11 Jul Higher Ground, Melbourne CBD
Excitement and anticipation levels were high as its launch date approached, with Higher Ground being a sibling of the likes of ever-popular Top Paddock and The Kettle Black. We visit in the morning, but it’s less like a cafe and more like a workspace and bustling hive of activity.
Set within a heritage-listed 19th-century powerhouse on the Southern Cross end of Little Bourke Street, there’s no denying the interior is impressive. Exposed brick abounds, broken up by potted plants and contemporary decor. It’s cavernous and unlike any eatery I’ve been to before. The 160-seat venue spans over four tiers, with a long bar lining the ground floor, a mezzanine, and an upstairs lounge area with its own drinks counter. If you’re sitting upstairs, be prepared to have people popping over to take photos of the impressive interior.
Coffee is from their own Square One roastery, and alcoholic drinks are available all day long – breakfast cocktails anyone? A coffee cart is stationed outside, aiding customer flow.
Executive chef Nate Wilkins has put together a sophisticated and aesthetically pleasing menu, which includes the group’s famous ricotta hotcakes. It’s an all-day affair at Higher Ground, the morning menu slowly transitioning to an afternoon then dinner menu as the day grows older. A number of items feature on all three, and side dishes are a feature even during brunch.
The lamb sausage roll is ordered, coming with pickled cucumber and mayonnaise on the side. Crispy, buttery pastry surrounds the mildly spiced slice of lamb mince, and the accompaniments are needed to lift the flavours of the savoury filling.
The roasted wild mushroom comes on a base of polenta, with pecorino and thyme. The polenta has a soft and silky texture, but needs more salt. Mushrooms are prepared in various ways, with a large roasted portobello taking centre stage alongside slices of raw and pickled mushroom, and the hazelnut and sourdough crumble adds interest and texture.
It sits on the higher end of the price-scale for brunch, but given the city location, that’s not entirely unexpected. Not quite a cafe, not quite a restaurant, Higher Ground blurs the boundaries of our definitions of what an eatery should be.