Our Saturday involved a few things around the Queen Vic Markets and Flagstaff Gardens, so we figured we could sneak over to North Melbourne for lunch. After failing at Elceed (I think they were packing it in early because of the heat), we settled on a return trip to Twenty & Six Espresso. Given the ridiculous weather and our decision to walk rather than catch a tram, Twenty & Six's effective air conditioning was very, very welcome.
As was their selection of cold drinks: an iced coffee ($4.50) for me and iced chai ($6) for Cindy. Cindy's chai wasn't super strong, but was made from real tea. We were both happy that the iced beverages came without cream/ice-cream or other sweeteners and very, very glad to see all that deliciously cold ice.
The menu has changed a lot since our first visit. Gone are both the dishes we ordered then - I thought that the sticky black rice was their signature dish, so I was surprised it was absent. In their place were a new batch of veg-friendly dishes, including a fattoush salad with tomato, cucumber, avocado, radish, herbs, flatbread and roasted shallots ($15, probably vegan), a brioche French toast with poached peach, creme patisserie and roasted almond icecream ($16) and an apple, coconut and fig granola with yoghurt, almond milk and stonefruit ($12).
I went for something eggy - fried polenta with braised mushrooms, asparagus, ricotta, salsa verde and a slow poached egg ($18).
Twenty & Six have clearly retained their fondness for stylish plating - this looked stunning. It tasted pretty great as well, with the herby ricotta spread over crispy polenta squares and a tower of veggies piled on top. The asparagus was crunchy and fresh, the mushrooms rich and the egg oozing perfectly. I quite like the idea of swapping the standard toast out of brekkie for fried polenta squares - something to try at home maybe.
Cindy went with the vegan sweet option - a chilled tapioca and coconut pudding, with kaffir lime, toasted almonds, lychees and mango ($14).
There was a lot to like about this - the fruit was great and the flaked nuts gave a bit of texture, but they were a little heavy handed with the coconut cream, meaning the pudding part was a bit thicker and a lot richer than Cindy was hoping for. Tapioca/coconut puddings are clearly becoming a fixture on cafe menus, and I think Hobart's Property: of Pilgrim remains the gold standard.
Twenty & Six Espresso was a welcome haven from the heat for us, efficiently serving up beautiful plates of food and cold drinks in a very pleasant space. The staff are friendly and the menu always interesting - it's definitely worth a visit if you're after something a little different for brekkie.
Twenty and Six is a blogger favourite, with MEL: HOT OR NOT, Brunch Addict, Juliet and the Beantalk, I'm so hungree, Let Me Feed You: Melbourne, For the Love of Food, Gourmet Chick, A Sheepish Flog, The Owl's Nest, A Chronicle of Gastronomy, The Hungry Excavator, thehangrybitch, The Food Society, Jotting Down my Foodsteps and dinewhitme.com all writing positive reviews since we visited last. Just Keep Eating was a bit less impressed, while Off the spork loved the doughnuts, but found the mains too salty.
Twenty & Six Expresso
594 Queensberry St, North Melbourne
Accessibility: There's a small step on entry (although there are also some outdoor tables). The interior is pretty cosy and the toilets are out the back via the courtyard (which we didn't explore). We ordered at the table and paid at a low counter in the front room.