19 Somerset Place, Melbourne (map)
Open 7:30-3:30, Monday-Saturday
Narrow laneway location. Minimalist warehouse chic fitout. Specialty coffee. Custom-made fixies. Drinking water out of jam jars. Men with neatly trimmed beards and cutely-bespectacled girls wearing dresses and cardigans, sitting on milk crates.
Seriously, could this cafe BE any more Melbourne? No I don't think so.
While it would look equally at home in the vicinity of Gertrude Street, the laneway in question is in the CBD (near Brother Baba Budan). And yes, The Little Mule is a combination bicycle workshop and cafe, run by a trio of bicycle/coffee nerds. My former work colleague, the charming J, invited me to lunch there a couple of weeks ago: he was very excited as we'd be collecting the bike The Little Mule had custom-made for him.
My initial fears that the cafe might be a bit too cool for school were swiftly allayed by the friendly, enthusiastic staff. Most of the seating in the cafe apart from the comfy couch is at communal tables and the menu is compact, consisting mainly of melts, toasted sandwiches, baguettes and a seasonal salad or soup.
I ordered the $10 sandwich on the specials board because hello, PULLED PORK. Moist 12 hour slow cooked pulled pork with coleslaw in a roll, served not only with crisps (as at De Clieu) but also with a pickle! Delicious. J ordered a melt - I think it was the $8.50 one with semi-dried tomato, artichoke, basil pesto and scamorza.
The coffee beans at The Little Mule come from The Little Marionette, a Sydney cafe I visited way back in January 2008. I discovered to my great interest that The Little Mule also uses The Little Marionette's recipe for their sensational banana bread. Must try it next time I'm back in that part of the city.
For those who (unlike me) know about fixies, here's J's description of his new baby:
My handlebars are ‘Nitto Track’ NJS approved and so are my pedals. The colour scheme is midnight blue with white handlebar-tape and white leather saddle with a completely chrome fork (I think you’ll agree that is a nice little touch). The frame of course, is made and designed by Little Mule.
‘What does NJS approved mean?’ I hear you ask. Well, this explanation I just found online sums it up pretty well:
Japan's unique event, Keirin racing, is very strictly regulated. Because Keirin is run by a Japanese government agency and because Keirin's raison d'etre is actually gambling (proceeds from which fund Japan's schools), it is absolutely critical that the equipment be standardized, uniform and dependable. Certified Keirin components bear the NJS Keirin Approved label.
I must admit, it's an extremely handsome bicycle. More pictures are on The Little Mule's blog.
Oh, and in other Melbourne laneway news...
Just when you thought the city's laneways couldn't get any laneway-ier, along comes sibling bar to Der Raum, Bar Americano (opening late May). It's tiny, hidden in a tucked-away laneway off another laneway (giving its location a Croft Institute degree of difficulty), and will be serving espresso by day and old skool cocktails by night. Yessssss.