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Alice Nivens: a wonderland of treats

Port Phillip Arcade is one of the city’s more eclectic arcades, with a curious mix of Asian food cafes, a cake-decorating shop, an engraver, a hairdresser and a coin dealer.  The arcade’s newest addition is Alice Nivens cafe, which has been sending out delicious wafts of  freshly brewed coffee and baking.
We talked to owner Janet Wong about her café and discovered who Alice Nivens is.

1. Before becoming a café owner, who were you in your past life?
In my past life I studied Arts/Engineering (Chemical) at the University of Melbourne, and I worked overseas in engineering for a short while. However, a few years ago, I decided to pursue my passion and started working as a waitress in hospitality before eventually finding my place as a barista.
During this time, I studied patisserie at William Angliss to help me to better understand how the food business works. At the beginning of this year I felt I was ready for some creative control: this cafe was an idea I’d had in my mind since I was 16.
2. How did you come up with the name ‘Alice Nivens’?
The name is derived from two things. I’ve always loved Alice in Wonderland, hence the name ‘Alice’. The story’s concept of ‘eat me’ and ‘drink me’ fitted perfectly with a café specialising in house-baked products and special drinks (tea and coffee).
‘Nivens’ is the name of the white rabbit in Tim Burton’s film version of the story. I was also born in the sign of the rabbit in Chinese astrology and have always believed that rabbits brings me luck.
When I designed the concept of the cafe, I really wanted a place that would take people to a kind of wonderland during their daily routine – much like escaping down a rabbit hole!
3. Tell us about your Mörk hot chocolate and why it’s different to the rest?
Mörk Chocolate is a small local chocolate supplier started by friends of mine – Kiril Shaginov and his girlfriend Josefin, who has been a chocolatier for many years.
They wanted to develop a chocolate which tasted like real chocolate,  made from organic produce sourced by them. It is made up of cocoa powder and cacao liquor (the purest form of chocolate) and blended with coconut blossom sugar, which is safe for people with diabetes too.
Alice Nivens being a place for special drinks, it made sense to me to use Mörk chocolate. It can be found in other places around Melbourne: Auction Rooms and Twenty & Six, to name a few.
5. Where did you get your gorgeous cup-and-saucer lamps?
I saw the tea-cup lights in The Age newspaper one Sunday, months ago. The designer is Gregory Bonasera, who is based in North Melbourne. He makes lampware from vintage bone china  and produces his own porcelain products.
6. Is there anything else in your store that is ‘Made in Melbourne’?
Aside from those things already noted, the coffee is from Clement Coffee Roasters at South Melbourne Market, and the illustrator who painted my wall is Sam Octigan, a freelance artist based in Melbourne. As much as possible, I’ve used local suppliers, including Jonesy’s milk, Victorian Food Distributors, Senselle Fine Foods, Noisette bakery, OKelly Group paper goods, Claringbolds Seafood and Australian Herbs and Fruit.
7. Which baked treat is getting the best response?
So far, the theme cakes have been doing well, such as the White Rabbit cake made from raspberry and coconut, and the Queen of Hearts, which is a flourless chocolate cake with fudge frosting. The cake pops are getting a lot of attention too, as well as the house-made marshmallows. We are also getting a following for the coffee, which is really fantastic!
 Alice Nivens is at Shop 13, Port Phillip Arcade, 228 Flinders Street, Melbourne.