Melbourne’s love for Japanese cafe culture continues to roll with Le Bajo. Honestly you can’t swing a shokupan bread in this city without touching an incredibly cool Tokyo-style layout.
Fair appeal though – Bajo isn’t your typical Japanese cafe. Unlike Hibiki, Saint Dreux and Cibi, this place is more kitsch than trendy. An Indonesian monitor lizard in an orange polo shirt smiles from the front window. The bikes hang near the rolling door. Customers inhale cheeky milkshakes in tall stainless steel mugs. And instead of the obligatory black-and-white decor, owner Jason Gunawan opted for the Balinese beach bar meets’ 70s Australiana: a wall of potted greenery (including the largest violin leaf known to man. ), large wooden beams, garden gnomes, a canteen chairs and high industrial ceilings.
This makes sense, since Gunawan is the Australian expatriate behind Potato Head Beach Club in Seminyak. The Bajo was his COVID containment project; it’s his collection of vintage Mercedes, stacked against the south wall. (No touching.)
Here’s how to win at Bajo. If you’re coming for breakfast, grab the Morning Set — a slice of shokupan with spicy sugar, a boiled egg, marmalade, yogurt and batch infusion. This is great value for $ 12. The “Fruits Sandos” —whipped cream, slices of strawberries and mango, nestled in crustless milk bread — are essentially cupcakes for breakfast; the gourmet embodiment of Kawaii culture. Wash them down with a homemade ginger ale, which honestly tastes like liquefying the gingerbread man.
Le Bajo manager Kantaro Okado has the Yoshoku salad just right: a large mix of carrots, potatoes and kewpie, garnished with vinegar and sprinkled with ao nori flakes. And when the menu changes at 10:30 am, it’s time for Katsu Sando – Okado makes it hot, crispy, and huge, with shredded cabbage, a side of pickles and a nice layer of miso. A little steep at $ 18, but you won’t leave hungry.
This place is what happens when you mix cultures – Indonesian, Japanese, Australian. And it works. Longtime local favorites Code Black and Ample usually run Howard St with an iron fist, but the vibe of Le Bajo (let’s call it ‘chic milk bar’) seems to draw a solid crowd on time. lunch. With sandos this good, it’s easy to see why.
The Bajo is open for take-out from Tuesday to Sunday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. during confinement.
Check out more of the moves taking place on Melbourne’s food scene here.
Image credit: provided