Tucked away on an anonymous spot on Albert Street, a few steps shy of the traffic rush descending upon Sydney Road, La Paloma is like a little slice of Buenos Aires in bohemian Brunswick. Housed in a building that looks like it has seen better days, distressed walls with patches of stripped paint, weathered door and quaint wooden stools provide subtle clues to the atmosphere inside the café. The gleaming glass frontage and jade green tiles hint to a café that takes pride in itself.
Inside, a small blackboard announces the menu of the day. There are three or four dishes and two sweets – churros topped with dulce de leche and cake. I’m usually a sucker for sweets, but on this day I’ve come for the salad roll, which has received ecstatic raves in Melbourne food blogs. How often does a salad roll elicit such excitement as to compel people to wax lyrical about its merits? At first glance it looks innocent enough – tomato, cucumber, whole lettuce leaves, mashed seasoned avocado and a delicate layer of beef pastrami tucked into a rustic bread roll. It’s one of those things that make you say, “Pfft. I can make this at home” until you take a bite and realise, no, probably you can’t. The whole lettuce leaves provide visual novelty from the common chopped lettuce treatment in other salad rolls while the creamy, comforting avocado provide textural and savoury contrast to the crusty bread. But it is the beef pastrami which hands down steals the show, punching way above its weight in depth of flavour. You can opt to omit the pastrami, but you seriously are missing out.
The walls are painted Argentine blue, bullfighter red and Hispanic terracotta. There are small frames of Expressionist paintings of Spanish bulls, a little girl in a blue dress and a South American Indian man with a wizened gaze. The whole place drips with effortless charm and understated lust that marries the uninhibited passion inherent in the Argentine spirit and the whimsical eating habits of residents in Melbourne’s inner north. La Paloma is one of those cafes you want to adopt as your own, but how long can you hide the guilt of hiding it from everyone else?
259 Albert St
Brunswick VIC 3056