Top Paddock is the most recent creation of restaurateur Nathan Toleman, and, continuing in the same vein as APTE, Liar Liar, Three Bags Full, and Two Birds One Stone, he and his partners have, yet again, created another establishment that equally balances best coffee and finest restaurant cultures.
Bustling even at off times of the day, Top Paddock incorporates many of the most successful elements of Nathan’s other establishments including select menu items, and you can expect to find wood-topped communal tables, café-bar-style seating, and modern lighting and fixtures. Top Paddock has developed a life of its own, of course, and one might even say that Nathan has used his experience to develop his best café yet.
To create Top Paddock, which opened in 2013, Nathan joined forces with Diamond Rozakeas, Ben Clark and Sam Slattery, and all four can be found in hands-on positions at the café. Settling on the idea of a destination café – the type of café that customers travel across Melbourne to frequent- the partners sought an ‘unloved, out-of-the-way former care park’ and Top Paddock occupies a stand-alone building in Richmond. The first task was turning the building into a number of spaces, each with a unique vibe, while maintaining the coffee bar as the central point. The result is a large café with lots of indoor and outdoor seating options and huge windows that let in views of the leafy trees and shrubbery surrounding the building.
Accordingly, the design elements inside of the café are equally numerous. A light sculpture by Christopher Boots hangs above the coffee bar; road signs-come-stools are pushed up to tables; and the warm tones of wooden panelling are adjacent to exposed air ducts and white tiling, depending on which room you’re sitting in.
Elika Rowell is head barista at Top Paddock, and the café serves both house-roasted coffees as well as coffees by 5 Senses Coffee. Nathan describes the café’s food and coffee as ‘serious and imaginative’, but the gang at Top Paddock doesn’t take it all that seriously: Nathan says that there’s “a smidgen of quirkiness and fun amongst all the passion and professionalism. That’s our recipe for success.”
In designing the breakfast and lunch menus, Top Paddock wanted to pair fine-dining and informal, café-style cuisines, and the café serves lunch all day and takes reservations for parties of four or more Monday through Friday. In particular, Nathan wanted to change the breakfast paradigm by offering a range of highly inventive fish dishes. For example, Top Paddock serves the Fresh Soft-Shell Queensland Mud Crab Roll, which comes with a fennel, dill, and lime mayonnaise on a brioche bun, and the Gin-and-Lime-Cured Ocean Trout Fillet, which comes with pickled baby beetroots, potato galette, and organic Boatshed goats’ curd.
Jesse McTavish serves as head chef at Top Paddock, and he comes from Byron Bay. Jesse uses the creativity of the Melbourne restaurant scene, which he says mirrors that of Byron Bay, as inspiration, and he has firmly stamped his cooking style onto Top Paddock. He said, “The beauty of Melbourne is the diversity of the weather, which ensures that both the ingredients and the tastes among diners are in a state of perpetual transformation.” He said that this wasn’t the only reason he made Melbourne his home: He also fell in love with and married a beautiful Greek girl here!
Lastly, the final ingredient that demonstrates why Top Paddock will have a long and fruitful run in Melbourne, is the relationships it has built with local farmers, cheese makers, and fishermen. “From our artisan cheese maker from Mt. Martha, and our ‘killed to order’ pigs from the Otways, to our picked-to-order avocados from the Murray river, we make sure we support our local suppliers so they in turn will be moved to give us the best they have to offer,” said Nathan. That suggests a commitment to localism and traceability, two elements that aren’t likely to go out of fashion, even in the fickle restaurant industry.