The Reading Room

Posted on May 29, 2012

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Unis aren’t usually the breeding ground for top quality food. Poor students and bad campus food are more likely to go hand in hand. That certainly was my unfortunate experience! Well ok, there were a couple of exceptions. There was at least one cafe serving decent coffee and nibbles, but on the whole, food tended to range from passable to average. Nowadays, it appears to be quite a different story, and The Reading Room (Building P, 88 Ballarat Road, Footscray VIC) is setting high standards for those lucky folks at VUT. And now us non students can rejoice with The Reading Room recently extending its trading hours to both days of the weekend.

As I have already mentioned previously, Footscray is a changing landscape. Cute cafes and unique eateries are popping up in surprising corners much to the delight of the locals. While most of these venues have tended to bring out the funky casual charm of Footscray, The Reading Room introduces a more serious and up scale side to the suburb. The menu will seem causal enough, but its execution demonstrates a mastery in finesse. This is the type of cafe that really deserves blogsphere hype (and indeed the hype is growing) and the type to really elevates Foostcray as a foodie destination beyond being known as just a place for cheap eats (please don’t take offense to that, I love a cheap feed, and cheap has never been synonymous with bad in my eyes anyway).

Tucked away in Footscray Park Campus of VUT, The Reading Room looks as its name suggests; a pleasant light filled corner for getting engrossed in a good book. There’re a few of skinny bookcases lined with reference books; a very serious barista’s corner with an espresso machine and siphon; and a rather small, but obviously efficient, open kitchen managed by a chef of St Ali pedigree. A few bigger picnic tables occupy the outdoor space, effectively doubling their service area. The menu is fairly big for a kitchen of that size and it offers a pretty good range of brunch, lunch and afternoon tea options. There’s even a high tea for two priced at an exceptionally low $25! On that note, although I mentioned that they were up scale, and the quality is decidedly up market, the price on the other hand, is very reasonable. My scan didn’t show anything above the $16.50 mark aside from the high tea for two.

The menu items have the sweetest names (ie. Fritter Lane, As you like it, Great Expectations etc.) and made choosing my meal a rather difficult choice. But finally my dining mate and I settled for the Crackle and Pop ($16.50, roasted pork belly with apple and zucchini salad, flat bread and chilli jam) and Fellini’s Understudy ($16.50, fig and prosciutto salad with toasted hazelnuts and poached egg).

The food tasted every bit as delicious as it looks. The pork belly definitely had the crackle factor and the meat was still moist and succulent. Both the green salad and apple zucchini remoulade were excellent sides. The chilli jam was sweet and the only complaint you could make was perhaps it could have afforded to have a touch more heat. The fig and prosciutto salad was sublime, a lovely melody of flavours and textures. And how beautifully gooey is that poached egg?!

In case it wasn’t evident by their stand alone coffee counter, the coffee here is rather good. They have a few options available to feed both Melbourne’s growing band of 3rd wave coffee enthusiasts as well as the old school espresso lovers. The Reading Room nearly receives top marks across the board. The only slight let down was on the service side of things. While they were friendly enough and the food was pretty quick to arrive as well, the front of house appeared to be a tad flustered and overwhelmed by the weekend crowd. Perhaps they’re still getting use to the bigger dine in crowd and hopefully this will pass. And really, even if it doesn’t, that will hardly deter me from becoming a regular!

All in all, this is a great cafe, and a welcome additional to the Footscray fraternity of foodie finds. I’m feeling my pride for Footscray swell that little bit more for it’s ever evolving cafe scene.

PS. I noticed that The Age has featured The Reading Room today as well! Am I in touch with Melbourne or what? 😛

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