Mikkayla reviews: Via Porta — ‘a little piece of European paradise’
677 Whitehorse Rd, Mont Albert 3127
In a leafy, inner-eastern suburb – nestled amongst a strip of inconspicuous businesses – is a little slice of southern Italy. Diners sit out front chatting as they sip their tiny cups of espresso. A woman feeds flaky bits of an almond croissant to her toddler, and an elderly couple are splitting a sandwich. The scene is charming and beckons, and so, without presumption, I wandered into Via Porta.
It’s not a large space by any means, but it has clearly been designed by someone with a keen eye for architecture and interior design. It is light and welcoming with non-intrusive classical music playing over the speakers. So many things jump out and catch your eye at once – this is no simple eatery.
Via Porta is embracing a growing trend of the café-deli – and they do it so well. Past the tables in the front section where a group of friends clink wine glasses, and beyond the busy main counter where a barista sets down a latte and dings her service bell, there are cupboards filled with a treasure-trove of larder-worthy goods; cabinets displaying golden pastries and cured meats; a refrigerator full of hearty, ready-made meals and a wide variety of cheeses and antipasto goods; and display tables topped high with assorted panettones, premixed cocktails and gift baskets.
The menu is a perfect balance for those wanting breakfast, brunch or a light lunch – the French toast doughnut with compressed blood orange peaches, raspberry jam, vanilla anglaise & almond crisp is heaven on a plate for anyone with a sweet tooth ($20); while the eggs in arrabbiatta with nduja butter, sweet peppers, crispy capers and parmesan on sourdough is a perfect savoury choice with a delightful combination of salt, acid and the creaminess of the egg yolks ($22).
But what I’m all about is the toasted sandwiches. I’ve always maintained that everything tastes good in a sandwich and I’m yet to be proven wrong.
I start with the porchetta toastie – the meat has a subtle hint of chilli to it, offset by the mild but powerful blend of crushed broccoli, pecorino cheese and garlic mayo. The bread is toasted to perfection – just enough butter on the outside and not so hard that you cut the roof of your mouth on the crusts. It’s all perfectly proportioned and the flavours together are phenomenal ($16).
Next up is the eggplant toastie. The eggplant is sliced thin and lightly crumbed, with a generous slather of rich red pepper chutney, mozzarella and parmesan, and fresh basil. It’s basically a posh version of the eggplant parmigiana in a sandwich – and it’s so moreish that I forget I have more food coming and finish both halves ($16).
The fried chicken burger is glorious – the milk bun shines in the light, the fried chicken is juicy, the coating is crunchy, and the fillet is perfectly portioned. The chicken has been glazed in “swicy” – a sweet and tangy sauce made of ketchup, garlic, onion, soy and the slightest hint of chilli. It’s finished with iceberg lettuce, jack cheese and VP burger sauce – just enough that it doesn’t overpower the flavours of the chicken. Get it with a side of chips and aioli for lunch, or order it to take away and become the envy of your workmates ($17.80 + $7.50).
To wash it all down, choose between their extensive Five Senses coffee menu, a variety of herbal teas, cold pressed juices… or turn it into a pre-3pm happy hour with a cold beer (maybe a Sardinian Ichnusa Bionda), an Italian apple cider (Sido Del Bosco) or one of the wines they have on tap, served by the glass or carafe.
Grab some glistening pastries on the way out – both French and Italian-inspired, they are baked fresh on site every day and what you see is what you get – so be quick if you want to snag the last almond and lemon curd croissant, apple crumble Danish or pain au chocolat. There are floured loaves of sourdough, buttery brioches, and dark, heavy ryes, and you’ll agonise over whether to grab a jar of their house-made strawberry and Cointreau jam, orange marmalade, or a handful of shaved mortadella or sopressa.
Café-delis are slowly but surely popping up in corners across Melbourne – the perfect culmination of great food, friendly service and high-quality produce. While you’re waiting for your food, grab a basket and browse the shelves and cabinets – any home entertainer will be amazed at the sheer abundance of what is available, and your friends will talk of your cheese and charcuterie board in hushed, reverent tones for years to come.
It would be an erroneous assumption to judge this place based on its neighbours – a heating and cooling business, and a place that sells elderly-assistance gear – but the locals may appreciate it if you leave their little piece of European paradise all to them. Bellisimo.