There’s a long culinary history at 538 Heidelberg Road, Alphington. Once a rundown milk bar, it was also home to Nathan Toleman (of the Mulberry Group)’s cafe Apte, which opened in the late 2000s. But more recently, Adam Wright has been operating it as Kissaten, a cosy suburban cafe inspired by his partner’s Japanese roots.
“The whole menu and feel of the place is a nod to her heritage,” says Wright. “Our logo is designed in an old-school milk-bar style to reflect the heritage of the building as well.”
It’s named after the all-day cafes in Japan where locals sip tea or coffee. And while they aren’t as prevalent these days, Wright hopes to harness their spirit. “Kissatens were originally tea and smoking houses before World War II, then they evolved into coffee houses with a bit of the American influence coming into Japan,” he says. “It’s essentially a meeting place, which was a big focal point of what we wanted to do here.”
That ethos is embodied through Kissaten’s large, group-friendly courtyard, which takes subtle influence from Japanese gardens, and its takeaway coffee window (dubbed Kissaten Mado), next to a large car park where you can pull up for a quick order.
The menu isn’t traditionally Japanese in its entirety, but the inspiration is present throughout. Find ramen three ways: a shio tonkotsu, made with a thick slab of chashu pork; a vegetarian version made with organic soba noodles and charred tofu; and a rich, untraditional breakfast ramen topped with pork sausage, roasted tomato and a fried egg.
From 8am, there’s also pork katsu sandos, Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki (with the addition of noodles) and omurice, a soft, fluffy omelette atop fried rice and drizzled with demi-glace. “It’s a fairly traditional Japanese dish but it works really well for brekkie,” says Wright.
Like at Japanese kissaten, coffee and tea are a big focus. Beans come from Abbotsford’s Locale Espresso while the spice mix for the cafe’s signature hojicha latte is made in-house.
Down the street at housing development Yarra Bend, the team has just set up a second location that’s also open for dinner and drinks.