This is the second post in the new “No Place Like” series in which I highlight places that have blessed me with a feeling of “home”.
As I write, I’m sitting in a beach cottage at North Carolina’s Outer Banks (OBX), waiting for coffee to finish brewing and the griddle to be free so I can make gluten free pancakes for me and my mom. The smells of breakfast and the sight of family gathering around the table reminds me of meals at Three Bags Full cafe in Melbourne.
I only spent a month of my year-long stay in the city that is said to be Australia’s cultural and foodie capital. And it wasn’t until my last few months in Oz that I stepped through the doors of Three Bags Full in the suburb of Abbotsford. But from the first bite of my first meal, I knew this place was something special.
When I first arrived in Australia, I didn’t care for the coffee. They tasted overly milky and on the weak side. Then a friend suggested I order the smaller of the two sizes and I started enjoying coffees a little more! Unlike what I was used to at Starbucks at home, the number of shots of espresso don’t increase with the size of the drink unless you order a second shot. Taller drinks simply equal more milk. My mistake!
Once I was introduced to the piccolo latte, I knew I’d found my coffee of choice — a single shot of espresso with just a few ounces of milk. THEN, here comes the magic, a Melbourne creation — two shots of espresso and milk served in a cup that is a size between a piccolo latte and regular latte glass (see above). Perfection.
I had my first magic at Three Bags Full. Their baristas take such care in their craft and produce one quality cup after another. On one visit, we sat on bar stools just beside the espresso machine and watched the baristas work tirelessly to fill the orders of loyal regulars and weekend visitors.
On another visit, Adam took the photo above and shot at several angles to get it. Two women also seated at the communal style table kept looking at us and whispering — and at the guy at the other end of the table who was also taking photos of his coffee! Finally one of the women looked at us and politely asked why everyone was taking photos of their coffees. “I mean, it is a pretty coffee,” she added with a smile.
What to order on the first visit?! I prefer sweet to savory and opted for the house made fig and raspberry bread (toasted) with vanilla bean mascarpone, strawberries, and passionfruit. With one bite my eyes opened wide and I eagerly pushed the plate toward Adam and Nicole for them to taste as well. The flavors created one of the best bite fulls of ANYTHING I’d ever had. I cannot describe how fresh the passionfruit sauce tasted. I could drink a cup of it right now.
On subsequent visits, Three Bags Full chefs continued to blow me away.
Like the ricotta hot cakes with poached fruit and orange infused ricotta (that day it was quince, rhubarb and berry coulis).
And the baked french toast with creme patissiere, pistachio, and rhubarb. This was the BEST french toast I’d ever had — perfect thickness to the bread, a wonderfully moist interior (not soggy but just right), and just enough crunch for the toast on the outside.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the:
— baked french toast with blueberry mascarpone, pistachio, and fresh figs
— the Baghdad Omelette (potato, avocado, yoghurt, and middle eastern spices)
— braised lamb sandwich
— pumpkin and sage fritters with grilled haloumi, feta & prosciutto
Three Bags Full has multiple themes and styles throughout.
First, there’s the title itself, taken from the nursery rhyme Baa Baa Black Sheep. A single sheep is featured as part of the cafe’s logo but in no other way throughout the cafe.
Some of the seats featured recycled road signs.
I loved the upside down coffee cups as light fixtures.
I REALLY loved the various levels of seating and types of tables throughout the cafe. A long, tall table stood in the larger of two rooms, surrounded by shorter circular and square tables, as well as booths. Every time I visited the cafe, I had a different view and experience.
The staff at Three Bags Full make you feel like you’re at home. Of course maybe some of this was because I was dining with Adam, who was a regular when he lived in Melbourne. Even so, the staff always greeted us warmly and found time for a bit of a chat during service. A few staff members are also owners (so obviously care about the business), but the “all hands on deck” attitude and passion for the cafe really stood out to me from everyone that worked there.
One staff member in particular was fantastic, and she’s part of the front of house team. Her energy and enthusiasm were genuine and contagious, and she moved around the cafe faster than anyone else. When I had a problem with a dish, she addressed it with humor. After two visits, she had figured out my tastes and offered suggestions on what to order. When she realized Adam and I were going to split an omelette and french toast, she brought each of us an extra set of cutlery — “you don’t want eggy french toast” she explained. When Adam and I wore the same colors one day without meaning to, she greeted us with a big smile and a “loving the green today guys!” I don’t know why I didn’t ask for her name, but I’ll never forget her. She’s such an asset to the cafe and I hope the owners know it!
All of the elements above combine to create an atmosphere I’ve only found a glimpse of at other places.
Three Bags Full was cool and popular without being pretentious. Energetic without being chaotic.
Many eateries probably survive on coffee, food, or vibe/ambiance alone but Three Bags Full wins on all accounts. The menu uses familiar ingredients but the execution is far superior to the average cafe.
There’s no place like Three Bags Full
Three Bags Full delivered some of the top meals I had in Australia. The atmosphere significantly added to the coffee and food — I could have sat there for hours simply soaking up the experience. If Zumbo was to sponsor a 1-week trip for Macaron Day, I would fly to Melbourne for a day simply to eat at Three Bags Full before returning to Sydney.