St Kilda keeps her secrets almost too well; Miss Jackson is a cafe set back from noisy Fitzroy Street, seemingly located to attract locals and adventurous types exclusively.
Operators, Matt Boughtwood and Steve Kovacs, opened the space in 2009 with a view to catering to their own tastes in cafe ambiance. “Cafés take a social role similar to old town squares, or even pubs,” says Matt. “People gather, chat, enjoy each other as friends and neighbours in surroundings that cater to the conversation. That’s the place we aim to provide for customers, and for staff as well.”
High ceilings and natural light certainly cater to lively conversation. Sit at the large communal table and jokes, friendly banter and the odd dash of complete irreverence accompany the service. This sense of familiarity and engagement seems to be more than just the focus of the business, it could be the reason for Miss Jackson’s existence. “Hospitality should maintain a sense of the hospitable, of the community,” Matt goes on. “Here, if nothing else, we want to be welcoming.”
Matt and Steve have shaped what was previously a heritage-listed bank into a series of connected rooms and alcoves, facilitating as much conviviality or privacy as a visitor requires. The space is as amenable to decent-sized groups and functions as it is to the solo mission.
An early addition to the team in 2010 was Sarah Spiteri (of acclaimed Ottolenghi and Nahm, both in London), who gives shape to the food philosophy at Miss Jackson. The menu is a collaborative effort of passion and integrity with a focus on seasonality, and Sarah is the key to its creative translation, with menu items like Miss Jackson’s signature Potato and leek hash served on smashed mint peas (or asparagus, when in season), with smoked trout and a poached egg.
Quality and locality are crucial to Miss Jackson’s ingredients. Bread arrives from Woodfrog Bakery and meat from Bertie’s Butcher, both just moments away. Eggs are supplied by Green Eggs, Mount Zero deliver the olives, salt comes from the Murray River, jam from Jam Lady Jam, and mineral water from Daylesford-Hepburn.
Coffee beans are from Allpress Espresso, a relationship that has been built on admiration and respect. Matt’s expertise ensures a punchy, full-bodied espresso that is regularly reviewed highly by publications and word of mouth. Miss Jackson has won coveted awards for their food, which is equalled by the coffee they produce.
There is an honesty to the food, coffee, and service at Miss Jackson. St Kilda keeps her best secrets under wraps, but in this case there is no pretence in what can be found off the main strip – real communal spaces, a sense of connection with people, and a commitment to generosity and quality.