something. I recall another article recently about food in Hong Kong, which mentioned a burgeoning cafe culture with third wave beans, dedicated baristas etc. At the end it said, "X travelled to Hong Kong courtesy of Nescafe" but there was no mention of Nescafe in the whole article, only independent cafes and micro-roasted coffee. Poor Nescafe (not), haha!

      Anyway, we'll see how it develops. I really appreciate the friendly and honest feedback, Macpherson, and am glad you find value in and enjoy both my and Kenny's blogs!

    2. That's great stuff, Macpherson: I reckon that's a fine template for future use. I didn't receive an invite from the Reading Room. But a Sunshine place we've reviewed and in some ways helped give a kick start to - along with Lauren! - has stated plainly that our next meal will be a freebie. If it turns out to be also a review/post, I'm happy to put that wording at the end.

      When this has arisen in the past with us, I've made it as clear as I can that this graciousness is to be regarded strictly as a one-off and that all future meals will be paid for. And really, given the prices of the meals we buy and the nature of the places that serve them, I have no interest whatsoever in climbing on to any sort of full-time gravy train.

      For so many, and for me in another non-foodie life where freebies were a Big Deal, doing so becomes an end in itself. All rather tawdry and unreal, really.

      Thanks for the stimulating discussion!

  6. I went to the Reading Room as well - like you Lauren as a freebie. Like you I thought the food and coffee was a world away from my uni days so I gave it a pretty positive write up - although I thought the place was lacking a bit in atmosphere which I also noted. My policy is to add a disclosure at the start and end of the post (I used to just do it at the end but now I also mention it in the first paragraph as a reader complained that they felt jibbed to get to the end and find out that it was a freebie). I think some disclosure is important as if a cafe or restaurant knows you are there you are bound to get good service but I still think it is worthwhile accepting freebies (as long as they are disclosed) as it may lead to reviewing a place you would not have had the money to get to, or in my case, had not ever even heard of the Reading Room before. Anyway that is a convoluted way of saying that I think your disclosure on this post Lauren is spot on.

    1. Thanks for your support Cara. That's a good point - getting to the end before readers find out it's a freebie could be annoying. I think I'll combine a mention in the body of the review plus a formal disclaimer at the bottom. :)

    2. Personally I think the 'invited me as a guest' line lets the reader know the deal. I'm not sure about the formal disclosure statement.
      It seems a bit prescribed to me which contradicts the personal aspect that I quite enjoy. Each to their own though of course!

  7. LOL! Your Dad is funnyyyy. But fathers (and mothers) know best, don't they. I absolutely adore cafes that are just as creative with their dishes as they are with the names they call it. This place is going to be HUGE! Thanks for sharing your review =]

  8. I agree with Andy- let's not get too serious here, it is, after all, just food and coffee........'JUST FOOD AND COFFEE,' I hear you all exclaim.......

    1. Ha ha, yes indeed! Thanks Andy and ftsczy4eva. I will stick with both the 'guest' line woven in but will include the disclaimer just in case, but in a smaller font next time I reckon. Ah, the brave new world of blogging - we make it up as we go along, as you can see!

  9. Thank you for another great tip Lauren. We have checked it out on Sunday and were very happy with food/ coffee/ service. Definitely a keeper :-)mp

  10. This place is amazing have been 8 times in the last four weeks. Staff are great, food to die for and the coffe the best I have tasted in at least 5 years

    1. Boy, you really love it anon! The coffee is consistently great, isn't it? Love the choice of blends.

  11. We went on Saturday for Steve's birthday and we loved it. They were lovely with our two children (2 and 6) and the food was fantastic.

    The girls shared the BFG and Steve and I had the posher french toast brioche with the lemon curd and the raspberry mascapone. Both were fabulous and I loved the bacon.

    Coffee was great, babycinos were good. Only thing I'd recommend is don't sit near the door in winter. It didn't really close fully so was a bit breezy.

    I booked easily online and though I was a bit dubious they were expecting us when we turned up.

    You should get as many free meals as you can Lauren! If the food is crap the food will still be crap whether they know you are a blogger or not.



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