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Hammer and Tong 412 eating house and coffee bar

Sunday brunch at another “I keep hearing about this place” cafe – so I finally find a reason to visit Hammer and Tong on a very chilly Melbourne Sunday morning. While the event wasn’t without its issues, I’m glad I did if only to give a glowing review (and emphatic recommendation) to the duck egg with oyster mushrooms, truffle butter, snow pea tendrils, and fontina briont soldiers because this dish is a standout … The kind of thing that really sticks in the memory with a WOW THAT IS GOOD label. In capitals, or uppercase if you prefer (that is for the benefit of my sister who came along during a visit before returning home to America).

Without making a big deal of it, the issue we encountered on a Sunday visit was being placed at a table practically on top of the door – which probably shouldn’t be squashed there for the sake of four more covers because with the queues of patrons waiting to be seated (and it is a weekend queue kind of place) we were literally eating under the eyeballs and elbows of customers crushing in the door, and through the door emitting temperatures of something or other: v cold Melbouney sort of air currents. Awkward. And pretty cold. Brrrrrrrrrrr!

Leaving our bad luck with seating arrangements to one side for the moment: lovely coffee. True, we all (me, Blackburn J and Jenny – being the visiting sister in question) ordered your regular flat white without moving to some kind of complex, single origin cold filter or syphon offering, but lovely all the same. Now that I recall, Jenny ordered skim milk which I just think is plain weird, but wouldn’t dream of judging or commenting on. Not while she is physically present in any case (and I didn’t)…

To food: very, very difficult to choose because the menu has a bunch of things where you think either “ooo I haven’t had that before” or “that sounds totally ace and makes me slobber” and in some cases both. Hammer and Tong publish their current menu online so you can reflect in advance if you choose HERE.

After a brief period of uncertainty, we get it together and order with nice, friendly guy. As previously mentioned, I choose the duck egg, truffle butter, oyster mushroom et al … Blackburn J orders a sausage and egg muffin with espresso maple bacon foam (cool! Who thought that up?) and Jenny, after some consultation with friendly waiter guy goes with the breakfast ramen – one of Hammer and Tong’s most ordered dishes. According to friendly waiter guy, anyway.

Ooo! Duck egg! Truffle butter! Oyster mushrooms!

So here is my truffly, buttery, duck egg thing.

Sensational. Really, really rich duck egg, supported by the rich, delicious truffle butter and the mushrooms and the buttery soldiers that are soaking the fluids and all becoming one big pile of divine excellence. And you get some green things to make you comfortable about ingesting all important food groups, including the random green stuff group, which is always good and makes you feel like a responsible adult taking healthy eating habits by the collar and gripping solidly. I can happily state that it is worth making your way to Hammer and Tong on the basis of this breakfast alone – and you get a more than decent coffee as a bonus (topsomundo).

Breakfast Ramen

So here is the ramen (and Jenny’s arm and the massive padded coat what with sitting in front of an open door and all – and some randoms queuing at our shoulders) and it looks dead interesting. The teapot is to provide more broth, as one would expect with a ramen noodle dish. This one says on the menu “62 degrees hen’s egg (as opposed to what? Rooster egg? Wha…?) with bacon, oyster mushrooms, spring onion and bacon dashi”. And of course your ramen noodles, which don’t get a separate billing but, what with it being a ramen dish, are an assumed ingredient much in the same way you know that a spaghetti carbonara will involve some spaghetti pasta noodles.

This is the part that gets weird: Jenny is eating and thinking for a bit – the soft egg has exploded nicely into the broth and all … Then she works out what it tastes like. Carbonara. I kid you not, and I know because she shared some spoonfuls: this is a ramen that is reminiscent of nothing more or less than carbonara, which is fine and dandy because who doesn’t like a carbonara, but when you get a bowl with things in it and a broth and a set of chopsticks, you mentally get prepared for a hint of oriental spice and some umami flavour and so forth, and then you find you are tasting carbonara. Don’t get me wrong, the ingredients are good – especially the chunks of smokey bacon, but there was something disconcerting about the whole experience. To be honest, even though it is brunch time, my preference would be for this dish to have something a bit more exotic going on … Take a risk my Hammer and Tong friends and insert some eastern spice. Distract me from the cold air from the door and the goggling customers leaning over our shoulders.

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Hello. Here we have Blackburn J’s sausage and egg muffin with the espresso maple bacon foam which he reported back as being awesome – and you will just have to take his word for it because I didn’t manage to sneak any. Unfortunately the bad iphone shot doesn’t reflect the foaminess of the foam, which was present and correct but not depicted in a just manner in this instance. So we have a solid recommendation for the foamy muffin and all is good.

the verdict:

Food quality excellent, with the duck egg thing tilting the scales against the surprising, or perhaps disconcerting, Italian flavoured ramen. But on the whole really delicious and inventive food. Coffee gets a high score, mind you if you want to be an “in” spot in Melbourne then excellent coffee is a threshold requirement.

Service was professional and friendly – but we could have seen a bit more of the guy. No offence, I think he was doing all possible but I wonder if they might be trying to serve one or two more covers then their staff numbers can cater to – there was a point where we were finishing up and just at that time when you think “hey, we could stand another round of coffees” there is no one there to help. And no one who can be summoned. And no one that I would feel comfortable summoning, because the few available staff appear a bit run off their feet organising tables for the goggling gang still standing at the wide open door under Jenny’s elbow.

What I would like to do, and no doubt will do, is try Hammer and Tong on a weekday without the queues, the harried staff etc because on the whole I think it is very good.

Weekend – nup. Even with the food I would prefer 9:30 Sunday to be a comfortable, relaxed time rather than huddled in an open door in coats trying to push strangers elbows out of my food. If I have one suggestion for Hammer and Tong it is to live with a few covers per hour less profit on a weekend, get rid of that table that barely fits in the room and find a more orderly space for managing the queue in the door. Okay – we were unlucky to have that table, but someone was going to be unlucky getting it and we are all customers who hope to enjoy a meal. I think it is a bit greedy to cram to the point where some guests are uncomfortable, so I hope they rethink that part because I would recommend Hammer and Tong to anyone if I could be sure they would play fair and consider the comfort of all their guests.

’nuff said and rant over. I will come again for the lovely food and to see whether I can discover a more relaxed, enjoyable environment.

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