Here at Five Senses, we see our fair share of new cafés. Some are built on the excitement of a newly discovered passion for coffee, some with a focus on making the most of a good business opportunity and offering something different, while others are the natural stepping stone for a driven staff member to become an owner-operator. Lolo and Wren in West Brunswick came about from the latter, and also brought with it a new way of life for husband and wife team, Franco and Karen Caruso.
Nestled in the back of suburban West Brunswick, Lolo and Wren is one of those cafés you never knew you were missing until it arrived. Securely anchored in the base of a new apartment block, the café represents a labour of love for Franco and Karen. Only the bare bones of the building were in place when they started out and the pair, along with a bunch of mates, did most of the fitout with their own two hands. With a knack for design, Karen sourced and applied an eye catching wall pattern in vibrant blue, while warm lighting hangs low from the ceiling illuminating the communal table in the centre of the café. Making use of recycled materials, the bar is built out of reclaimed shipping pallets and adds a rustic charm to the new building.
Rows of herbs and produce line the open kitchen at the back of the café, speaking of both the clear focus on food and Franco’s roots as chef. Having worked for many years on the British fine dining scene (and even racking up the Young Scottish Chef of the year title in 2006), Franco made the move to Australia a few years back in search of new food adventures.
It’s an increasingly familiar tale, because Franco found that the burgeoning Melbourne café scene allowed him the opportunity to work with great produce, serving dishes to engaged customers while managing a much healthier work-life balance than that required by a Michelin starred restaurant.
After doing a stint as head chef at Richmond Hill Café and Larder, Franco and Karen decided that it was time for the next step in their journey. With their young family in tow and having become more involved in their local community of West Brunswick, they decided they wanted to do something for both their family and community. The kids provided the inspiration for the name, with Lowin (Lolo) and Lorenzo (Wren) no doubt some of the biggest fans of mum and dad’s new café!
Franco’s parents were in the restaurant game for years and with both Italian and Chilean family influences, the variety of flavours being tapped into at Lolo and Wren is vibrant yet approachable. The majority of the produce is sourced locally from suppliers such as Jonesy’s Fresh Milk, Golden Plains Pork and Meredith feta and is presented in a wide range of dishes, many of which are great café staples with exciting twists. The classic crispy Croque Monsieur is a crowd favourite, while the ‘St Clements’ Brioche French Toast provides sweet delight — the brioche base topped with lemon curd, fresh orange, baby basil and a burnt orange syrup hits all the right spots! If you’re keen to explore further afield, there are some great options with the caramelized banana, stewed dates and dulce de leche or the Banoffee Porridge, all of which cater to the sweet toothed. For something lighter, the Breakfast Carpaccio of smoked salmon with mixed citrus, shaved fennel, red onion and radish is perfect on these warmer days.
With such a strong focus on the quality of produce, the coffee certainly didn’t go unnoticed either. Franco says that he wanted to make sure that the coffee was of the same top quality as the food. With a Synesso Cyncra on the bench, Franco and his team are bringing a tight focus to both their manual shots of the Crompton Road blend and a rotating range of single origin coffees. When I was last there, our seasonal Don Pepe from Panama was making a mean long black and the staff were abuzz with experiments, preparing for the launch of some refreshing cold brew coffees for the warmer months (available soon!)
Franco and Karen’s values of community and family run throughout the business. The same core team who helped start the café almost a year ago can still be seen bustling around the welcoming space, and the couple treat them as one big extended family. Whether you’re a customer who’s just passing through or a regular local, you’ll be welcomed with warmth and served food and coffee which has been made with care and attention to detail. It’s a recipe that is clearly working as Lolo and Wren moves into its second year of service!
PS: Excitingly, with their liquor license now in, Lolo and Wren is also open on Friday and Saturday evenings, serving local wine, beers and a tantalizing Tapas-styled menu!
Lolo & Wren
484 Albion Street,
Monday — Friday 7:00am — 4:00pm
Saturday — Sunday 8:00am — 4:00pm
Friday — Saturday nights 6:30pm — 9:30pm