Most large cities have streets or districts which are known for their shops and cafes. In Melbourne such eating zones include Lygon St Carlton, Brunswick St Fitzroy, and Acland St in St Kilda. But there are other gems hiding out in the suburbs, one of which I found accidentally while on a coffee crawl.
The area is the shopping precinct of Maling Road in Canterbury, an inner eastern suburb of Melbourne. It's a great little area for cafes, gourmet foods and quality coffee ... and there are some interesting shops too.
Disclaimer: this page describes what existed at the time of my visit, but some shops may have changed since then. The website I link to further down lists the current businesses in Maling Road.
Good coffee ...
Being a coffee enthusiast is what brought me to the area. One of the more revered coffee houses in Melbourne (according to the CoffeeSnobs website) is the Maling Room cafe in Canterbury, so when visiting Melbourne I made the short train trip out of the city to try it out.
The Maling Room proved worthy of its reputation, with coffee worth travelling for. Their food was good too, and being located inside a historic post office building added to its charm. But when I stepped outside to explore the street I realised my discoveries had only begun.
Good food, and more coffee ...
A few doors down was Browns: Bakers of Distinction - and I was lured inside by a range of bakery goodies that made me drool. Their offerings can be eaten, with coffee, in their cafe area ... and so I did.
With bits of a roast pumpkin and feta muffin still lurking in my mouth, I was drawn into another small shop named Xocolatl - specialising in unique hand-made chocolates ... and coffee. Of course I had to try some. Magnificent, and not surprisingly it was very well patronised by the locals.
Then I noticed, across the road, Bambaleros Freshly Roasted Coffee. This cafe roasts its own beans in a roaster positioned proudly at the back of the small premises. Being a Coffeesnobs member, I had to try some, and it was good. So was their food.
Next I looked inside Weatherson Foods, another small shop (they're all small) specialising in "ready made meals and finger food to take home". It too had a small cafe section for dining in. I would have snaffled one of their delicious looking creations for lunch later, had I not already acquired sufficient lunch from Browns.
Cornelius cheese, wine and coffee also competed for my gastronomic attention, but for some reason I was no longer hungry. Likewise I reluctantly passed by Wilson & Walsh gourmet deli and eatery, which also functioned as a cafe. I'm saving them for my next visit.
It's not all cafes and gourmet food - sweet tooths are catered for at A Pocket Of Lollies. This is an old fashioned lolly shop (known elsewhere as a candy store) packed with a vast array of sweet delights. Shops like it are rare these days.
Sweetness could also be found at Bohemia Cakes, a cafe describing itself as "a taste of Europe". There were several other attractive cafes I didn't venture into. Sorry Cafe Eden, Cafe 88 and Ruby T - even a coffee snob can only drink so much caffeine in one morning.
Still on a food theme, Maling Road also has two small fruit shops selling fruit and veges which looked fresh, and some out of the ordinary food items. They are reminiscent of the days before supermarkets came to dominate, when people relied upon a variety of small specialty shops like these in their local main street.
... and other unique shops
Other Maling Road shops sell gifts, antiques, boutique clothing,fine art, china & crystal, books, beauty therapy, and interior design. Of course there are more everyday shops too, like the pharmacy, post office, hair salons and grocery shop.
Notable by their absence were multinationals and big chain stores. Apart from IGA and Bakers Delight (both Australian and locally owned) and Browns (11 bakeries across Melbourne), all the shops and eateries in Maling Road are independent one-offs. This makes the area refreshingly different from the uniformity of the average shopping centre.
Apart from filling my belly and reassuring me that unique independent shops can still thrive, my visit to Maling Road illustrated something travel has taught me - suburbs aren't necessarily boring. The local business association describes Maling Road as a "charming shopping village" with a "special ambiance" - and I think they're right.
By all means visit the well known eating areas - they're usually well known for good reason. But don't be afraid to venture into suburbs you might not have heard of - you just don't know what goodies you may find there.
Maling Road Business Association - all about the shopping area, including a store directory.
The Maling Road shops start at the intersection of Canterbury Road - right next to Canterbury train station. This station is 15 or 20 minutes east of Flinders St in the city, within zone 1, and all Lilydale and Belgrave trains stop there.