State Library of Victoria
328 Swanston Street
Ph: (03) 8660 5700
When I open a restaurant one day in the future, I want the service style to be just like what you get at Mr Tulk. The staff here are young and fun, and on the surface, they seem to be extremely relaxed – thankfully, this casual nature does not equal poor, inattentive service. Have a closer look at the movements of any of the staff here, and you’ll find they’re going fast, watching the room, talking to themselves about what needs to happen next.
My Mum, my brother and I sat in the waiting area and ordered some drinks as staff found a table for us. Table turnover here is fast, but the cafe is usually packed, so there’s a good chance you may have to wait. When you finish your meal, however, wait staff don’t hustle you out the door. Any pressure the staff feel to clear the table as soon as possible is not passed on to the customer.
My first interaction with a member of staff was as I gave my drink order to a waiter who had danced over to me. Soon, we were being shown to our table, facing the difficult decision of what to have. Mr Tulk offers breakfast and brunch, lunch, light snacks and little sweet things. There are so many things on the menu that sound fantastic, picking is tough. Last time Mum and I visited, I had breakfast and she had lunch – beautiful, creamy scrambled eggs tinted green from the basil that was mixed through, with sweet, roasted tomatoes; and a light, fresh dish of calamari frites and a rocket salad. This time, the three of us struggled to decide, at one point all wanting the same dish. It was the waiter who came to the rescue when he asked for our order.
“What are you deciding between?”, he asked me. I proceeded to list about half the menu. Mum piped up that she liked smoked salmon; my brother, James, asked about the Caesar salad. I enquired about the day’s soup special, a lamb, pea and fennel soup. “Is the soup nice?”, I asked. “No”, the waiter replied, “It’s shit.” It is this humour and relaxed nature that I love about Mr Tulk. The ordering incident came to a head when the waiter took charge of the situation: “Why don’t you have the soup, you have the smoked salmon, and you have the salad.” Easy, quick and helpful. I am a very indecisive customer and I value the opinion of wait staff. It is a big pet hate of mine when I visit a restaurant or cafe, ask for advice, and am told “I dunno… it’s really up to you”.
The view from our table: The entrance to Mr Tulk on the left, and to the State Library on the right; further down the room, guests can grab a coffee and something small to eat and sit at one of the bar stools. Note the man in the grey top with a menu in front of his face: that’s our waiter, deliberately jumping and dancing to get in my picture.
Lamb, pea and fennel soup of the day with crusty bread
This soup was fantastic. Small pieces of lamb were visible when I lightly swirled the soup, but when I plunged my spoon right to the bottom and scooped up, I found a big piece of lamb on the bone and as the dish sat there, melt-in-your-mouth chunks fell right off. Big cubes of soft potato were also present in this strong-flavoured and well balanced dish.
Caesar salad with white anchovy and poached egg
“One of the best Caesar salads going round”, claimed the waiter, and it certainly was. Beautiful creamy dressing covered good-sized pieces of bacon and parmesan, and the big, juicy white anchovies were an excellent addition. I enjoyed the bread presented, rather than as small croutons scattered throughout, as a large, lightly toasted slice sitting atop the salad.
Smoked salmon bruschetta with onions, capers and creme fraiche
A simple dish, but a delicious one, with a generous helping of fresh smoked salmon, served with a twist: creme fraiche rather than the commonly used Philadelphia cream cheese, and pickled, deliciously vinegar-y slices of red onion.
Both times I have been to Mr Tulk, service and food have been flawless – I really have nothing critical to say about the venue and highly recommend it as a great, friendly place to have a coffee or something quick to eat in between whatever it is you’re doing in the city. Mr Tulk is open till 5pm Monday-Thursday and till 4pm Saturday (closed Sundays), but on Friday nights they close at 9pm and host happy hours and fish specials – something I am keen to experience.
(Apologies for the lack of prices accompanying the dishes in this post. Dishes at Mr Tulk are around $10-$16)