By Jo Rittey


They said it was big here and they weren’t lying. It’s huge. Cavernous even. And it probably doesn’t get any more warehouse-industrial-chic than Higher Ground. For all the concrete, brick, high ceilings and fairly dominant beats coming over the state of the art sound system, it’s not super noisy. There’s a buzz; people talking excitedly about the food they’re eating, or how the temperatures have plummeted after that one nice week of spring we had or perhaps even how obvious it is when you’re in a place like this how much Melburnians love to wear varied shades of black. There’s also a lot of green to soften the hard lines; a forest of potted plants fill shelves and there are even a couple of real and fairly tall trees. And the high arched windows? Well, they are a thing of beauty. If ever you wanted to get all Play School on it, looking through these babies will do it.


The market fish is fresh and light served with vegetable noodles, soy beans, a black bean paste and with a Japanese broth poured ceremonially over the top at the table. It’s a delicious and virtuous choice and I feel goodness coursing through my veins. But there are other appealing dishes as well, some that feel more breakfasty than others. But this is what Nathan Toleman and his partners, Sam Slattery, Ben Clark and Diamond Rozakeas are known for; venues that stretch our experience and don’t conform to the run of the mill idea of a café. So, choose between a spiced cauliflower scrambled egg dish, a quinoa and seed bircher with fresh and dried apple, house made almond milk and rosella hibiscus or a wagyu short rib roll, to mention only a few.


Coffee is by Square One roastery, the group’s own roaster, in fact, also supplying sibling venues, the Kettle Black and Top Paddock. There are two coffee stations, well, actually three. One downstairs, one on the L-shaped mezzanine, which has more of a lounge feel to it and one outside for those in a rush, although it is far better not to be in a rush and to have your coffee inside for the full Higher Ground experience.


The front of House team showcase perfect training and top notch common sense. Waiting tables is an over-looked craft and at Higher Ground, they understand that and exemplify it. Efficient, smartly presented, aware and friendly without being too over the top. That’s it.


I like that Nathan Toleman explained that many of the dishes, especially on the evening menu, are inspired by other Melbourne venues that he and his partners like to eat at. There are certainly nods to MoVida, The Town Mouse and Embla. And with a team of 16 chefs headed by Nate Wilkins, and all coming from other impressive kitchens, I would have enough talent here to keep www.conversationwithachef.com in stories for months.


Just across the road from the Southern Cross station on the corner of Spencer Street and Little Bourke, Higher Ground must be one of the easiest places to get to by public transport, so there’s really no excuse not to try it out for yourself.




650 Little Bourke Street, Melbourne



Mon – Wed 7am – 4pm

Thu – Fri 7am – 11pm

Sat 8am – 11pm

Sun 8am – 4pm


Jo is a French teacher, a freelance writer and needs good coffee to start her day. Armed with an exotic New Zealand accent and a winning (hopefully) smile, she likes nothing better than roaming the streets of the northside in search of new and old food-related wonders.




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