Hard Pressed was a breath of fresh air in a largely stagnant café scene in East Melbourne when it opened in 2015.
Owner Phil Gijsbers caught up with Trading Plates to chat about how the delicious food is created and, equally importantly, how to order your coffee!
Hard Pressed have a ‘big brother’ cafe called From on High, located in Windsor, Pedro Espresso on St Kilda Road and a Gijsbers is also a part owner of Small Print Pizza in Windsor and the new Burnley Brewing.
Hard Pressed was born when a few of the staff, including head chef Alex Abrahams from From on High, put their heads together and came up with the concept. The name is a reference to the French Press coffee that the cafe champions, but it also speaks to the act of ‘pressing coffee’ or tamping during the production of espresso coffee.
The layout of Hard Pressed was built by Callum Wallace (of cafes such as Porgie + Mr Jones, Money Order Office, Friends of Mine and more) with design by Mimi, Myrtle + Co.
Gijsbers says the idea in the design was to use as much recycled material as possible.
“Our huge timber door comes from the old Queen Victoria Hospital, the floor from decommissioned rural schools (Tassie Oak) and the table from the old East Melbourne Paper Mill, with heaps of indoor greenery to compliment the surroundings and give a small nod to the natural aspect of food and coffee production,” explains Gijsbers.
And crucially- the food! All things Latin American inspired is Hard Pressed’s flavour, so think smoked, cured and fermented. Gijsbers says the chefs draw on their backgrounds and travel experiences and are focussed on letting the ingredients speak for themselves and not going overboard with the process.
Gijsbers says the most popular dish on the menu is definitely The El Cubano sandwich. Made with 12 hour orange-braised pork neck, Swiss cheese, pickles, Dijon and topped with a guindilla, it is no wonder it is the hero of the menu. There are even loyalty cards, for regular El Cubano offenders.
The head chef, Jay Van Rhee, has previously been in charge of the kitchens at Seven Seeds and De Clieu. His insight is key when creating new dishes and playing with new menu items.
“Our two head chefs (Jay and Alex) get together regularly to talk through new ideas and try anything new on the staff and we are lucky to have chefs who respond well to honest feedback.
“We opened in October 2014, and we have changed the menu quite a few times since. This is usually based on what our customers are eating, time of year (produce seasonality), food trends and new ingredients we’ve experienced.”
Aside from the taste of the food, another thing that is very important to Gijsbers and his chefs is to source ethical produce. From free-range meat and animal products, to direct from the source coffee, Gijsbers says he feels it’s a general responsibility to be as sustainable as possible, including reducing waste and our impact on the earth.
And finally, the coffee! Gijsbers is a coffee aficionado and has so much insight when it comes to different ways of drinking the popular beverage.
“Filtered coffee is a beautiful way of experiencing coffee and there are many different ways of drinking it. We love the French Press method (I’ve been drinking it since I was 12!) and a natural extension of this is the pour over.
“It’s an eye-opener to taste well-roasted beans made through different methods. It allows you to experience the differences between bean origin and type, roast profile, grind, temperature, body and all the other variables.
“Of course we make and serve espresso coffee and we are constantly playing with the different blends and recipes to see what happens to the flavour and the experience.”
Phil Gijsbers top tips for making the perfect coffee:
- Get good at tasting coffee. Understanding the product is paramount and getting a feel for the natural variations in flavour profile, mouth-feel, body, astringency etc. will really help you make better coffee.
- Know what you enjoy. People often ask how to make the perfect coffee but this is different for everyone – the perfect coffee is one that makes you smile. It might be a skinny mocha or it might be a geisha pour over.
|76 Wellington Parade,
East Melbourne VIC 3002
(03) 9417 4441