Box Hill’s Second Wife is a good egg

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THEME: GOOD EGGS

★★★½

SECOND WIFE

8 WELLINGTON ROAD, BOX HILL, 9973 9481

UNLICENSED AE MC V EFTPOS

MONDAY-FRIDAY 7.30AM-3PM, SATURDAY 8AM-3PM, SUNDAY 8.30AM-2PM

BREAKFAST: $6.50-$20; LUNCH: $14-$24

I thought the name of this smart new Box Hill cafe was odious but then I realised I actually am someone’s second wife. I felt briefly self-hating, then instantly warmed to it. Maybe there should be more championing of second wives – we can be kind of great. Anyway, according to founder Reiji Honour, the name is a bit of cheeky fun that doesn’t mean much but if it says anything it’s that this is the second cafe from him and co-owner Semir Elmazi.

The pair also own Burwood’s quirky science-themed Dosage, and Elmazi owns Ivanhoe’s Foreigner, so this is the third in a growing group, with another coffee palace on the horizon. Some cafe empires replicate their model and menu from one venue to the next but these guys mix things up and each place has a distinct identity. Foreigner is earthy, spacious and vaguely Middle Eastern. Dosage is tiny, gleamingly sparse and serves food bristling with syringes. Second Wife is a bright, wedge-shaped dining destination at the base of a new development; its focus is healthy food, though not slavishly so.

The menu plucks from Honour’s Japanese background and Elmazi’s Middle Eastern heritage. Everything is halal. The signature Real Wife’s Breakfast is a home-wrecker – and by that I mean why would you ever eat at home when you can go out for something so delicious? Poached eggs loll on crumbed, fried, succulent eggplant slices. The eggplant is surrounded by garlicky labna  and the whole lot nestles in a generous puddle of burnt sage butter. Crisp-fried leek bits and crunchy flatbread add texture to the comforting chilli-spiked loveliness.

The okonomi-yaki is based on Reiji’s mum’s recipe for the traditional cabbage and spring onion pancake. Her secret ingredient is dashi, a fish-based stock that adds an umami depth to the vegetable melange. Okonomi-yaki translates as “what you like, fried” so the name gives permission to innovate. In this case, it’s turned into a modern Melbourne cafe dish by topping it with smoked salmon and a poached egg. They go brilliantly with the traditional Kewpie mayonnaise and thick barbecue-style sauce.

Smoothie bowls lure the health-conscious but the charcoal smoothie bowl seduced me because I couldn’t resist the idea of cold, black not-quite-porridge. A blend of activated charcoal, peanut butter, banana and coconut milk is strewn with chia seeds, granola, fruit and pansies. It’s colourful and tasty; you may enjoy it even if you don’t believe in the benefits of eating carbon powder (good for spider bites, in case you ever need to know).

At lunch, the standout option is the pick-and-mix bowls. Choose a base (maybe quinoa, greens or brown rice), toppings (yakitori mushrooms, turmeric cauliflower, black sesame seeds with avocado) and extras (pulled lamb, beetroot tzatziki). If you can’t decide, there are prepared Japanese and Mexican bowls.

Box Hill is a vibrant neighbourhood, on track to become Melbourne’s second central business district. It probably has enough dumplings but there is plenty of room for more cafes. This makes Second Wife something of a pioneer as well as a perfect place for paragon eggs. Far from being an evil stepmother, she’s very easy to like. In fact, when same sex weddings become legal, I’m planning to marry her.

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Matcha Mylkbar, 72A Acland Street, St Kilda, 9534 1111. Daily breakfast and lunch.

OK, they’re not really eggs. They’re a vegan egg-like arrangement of sweet potato and turmeric (the yolk) surrounded by an almond and coconut albumen. But as you eat them, this plant-based cafe may open your eyes to animal-free edible possibilities.

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