The George Street Café in East Melbourne originally began its life as a food store- all the way back in 1867.
Nowadays it is a café, headed up by the current owner, Michael Chen, a man whose passion for healthy eating and customer service is astounding.
On your first visit, Michael will welcome you with a chat, some advice about what to order and a smile. And next time you return, you can guarantee this miracle of a man will remember not only your face, but also your order and possibly even your name!
Michael is Chinese and came to Australia in 1988, working as a manager for a clothes manufacturer for nearly 20 years.
He says he had always loved the idea of owning a café, and decided to do something about it before he reached retirement age!
“I always liked little cafes and when my wife and I came in to George Street it was very cosy and comfortable.
“It is old, not as modern as some of the other ones we looked at, but we liked that it was in a residential area so we could connect with the locals.”
Michael says in the 16 months that he has owned the café; he has relied heavily on his chef to guide him.
“Our chef is very special. He lived in Japan for a few years learning to cook Japanese food and he lived in England for a few years and Singapore.
“He has cooked a mix of western and eastern food and he came to Australia and worked with a well respected Italian chef.”
The menu is constantly changing with health conscious specials such as the watermelon and barley soup that was flying out of the kitchen the day Trading Plates visited.
Michael says that being healthy is incredibly important to him and he loves using traditional ingredients that westerners may not be used to eating.
“Have you heard of goji berries?” asks Michael earnestly.
“They are served on top of our chef recommended wild mushroom frittata, which is all locally grown and fresh.
“I think in Chinese culture and cuisine we try to understand about our daily life. The Chinese have been using these ingredients for 5000 years, like barley, goji etc, they are proven to be very good for your health.
“Ten years ago you would struggle to find these ingredients here but now, in your common supermarket you would find goji easily.
“We still need more people to get into how good these are for your health. Even a dish like our smashed avocado, just fresh avocado, mixed with goats cheese and chives on multigrain sourdough, it is just simple and you don’t need to add anything else to it.”
Michael is very clear that they don’t add salt to any of their dishes, despite his chef’s argument that customers are used to added salt in restaurant food.
He believes that if individuals want added salt, they can use the shaker on the table, as too much salt can mask the natural flavours of ingredients that they strive to showcase.
His philosophy is the same with other condiments such as butter, which will always be served on the side with toast at George Street!
Given that Michael is so health conscious, we were interested to know his take on fads like the paleo diet and certain ‘superfoods’.
“I always just think about the balance of life,” says Michael.
“Everything is a balance. I personally support healthy eating and enjoying your life. To me, your psychological state is very important. Every food, no matter how good it is for you, should be eaten in moderation.
“I am very lucky, it is very hard for me as a non-café person to run a café.
“But in the end I am getting through it and I work seven days a week.
“I go shopping every day to buy the ingredients myself to Victoria Street Richmond, sometimes local supermarkets, I try to find the freshest ingredients.
“I could go home by 5pm, but in the end I still want to go hunting for different stuff. I do not want to order too much stock, I want all our food to be fresh each day, nothing frozen, I don’t like that.”
Aside from the aforementioned dishes, there are a couple of items on the menu that Michael is particularly proud of.
“We have a healthy muffin as well as normal cakes and there is nothing bad in it at all! A little bit of brown sugar and the flavour comes from almond meal.
“And our special porridge, a lot of people order it, even in summer when it is 33 degrees, the customers just love it!
“I had a customer come here every day for three weeks when he was visiting from interstate. I have it myself for breakfast! It has seeds and nuts, which we need each day, you only need a small handful, a little bit.”
Aside from promoting different ingredients and nutrition, Michael says his number one goal with the café is to meet people.
And we can assure you, if you head down to George Street, Michael will be there to offer you his friendship and menu tips!
65 George St, East Melbourne VIC 3002
(03) 9419 5805