A focus on producing quality baked items and traditional British fare has helped put Melbourne bakery and café, Cobb Lane, well and truly on the city’s foodie map.
With whitewashed walls, wooden shelves and large windows, Cobb Lane is a bakery and café that exudes an airy, relaxed and comfortable atmosphere. And, one glance at the bakery’s cabinets is enough to understand why this tiny business has garnered a big reputation for itself.
Located in the trendy Melbourne suburb of Yarraville, the business is the brainchild of Matt Forbes; a pastry chef whose CV reads like a good food guide.
Originally hailing from the UK, Matt landed a position in the pastry kitchen of two Michelin-starred institution Le Manoir Aux Quat Saisons straight out of catering college, before adding jobs at Waterside Inn with renowned chef Michel Roux; and Devonshire Arms with Michael Wignall to the list.
A job as head pastry chef at Shannon Bennet’s Vue de Monde brought Matt to Australian shores in 2007 and the rest, as they say, is history.
Matt’s passion for pastry first began when he was just a teenager.
“It’s pretty much all I’ve done since I was 16-years-old and left school. Before that I always wanted to be a chef so it was a natural step; leaving school and going to catering college and then into the restaurant scene,” he says.
“To be honest I was very fortunate to be offered my first job at a two Michelin-starred restaurant in the UK. At the time I wanted to be in the kitchen, but they didn’t have a job there so they offered me a job in pastry and that’s basically where I stayed.”
A desire to move away from restaurant life and branch out on his own saw Matt launch his wholesale business in 2012.
Soon 15 businesses were on the books and the company was flourishing, however, while working with one of his first clients, Clement Coffee, Matt noted a distinct gap in the baked sweets market within Melbourne’s cafés and decided to rectify the problem. His answer was Cobb Lane, a bakery-café that first opened its doors in 2013.
Despite its tiny size – just 75sq m – Cobb Lane seats 21 people and boasts an impressively diverse menu.
Baked items such as Danish pastries, cookies and muffins, which are produced under the watchful eye of head baker Didiet Radityawan, sit next to sourdoughs and a traditional bread range, while fine cakes can be found in the cabinet.
“The pastries sell really well and the breads are very popular,” Matt says, noting a plain croissant is his own personal favourite.
“The fine cakes are really popular too; we’ll often have people come in of an afternoon for a little cake treat. Those, again, go back to my high-end pastry training.”
However, it’s the doughnuts that are Cobb Lane’s true calling card.
“We actually began producing our doughnut range more than two years ago when we first started the wholesale business. Doughnuts weren’t such a huge thing when we started doing them; it was only us and a couple of other bakeries that were really getting into it. But since then there’s been an influx of new people just making doughnuts,” Matt says.
“Doughnuts are actually only a small part of our offering, but they are definitely one of the more popular things to have at the moment. We can’t take the salted caramel doughnuts off the shelves at the moment – we get complaints if we do.”
With a focus on producing items that are fresh, traditional and seasonal, Matt says it was important to him for the Cobb Lane product range to also pay tribute to both his training and heritage.
“I really don’t mess around with the products too much. My training is classical French, so any experimentation is generally more about applying different techniques when making the items,” he says.
“The Cobb Lane offering was simplified a bit to fit in with the atmosphere we wanted to create, but all the foods either represent my upbringing in the UK or my training.”
A coffee component that encompasses “the obvious stuff” as well as filtered, in conjunction with an extensive range of teas takes care of customers’ beverage needs, while a small but select breakfast and lunch menu rounds out Cobb Lane’s offering. The traditionally English meals such as Scotch eggs with black pudding, Welsh rarebit and thick cut bacon have already proved to be a big hit with Melbourne’s foodie circles.
It was a brave move to take; especially considering the poor reputation British food has been suffering under since World War II.
“There are some things you can’t escape. I’m a huge fan of English food; I think it’s got a lot to offer despite its bad reputation. If it’s done properly then, for me, the British stuff is up there with the best,” Matt says.
“Everything we do at Cobb Lane is on track to make our food flavoursome and tasty, but at the same time light, approachable and not too heavy.”
Matt also credits Melbourne’s burgeoning café and artisanal bakery scene with helping Cobb Lane’s regular customers expand their culinary horizons. So much so, an increased offal offering is on the books for the 2015.
“Within the bakery we work a lot with our consumers and sometimes we do little specials here and there, or we’ll change up the Danishes and pastries for the week. We do test the water and sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t,” Matt says.
“Personally I’m quite a fan of offal so, you know, playing around with it and getting little bits of it in the menu is quite interesting. We had calf’s tongue on the menu the other week and it flew out the door.”
A new bread and pastry wholesaling business is also on the cards for the new year.
“We’ve signed the lease on the warehouse and are building the kitchen from scratch. We’re just waiting on the council for approval,” Matt says.
When asked which trends he believes will take off in the baking industry in throughout 2015, Matt’s response was simple.
“I think it’s going to take a long time to get over this doughnut craze, and I see more of a spike in the quality of danishes and pastries on offer. There are a lot of really good pastry chefs coming through the industry at the moment,” he says.
“For me, 2015 will be about getting back to the roots. Back to the basics and improving the quality of the products being offered; just getting back in touch with the craft.
“This year the demand for very simple but very good, quality products has grown and I think that will continue on in 2015.”