Middle Fish review: Breakfast Out

Published 24 November 2012
View original review at Breakfast Out


The bold and the beautiful

It’s a bold move to open a cafe a couple of doors down from one of the best and busiest in Melbourne, but then there’s nothing shy about Middle Fish or its owners – Siriporn ‘Pla’ Liamthong and David Holtum – who set up shop on the same Carlton strip as Seven Seeds late last year. Everything about this place is generous and larger than life, from the authentic southern Thai food to the unique interior design and the genuinely warm hospitality.

The husband and wife team behind Middle Fish have each brought a valuable set of skills to the business. Thai-born Liamthong has the requisite hospitality background: she previously worked at Salvatore Malatesta’s (St Ali) cafes Outpost, Sensory Lab and Caffeine, so has topnotch coffee and service down pat. A carpenter by trade, Holtum provided the brains and brawn behind the cafe’s impressive fitout, which manages to be cosy and inviting despite its cavernous size.

The welcoming atmosphere at Middle Fish begins with the enormous roller door opening directly onto the street, luring in passers-by like a pair of outstretched arms. The brick walls, corrugated iron ceiling and huge overarching metal beams are reminders of the building’s industrial past, while the open-plan interior is cleverly broken up by wrought-iron partitions and a colourful jumble of booth, table and couch seating. Artworks on a scale befitting the venue were commissioned from Thai artist Torlarp Larkpjaroensook – these include the gorgeous chandeliers and a painting of a tuk-tuk (Bangkok taxi) complete with working headlamp.

Little design touches throughout the cafe, such as colourful silk cushions and tables individually set with pressed metal water bottles and cups and a cluster of Asian condiments, hint at the southern Thai, hawker-style food served at Middle Fish. Liamthong’s aunt made her first ever trip out of Thailand to design the menu and train up the chefs, and the authenticity shows. The regional food here is vastly different to the standard Thai offerings in Melbourne, and I can’t think of another place pairing traditional Thai cuisine with excellent coffee.

On my visit I decided to go the traditional breakfast route and order one of the three brown rice-based soups on the menu. Mine came with juicy chicken balls, spring onion and coriander and was topped with a perfectly poached egg, which added depth and richness to the simple broth once burst with my spoon. My friend’s joke (Thai congee) was similarly hearty and nourishing, and our four-year-old companion declared her specially made vegetable fried rice to be ‘very good’. So good that the leftovers were very prettily packed up for her to take home for lunch. The banana roti with sweetened condensed milk has my name on it for next time, which given how much I enjoyed Middle Fish won’t be far away.