Check out tennis pro John Millman’s favourite small business: a cafe serving big flavours

Discover why Melbourne local business, Darling Cafe, became a hotspot for travelling tennis stars like John Millman, with their offering of delicious ‘photo worthy’ dishes served in a ‘feel good’ atmosphere nestled in the heart of South Yarra. Hear about how the Darling Cafe adapted their approach during Melbourne’s 15-week lockdown, and how they plan to hit the ground running in 2021.

Australian Open

The Australian Open (AO) has always been about more than just tennis. The tournament is known the world over as the Happy Slam, thanks in large part to the welcome players receive from Melburnians. 


After a tough 2020 full of closures, Melbourne’s small businesses are eager to start the year off on a high when the AO brings the city to life this February. 


South Yarra’s Darling Cafe is beloved by locals and tennis players alike for its drool-worthy dishes. 


For AO player and ATP champion John Millman, there’s no beating the Sticky Date Pancakes for breakfast whenever he’s in town. The expertly fluffy pancakes, served with thick butterscotch ice cream and a sticky palm sugar caramel, won’t be off the menu anytime soon. 


“They’re definitely a hot favourite,” says Chris Seoud, one of the people behind what has been called Melbourne’s most Instagrammable brunch spot. His personal go-to dish is the equally indulgent French Toast, dusted with cinnamon sugar and finished with a generous dollop of mascarpone mousse. 


What is it that makes the local business, a favourite of players like Millman, remain a neighbourhood café at heart? For John, it’s all about taking a trip down memory lane. “As a junior and in my early professional years I would often stay in South Yarra. You’d typically find me having a coffee and some breakfast at Darling Cafe before setting off for my day of matches. Getting to enjoy some downtime, great food and a top atmosphere before I hit the court every day were the priceless moments I remember. In 2021, Mastercard is opening the Australian Open by profiling small businesses in Melbourne like Darling Cafe. Join us by visiting the Darling Cafe or ordering online! 


“You felt the excitement in the air being so close to the arena and surrounded by the local tennis-fans. Now, I look back on my time in South Yarra as a young player and think how it was to be there,” he continues. 


According to Alex Philips, manager of Darling Cafe, it’s the “feel-good” atmosphere and friendly staff that keeps customers coming back. Chris and Alex both agree they couldn’t have made it through 2020 without their faithful regulars, who have always been the backbone of the business. 


“Everyone banded together to make the best of a bad situation,” says Alex, recalling tough times during lockdowns. “Locals went out of their way to support us. The people who would typically just grab a coffee on the weekends were dropping by five to six times a week just to support us.” 


The support went both ways as neighbourhood residents, working from home and feeling isolated, relied on the cafe for friendly chats with staff to keep their spirits high – and the neighbourly love has led to some permanent changes. “Everyone’s become a lot closer and a lot friendlier. Everyone is a lot more open to having a chat,” says Alex. Chris agreed, adding “our customers in general are also a lot more appreciative of the service that we offer and the opportunity to just be able to go out and dine out” after the restrictions of 2020. 


There were other positives that came out of 2020, such as the cafe allowing online ordering and delivery for the first time. “It probably wouldn’t have happened otherwise,” says Alex, as she details the enormous success of their new delivery system. Orders have boomed thanks to homebound locals. 


The Australian Open has previously seen the cafe at its busiest, and it is at its best when serving up classic Melbourne hospitality alongside delicious food. 


The local celebrations are what makes Melbourne the perfect home for the Open. “There’s always something to do, the people are so hospitable and welcoming…and we’re always down to have a good time,” says Alex with a smile. 


Passionate people like Chris, Alex, the waitstaff, chefs and cleaners of Darling Cafe are a testament to the remarkable resilience that lies at the heart of every small business. 


In 2021, Mastercard is opening the Australian Open by profiling small businesses in Melbourne like Darling Cafe. To check out their ‘instagrammable’ dishes, follow @darlingcafe