Higher Ground is a behemoth of a cafe in every sense of the word. Physically, its interior is cavernous with the ceiling at least three stories high. Triangular stilts provide structural support – somehow they remind me of the Louvre pyramids (or maybe it’s just me). Stepping into the space for the first time is sure to invoke awe, I’m sure this is as the owners have intended.
Somehow, I wish they’d done a little something different with the place. It’s a heritage-listed 19th century powerhouse after all. Sure, the way it looks now is very much keeping with the whole “Melbourne feel” (if that is actually a real thing) where exposed brick walls, bare concrete pillars and scattered greens are the style du jour. Pure opulence or grandeur could have served better. Having said that, there are a few pleasant surprises as you walk around the place, turning corners. I spotted an artistically decorated mantelpiece, an oversized concrete pot from which a what seemed like towering branch emerged, and the extra high arched windows I must say is rather a brilliant idea.
Higher Ground also has pedigree. Whilst this cafe may be a recent entry in Melbourne’s cafe scene, the team at it’s helm is certainly not new to the game. These are the same people that brought you The Kettle Black, Top Paddock and Two Birds One Stone. It says a lot that all aforementioned cafes are oft named in many best-of lists. The media seems to suggest that the founders had painstakingly gone in search for that perfect location to focus their efforts to create a new dining experience. It’s clear they’ve thrown a lot into this one. Curiously, Higher Ground is not just a day eatery. By night, on Thursdays through to Saturdays, dinner is served! This has got to be groundbreaking for the Melbourne dining scene – a cafe that caters to the masses in the evening. My take? The founders want in on the market share of the burgeoning evening crowd. After all, what better way to rake in hungry Melburnians who would otherwise have queue for Restaurant So and So for 2 hours on a Friday night.
Clever aside, it should be all about the food. I do wonder if I all this talk of “Higher” had given me higher expectations, because I felt slightly disappointed. The menu read complex enough: smoked something, a crumb here and there, cured fish. None of the description seemed to leap out at me with deliciousness. I settled for the food below, and for all the hype this place came with, I dare say the food let me down.
Having said that, I did manage to find a perfect gastronomic experience here. Ironically, it came in the form of one of the simplest looking items. It’s not even on the menu, so you’ll have to go to the sweets cabinet to see if there are any left. Behold the Lemon Tart (yes, two plain words) – an utmost enjoyable experience of salty buttery crunch and twangy silky creaminess. If you do come by, please do yourself a favour an save some room for this.
On to the coffee then. A long black went well with the lemon tart. The flat white was acceptable.
So is Higher Ground really on higher ground? Well, I wouldn’t feel compelled to return anytime soon. But do as you must and if you’re a foodie I’m sure this place is on your list already anyway.
650 Little Bourke Street
Phone: +61 (3) 8899 6219
See how this cafe ranks on The Hungry Wolf’s list of Melbourne’s Best Cafes!