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Shhhh. I’ve found a great place for a city lunch but I’m not sure if I can tell you about it. I mean, of course I can tell you about it but I just need to do it quietly. Because the joint in question - Mr Tulk - is in the ever-so-studious State Library of Victoria.
Admittedly, there are no librarians running around the place telling patrons to “shhhh” but it was kind of a nice thought as I sat at the communal table in what used to be the one of the library’s locker rooms but is now a bustling café.
Named after the bloke who was the library’s first chief librarian way back in the mid 1870s, Mr Tulk is clearly the hippest thing the State Library, and any other library for that matter, is likely to have seen.
On a recent Wednesday lunchtime, it was packed. But luckily the space was bigger than I was expecting it to be so between the take-away counter, the inside café and the outside tables there was plenty of room for all.
And not only was there plenty of room, there was plenty of value and variety in the menu. Baguettes with various fillings were $8, toasted flatbreads were between $8-$9 and other dishes – such as the smoked salmon bruschetta with capers, onions and crème fraiche – were priced between $5 to $16.
As well as the regular offerings, Mr Tulk also has an extensive specials menu. And I’ve got to say, as good as the standard options are, the specials are definitely worth a second look. For me, it was the special of farfalle pasta with red wine porcini and rosemary braised lamb ($15).
The pasta was a decent-sized serve and came with a slice of crusty bread and had a hefty, earthy flavour with plenty of tender lamb. I loved it but I was also impressed with some of the other specials, especially the rabbit, prune and pancetta terrine with grilled bread and pear and date chutney ($13.50) and the steamed mussels with moghrabieh (a Middle Eastern cous-cous), white wine, tomato, garlic, basil and chilli with grilled sourdough ($14.50). (I've since been back for both and the two dishes met my expectations.)
Although we were there for lunch my buddy opted for the baked eggs with chorizo and spinach ($13) and it looked amazing and it made me instantly decide to go back for breakfast sometime soon. Other brecky dishes included the scrambled parmesan and basil eggs with sweet tomatoes on sourdough ($13) and the omelette with prosciutto, tomato and rocket ($13).
Thankfully, my uni days are long gone so my use of the State Library is minimal. My use of Mr Tulk however…now that’s another story.