Abacus is hard to miss if you’ve been down Chapel Street, it’s a big unit on the corner and when they fold back the windows in summer, it dominates the block. Despite visiting on a cold winters day, it’s pleasing to see Abacus still has a spacious feel with its high ceilings, large windows and open plan kitchen. Tables are set in smaller groups, providing much needed intimacy, in an otherwise grand space. The finish is undoubtedly high class and the gorgeous attention to detail, such as the hessian sacks of sugar, really add to this.
Abacus offers both a day and evening menu, as well as some great looking options for those Friday drinks. Unfortunately it was a little early for alcohol when we visited so we sampled their coffee and day menu. Both the batch and nitro coffee were enjoyable. The batch is a pleasant, mild blend without the bitter undertones of many batch brews. It’s delicious and easy to drink. Now I’m not usually a fan of Nitro but Abacus’ blend has a light sweetness which worked well, and I actually found myself leaning toward this slightly over the batch.
I opted for the pumpkin croquettes, and avocado, served with feta, black beans, corn and a poached egg. A dish with so many elements is usually easy for me to find fault with, as the balance is so often wrong, but I have to be honest – I struggled to find anything here. I was initially concerned it would be too sweet, but the smooth pumpkin croquettes, and delicious, ripe avocado, were nicely balanced with the huge chunks of feta, and the salty chopped tomatoes. For me the black beans added little to the dish other than a different colour and texture, but they weren’t unpleasant. My egg was well poached and added a nice bit of protein to the dish. For someone who usually swears by bacon on all savoury breakfasts, this was an incredibly enjoyable vegetarian meal that also plated beautifully.
Mr Not-so-Boring went for the cape clear rashers, which in sharp contrast to my dish, are a meat eaters dream: alongside the chunky rashers are pigs cheek, crackling, blonde sausage, a chunky chutney, poached egg and toast. Again, it looked gorgeous on the plate and he found the elements well balanced – with those rashers being the clear hero of the dish – closely followed by the crispy crackling. Other parts of the dish were well cooked, and it gave a lovely fine dining twist to a traditional brunch. Dishes are priced at the higher end for brunch (most are $18+) but I think you’d agree they are well worth it for the quality on offer.
Although considerably stuffed after our brunch, we managed to squeeze in one of their chocolate fondants each. These are the perfect little finale to your brunch, or a naughty treat with one of their delicious coffees. About the size of your palm (well the size of my palm – so small enough they don’t make you feel guilty about falling off that healthy eating wagon once again) they are sweet and melt in your mouth. Any bigger and they risk becoming too much, but once again, Abacus have found the perfect balance.
Despite feeling somewhat “fancy”, Abacus has a real laid back vibe. Helped by the comfy seating, and the large space, it’s great for those long brunches with friends, that overdue business meeting that you know is going to need a LOT of coffee (their bottomless batch at $6 is a bargain), or those chilled out afternoon drinks after a tough day. It’s lively, but not loud, busy but not crowded. Service was highly attentive, yet not invasive. We were served by several different staff members during our visit but service didn’t seem stilted or confused. It was done well, with staff clearly well trained on how to read customers – allowing them space to enjoy their meals, but ensuring people weren’t left waiting, or feeling ignored.
There’s many nuances a restaurant can make when inviting a blogger in – a better table, beautiful presentation, more attentive service, etc, but there’s little they can do about the chef. It’s clear Abacus has (at least) one very talented person working in their kitchen. It’s one thing to make your work look like a masterpiece, it’s another thing to send out two beautifully, well balanced, yet fairly complex dishes containing a wide variety of ingredients. Abacus does everything I say restaurants shouldn’t do – the dishes contain too many elements, there’s too many different things going on with the menu – but I have to give it to them, for the most part, it works wonderfully. It turns out simplicity may not always be best. Cafe/bar/restaurant – I’m unsure what to classify Abacus as – it has the atmosphere of a swanky bar, the food of a great restaurant and it’s coffee will more than hold it’s own against most of Melbourne’s cafes. It’s a great laid back, all rounder that’s well worth making the trip to Chapel Street for a visit.