For Melbourne restaurant connoisseurs playing at home, they will know that all of these reputable eateries have distinct Spanish, Moroccan or South American flavours at play, and Hales describes himself as “having his head stuck in that cuisine” for some time.
That and the fact his wife was expecting a baby made Hales decide to venture into café work just under a year ago, so he made the move to Proud Mary.
Given that Proud Mary is well known by coffee lovers as a caffeine heaven, sometimes the food can be overlooked. But with Hales as chef, this should certainly not be the case.
Since his move, Hales has made subtle changes to the menu, including a seasonal summer menu that is currently running, as well as keeping the classic favourites that keep regulars coming back for more.
“There are certain things on the menu that have to stay up there, like the potato hash dish,” says Hales.
“That has been here from day one and is a staple dish that regulars and the like come in to have.
“Then you have the hotcakes and we just change the toppings on them seasonally if we can. If it is something really cool we can only get for a limited amount of time, we will just put it on the specials board or just have it on the menu for a short time, but it is always good to use an ingredient at its peak.
“We pretty much just change the menu seasonally.”
The process of changing an already popular menu is a tricky one, but when it is based around using seasonal ingredients, it is a no-brainer.
Hales and his team use a supplier called Glenora Heritage Produce, for all their fresh fruit and vegetables. Every week they will email Hales a list of what produce is available and what is coming into season, which will largely inform the dishes that are created in the kitchen.
“I am a big believer in trying to get everyone’s input into every dish, because everyone has different ways of thinking.
“I will approach the team with a dish and we will sort of talk about it, cook it up, try it, get feedback from each other and front-of-house staff and then from there we would tweak it a bit and cost it and then put it on the menu.
“So, it is a bit of a process but I think it needs to be a lengthy one to get the dish right so that the customer and we are happy with it.”
Coffee-wise, Hales says you shouldn’t leave Proud Mary without trying a filtered coffee. At the moment, they also have a cold brew on offer.
And to eat?
“The hash dish is very good, it is something a bit different.
“Although I am pretty adventurous so I would go for something like the ox tongue. I think that is a good one because people might not often try offal and they might be surprised that it is quite tasty and not as offensive as they might think!” says Hales laughing.
“What you should order sort of depends on when you are there because we change the menu so much.”
Hales philosophy for Proud Mary is simple. While many people initially come for the coffee, his menu should stand proudly alongside it in terms of quality.
“It is awesome coffee so we just try and match it with awesome tasting food.
“There is nothing really we pair with any of the coffees or any of the filters that we have on offer, we just do the tastiest food we can with good ingredients.”
Trading Plates’ top picks for food:
The tuna sashimi (pictured at top) is a really original breakfast concept. It is light, pretty and dainty, but still full of flavour. For the health conscious out there it is also a good option. A perfectly soft poached egg and a wafer thin brik crisp bring the dish together nicely.
The avocado is a menu classic that is done really, really well. The tomato salsa brings a nice tang to the plate that compliments the creamy avocado and ricotta perfectly. The seed and sprout toast makes a nice change from the mandatory sourdough you normally expect with avocado.
And for those who are less adventurous- a simple poached eggs with a side of avocado is a light, fresh and safe bet!
172 Oxford Street, Collingwood VIC 3066
(03) 9417 5930