For all the hype about the hottest new Melbourne cafes with the most Instagramable dishes, not enough tends to be said for the quiet stalwarts that steadfastly deliver delicious food. Code 21 is one of the gems that we have discovered since moving down.
Located at the base of an apartment complex, we had glimpsed their neon sign through the window when going past, and been amused by it. Code 21 is at the front of the eatery as a neon sign that isn’t lighted up in the daytime, but it’s the bright pink in the interior that catches the eye.
The lighted words against an artificial green wall make for a playful rather than kitschy feature. The rest of the decor is more restrained, concrete floors and light coloured walls complimented by light wood-topped tables and seats.
It is quite a compact space, with the service counter and open kitchen taking up a relatively large footprint. Despite the central position of the kitchen, there was enough fan extraction that food smells didn’t escape out to the dining area. There is also some outdoor seating, for those who want to enjoy a bit of mild weather.
Plenty of daylight came through to the interior via large glass windows, which also kept traffic noise out. What we particularly appreciate though, is that there are acoustic baffles along the ceiling, which ensure that it never becomes too noisy, even when the space is filled with diners. This little detail makes a huge difference when it comes to sound levels, and yet is something we have only occasionally seen eateries do. Acoustic pop and R&B play over the speakers at different times, and again because of the baffles, it doesn’t just add to the noise, but is audible music.
The menu has a range of good options, from stepped-up brunch classics like Corn and chive fritters or a Pulled beef eggs benedict with house-made rostis, to even more indulgent items like Chilli crab scrambled eggs on a croissant, or Southern fried chicken croffle.
Our go-to drink is the dirty chai. It has a good balance of both coffee and chai flavours, so you can taste both the spices and the coffee. It is just lightly sweet, rather than being saccharine.
It also works as an iced version, but the chai is less distinct then.
The Chilli crab scrambled eggs dish comes with crushed peas, lettuce, snow pea salad, radishes, and homemade chilli oil on a toasted croissant. This was plated with the scrambled egg-filled croissant in the centre, and a sweeping arc of light green pea puree across half of the dish. The chilli oil came in a small glass pouring pot, so you could apply the amount you wanted yourself. The croissant was crisp and flaky. The scrambled egg was fluffy, with definite crab meat flavour, and pieces of crab. The pea puree had light, natural sweetness. It was a good thing that the chilli oil was served on the side, because despite its innocuous appearance, it packed a spicy punch, so those not accustomed to spicy foods might a chef’s generous drizzle too much.
We have also had the Corn and chive fritters. These are listed as coming with charred corn salsa, pickled fennel, avocado, poached egg, beetroot relish, and snow pea salad. The fritters made a little heap, with the poached egg and blob of salsa nestled in. The pieces of tomato, corn, radish, and pea shoots added colour so the dish looked appetisingly vibrant rather than drab brown. The fritters had a good crunchy exterior, and the insides were full of the promised components. They were well seasoned and herby. The avocado was a mix of a soft smash and chunkier cubes for some texture. The relish was a bright mix that leaned to the sweet side.
Our favourite dish though, remains the Southern fried chicken croffle. The menu describes it as also having garden herb coleslaw, chipotle aioli, cranberry BBQ sauce, maple syrup, and pink pickled ginger. The central components should be a draw already. The croffle is indeed a croissant pressed into the shape of a waffle. The exterior is crisp and flaky, and the pastry beneath has a good pull to it. It also isn’t notably oily. The Southern fried chicken is perfectly done each time, crunchy on the outside but juicy on the inside. Despite contact with the generous amounts of coleslaw, aioli, and BBQ sauce, the coating retains its crunch. It is certainly not a dry dish, with the sauces that go with it. You can douse it with maple syrup to your taste, as, similar to the chilli oil, it is served in a little pouring pot on the side. It also comes with a wedge of lime, so you can add citrus zing. This is probably one of the best brunch dishes we have had since moving down. It has all the textural components right, and there is a great range of flavours to the dish. This is, as the vernacular goes, a flavour bomb.
If the descriptions so far haven’t given it away, Code 21 is definitely a brunch place we would recommend (and have).They consistently deliver tasty dishes that have considered mixes of flavours and textures. Small details also make for it to be a comfortable space to be in. If you haven’t been there yet, add it to your visit list.
Price point: $19.50 to $22.50 for items more substantial than eggs on toast.
Value: Very good, particularly considering what you get at other eateries for higher prices.
Address: 2/21 Brunswick Rd, Brunswick East
Phone: 03 8370 9078
Website: Code 21