A spot next to a farmer’s market is an ideal place to open up a café. Meandering through stalls lined with plump strawberries, bundles of leafy greens and baskets filled with bulbs of garlic and field mushrooms is the ultimate inspiration for a produce-driven chef. Cate Hardman, ex-Sarti, is truly in her element heading up new Carlton café Providence. Growing up in Tasmania, the Hardman family were all about keeping it local. If they didn’t grow it or didn’t know who grew it, they didn’t eat it. It’s a bit the same at Providence. With no set lunch menu (only specials) and dishes designed around the seasonal produce Cate finds at the farmer’s market that day, Hardman brings a bit of that country lifestyle to Carlton.
A few weeks ago I was invited to attend the launch of Providence. Founded by the duo behind ‘The Grain Store’, Melbourne’s super successful CBD brunch spot, Providence put on an indulgent breakfast degustation so we could try the full range of offerings in one sitting. It was immediately obvious that the folks behind Providence are truly passionate about small producers. We heard from Gamze Smokehouse (producers of the small-goods used in the café) who use celery extract instead of nitrates to preserve their meats. The founder of Cockatoo Grove, an organic olive oil producer in Cobram, told us how his farm is completely sustainable with the waste converted into fertiliser and fed back into the earth. Hardman even spoke about meeting the cows who produce the milk for the ice cream they use. They were stories reminiscent of a simpler time – an idyllic world. I loved it.
The produce is fresh with clean flavours and lots of crunchy greens accompanying most dishes. Thankfully, Hardman brings a bit of interest to the menu too – it’s not just your average poached eggs with smashed avo and fetta. The addition of lentils to the fritters was inspired and the pancake-like clafoutis were delightfully fluffy with a sweetness that worked beautifully paired with the tart berries. The space is bright, sunny and sits beneath an aged-living complex so expect more family types and less of the black rimmed glasses/bearded crowd. Hopefully the hipster lines will be missing too. Providence is a lovely, wholesome new option in Carlton – give it a go.