Level 3, Melbourne Central
211 La Trobe St, Melbourne Victoria 3000
P 9654 0808 F 9654 1080
Mod Oz Locavorian
Dinner, Thursday 1st May 2008
The website address may be http://www.sosmelbourne.com.au/, but sos is long gone and 100 Mile Cafe has taken its place. Rather than being vego-pescetarian only - no dairy, no meat, no eggs - the new incarnation is omnivorous in its cooking but ecofriendly and locavotarian (is that even a word?) in its ethics. Unfortunately our table didn't come with a natty placemat-like guide to the restaurant, but I had done some prior research (read: studied the menu during my downtime at work) and was impressed by the thought that went into it. I may not have spent quite as much thought deciding what to buy (I should have gotten a chicken dish!) but as I was being ruled by my empty, rumbling stomach, I went with what I thought would be a large meal, rather than going for flavour and intelligence. Which is why I ended up with a plate full of burger (beef-tofu), chips and salad, while my dining partner had the smallest serve I've ever seen for a main dish in a restaurant, of red mullet fillets.
But I get ahead of myself here. The room itself deserves a bit of discussion, as it is a very '00s venue, and very new-Melbourne-Central. It's located in a shopping centre in the city, but on the outskirts of the actual complex, so the escalators we took to reach the front door were the only real reminder of our very mercantile surrounding. A long corridor - with a "fish don't grow on trees" montage of real tree trunks - took us to a room with a central bar, an outside drinkies area, and a simple, slightly echoey space of simple chipboard-looking chairs (though painted a dashing orange or white), small square tables, and a dotted-dashed-cutout plane of more chipboard or something lining the ceiling. VERY '00s. A lot of exposed pale wood rough-hewn beams supporting the ceiling in some form further accentuated the bar. VERY Melbourne Central. VERY cool.
The waiters were sweethearts, too. A bit chatty, a bit joking, and perfectly matching the surprisingly affordable menu. I do suspect that they could do with raising the prices just a few dollars if it meant getting more food on the plate. The "Grilled Red Mullet fillets with fennel, peas and watercress" (which was listed on the menu as containing - and was delivered with - kohlrabi as well) was so small, I made sure to reserve my salad and some chips for my dining partner to eat as well. So I can't report on her dish, nor on my salad, but those chips sure were yum. The burger itself had a curiously quiet flavour, no doubt as a result of the inclusion of silken tofu. But the texture certainly benefited - I ate the entire burger quite happily, but skipped the boring looking white bread roll it was sandwiched in.
We had actually started with house-baked olive oil and salt flat bread that blew my mind. My dining partner told me it was spelt, and I was just in love. It had an echo in the flavour of crispbread crackers, but with a beautifully sensual, clever texture of both crisp and chewiness, with a dusty base that turned one of my pink sleeves a lovely shade of salmon. For $5 for a plate piled high with squares, the bread was reasonably priced and I could have quite happily taken a box home as takeaway.
The desserts were similarly impressive, a strawberry souffle rising almost twice as tall as its dish, and a champagne, lemongrass, and something-else sorbet was delicately flavoured, with each note coming through with perfect clarity. My tall, rectangular rhubarb tart concealed within a veritable swimming pool of liquid custard, so I did get a bit messy. The rich pastry, perfectly cooked rhubarb, and tangy pear compote mousse accompanying went perfectly with the dollop of cream I had requested on the side. At $14 each they were reasonably priced, and I don't think they need any price increase if possible! They were decent sized serves for the cost.
Because the menu is seasonal, it's also a prime candidate for return visits which won't leave me totally bored of eating the same food over and over. Variety in the mains, similarly excellent desserts (all the dishes came with sorbets, so I suspect the winter menu is yet to be fully introduced), and more of that bread, and I'll return time and time again.