I love a good side street. I have a strange affinity with them. I once spent a month in Toronto and found myself bizarrely terrible at navigating the simple grid system, instead reverting to some kind of innate directional instinct that I must have adopted growing up in the Roman city of York, which prides itself on its network of mediaeval 'snickelways', tiny side streets that weave illogically behind buildings and main roads. It's possible to get lost, and that's secretly something I don't mind, especially in a new city.
In Melbourne, the Laneways aren't illogical or particularly winding because they all stem from the original Hoddle Grid, but they're consistently intriguing nonetheless. I couldn't pass one without wanting to work out where it went, or discover the secret cafes and boutiques that lay within. This meant at points I'd find myself trespassing through underground pubs simply curious to know what was on the other side.
In Victorian times, the laneways served as service stops for horses and carts, but now they're mostly service stops for uncaffeinated hipsters. They're also home to the ultimate urbanites: graffiti artists, whose presence is felt in layers of neon tags and art lining the streets off Flinders Lane.
As Rachel Khoo has proven once and for all, kitchen size is irrelevant when it comes to serving excellent food, which is lucky as many of the heritage laneway buildings are thimble-sized, which lends a near-claustrophobic charm to cafes like Jungle Juice on Centre Place.
If you're looking for a place to share an embarassing secret with a long-lost friend, this is not the cafe to do it in; consider any conversation public, as much as you try to pretend that there's more than a child's hand span separating you from the next table. Perhaps this is why the owners decided to serve juice, the noise of the blender providing periods of relief for loud chewers.
The menu of generously filled bagels (for truly giant, try Manchester Press) deserves to be devoured unashamedly. Unfussy but delicious combinations like tabasco on smashed avocado make the experience memorable (literally for the spice shy). A consistent production line of sweet and rich Coffee Supreme brews are served from a small kiosk window opening onto the laneway, signposted by a cinema-style lightbox and vintage telephone. The whole place is undeniably cool, which I'm aware in stating probably means I'm not.
To do list
I dabbled in laneway dumplings on this visit to Melbourne by simply heading to Chinatown and following my nose to Hutong dumpling bar (10/10). On my next visit, I'd like to attend one of Walk Melbourne's Dumpling Tours, which for $69.00 allows you to try four different styles of dumplings at various locations alongside expert commentary from walking tour guides.
I daresay my friends were suspicious when I led them down a seemingly empty side street to try Huxtaburger, the down-to-earth takeaway joint set up by a team of highly-regarded chefs. While delicious, I'd love to go back and discover the myriad of other burger restaurants signposted from laneway to laneway.
Recommended to me by all and sundry, MoVida Bar de Tapas actually remained on my list of places to try until it was too late, though when I happened to stumble past it in a laneway daydream I noted how apt its home felt; tapas deserves to be eaten on the pavement of Barcelona's gothic quarter and this is the next best thing. Outside of the CBD, Chez Dre in South Melbourne was recommended to me as an excellent brunch spot and patisserie, nestled on a laneway removed from the main network.
Jungle Juice is located at 20 Centre Place, Melbourne. Read part one of Alice's Melbourne blog here.