May 6, 2019 Cafes
“Frances had her headphones in on the plane, and it just came to me. I hit her frantically on the shoulder and said, ‘eat, drink, laugh!’”
This is Frances and Edison Zajmi’s origin story: on the way home from an inspiration-scouting trip to Melbourne, among the clouds, they’d been eating, drinking and laughing. The name came before they found the place, a narrow corner lot ensconced in one of the new apartment blocks recently sprouted in Grey Lynn’s Pollen St. “It was fate,” Frances says.
It looks slight from the street front, only a few heads peeking out from beyond glass barrier to suggest what lies within. But it’s deceptively spacious, with tables and chairs also sliding out to the apartment’s foyer, which the Zajmis hope to jazz up with greenery soon enough, creating a more private area.
Pops of colour inside sweeten up the otherwise concrete and neutral palette; zany orange and pinks that look like they were chosen for Instagram in mind, and probably were. The neon sign of their eatery’s name reminds me of the “live, laugh, love” decals popular on bedroom walls, made cooler with the adjacent aesthetic-brick walls and faux arched windows, lighted up above the snug booths. Either way, it’s a very bright reminder of the best simple pleasures in life.
Edison’s family hails from Kosovo, Albania, where he grew up in the hospitality world. His dad, who on this visit happened to be sitting in one of their booths with Edison’s uncle, warned Edison against it, convinced it was no life for a family man. Frances and Edison solved that by both getting into the business, having worked in hospitality for the past decade. “Although we both have to work holidays,” Edison says. Frances adds, laughing, “I have to take a day in lieu for Mother’s Day.”
There’s some of that Albanian influence on the menu, particularly in the Albanian scrambled eggs with suxhuk, a traditional smoked beef sausage, made spicy with red pepper. This is Edison’s usual breakfast – he says he eats it five times a week.
Head chef Kasiano Tinu is a bodybuilder, so the health-conscious have plenty of choices here, including the house-made granola bowl and the paleo waffles, spongier due to tapioca flour and just the right side of sweet. The small plates are ideal for sharing, like the pulled pork bao buns, unmistakeably seasoned with five spice and tossed with crunches of apple mint slaw and pickled cucumber, or panko prawn and crab cakes.
The owners soundly reject any boxed-in labels. “We’re not a cafe, or bar,” Edison explains. “We have wine, beer, cocktails. And coffee.” They’re open late Thursday-Saturday, serving their small plates alongside your glass of wine: a perfect combo at your new local neighbourhood spot.
25B Pollen St, Grey Lynn
Photography: Alex Blackwood