Brunswick, on Melbourne’s inner north has long been overshadowed by the more artsy Fitzroy and the very Italian Carlton, despite arguably having the highest concentration of specialty groceries, Middle Eastern bakeries and a plethora of restaurants serving Turkish, Afghan, Lebanese and Greek cuisine. This could be due to the sheer long stretch of Sydney Road, the suburb’s main artery, which makes walking the whole strip practically impossible.
Of course, the key to appreciating Sydney Road is not to ‘do it’ in 1 day, but to savour its different pockets over time. Sydney Road actually cuts through three suburbs – Brunswick, Anstey and Coburg – although Anstey is not really considered a suburb in its own right and is conveniently lumped into either of the bigger suburbs. The furthest reaches of the road in Coburg is home to many of the traditional Turkish restaurants and stalls selling succulent doner and shish kebabs, while in the Anstey portion halal butchers sit alongside Middle Eastern bakeries selling the famous Lebanese meat pizzas, baklava and zaatar spice mixes made of dried thyme, oregano and sumac berry powder.
The Brunswick part of Sydney Road is experiencing a sort of makeover that is also being felt in the once-sleepy suburbs of Collingwood and East Brunswick. Small, funky little cafes are mushrooming in little corners off Sydney Road that are obscure enough to be slightly mysterious yet easily accessible for inner city folks hungry for a bite or a strong, full-flavoured cuppa to unwind. The same forces that created Fitzroy’s rejuvenation, the rather adversarial combination of gentrification and cash-strapped students forced out from living in the city, are responsible for this timely addition to Brunswick’s street scene.
For these cafes deftly mix all the different elements of the suburb’s culinary heritage – Italian, Turkish, Lebanese – into a uniquely Australian interpretation that the inner north of Melbourne can claim as its own. Ray, one of the first of these cafes to open up shop, boasts on its menu board baharat baked beans with chilli labna and toasted pide; Arabian-style bircher muesli with cream, pistachios, poached fruits and honey; poached free-range eggs with capsicum pesto, spinach, fetta and dukkah and lamb kofta with hummus and lemon honey yoghurt, just to name a few. Common enough to not intimidate, but peppered with one or two unfamiliar ingredients to entice and excite in equal measure.
I’ve only recently discovered Ray, despite it being in such close proximity to my house. But I guess that’s part of what keeps Melbourne’s café scene so interesting. And it just goes to show that all that effort in remaining incognito – the unassuming exterior, the lack of signage, the off-the-beat location – actually does work! The coffee is supposed to be excellent, although on both visits I had tea – an act of rebellion perhaps, although one that I’m afraid is without cause. The next time I pop over at Ray I’ll be sure to get a coffee, and try more of their exotic fare.
332 Victoria St
Brunswick VIC 3056