Monday, October 24, 2011

Hawthorn's new hot spot...

Life on Mars

Address: 842 Glenferrie Road, Hawthorn, Vic, 3122

Phone: (03) 9078 8663

Open: Monday to Sunday, 7.30am until 4.30pm

It’s been a while since Glenferrie Road Hawthorn has scored a nice breakfast place. Surrounded by the likes of Replete, Porgie + Mr Jones and Home Dining Room, the only spots a short walk away from the main drag is Liar, Liar and Axil Coffee Roasters. Even then, both are usually overflowing with people. It’s always an achievement when you discover a brand new brunch spot that is yet to be the talk of the town (it's not even on UrbanSpoon yet!). But Life on Mars near Barkers Road won’t be a quiet spot for long.

The café gets its name from the popular British television series, Life on Mars. The owner wanted it to be named something “unexpected,” and accepted the suggestion from her mother. I wasn’t expecting it, so I guess that means she achieved her goal! 

The fit-out resembles a homely garden shed, with pot plants positioned on shelves and hanging from decorative lattices. Dark chocolate wooden furniture accommodates larger groups while seating is also available outside on the footpath and on stools by the window. There are even chairs nailed precariously from the wall, although they are for decoration only. 


Exposed light bulbs and the polished concrete floor give the café an industrial feel, although the latter does little for the acoustics, with music, crashing dishes and table talk competing to be heard in the echoing space. The staff, while polite, were almost timid, and are perhaps still becoming used to their position in this sparkling new eatery. Menus took a while to be presented and remained on the table long after we finished our meals, although the Allpress Coffee more than made up for it. 

Life on Mars is obviously proud of their coffee, quoting Allpress on their menu: “It’s all about the relentless pursuit of flavour to deliver the best tasting coffee.” For the few who don’t ‘do’ coffee, there is a selection of drinks including tea, Masala chai, flavoured milk, and Parker’s organic juices, iced teas and ginger beer.

Fletcher Zane, who has been chef at an impressive list of restaurants including Icebergs, Giuseppe Arnaldo & Sons, Quay, Hotel Max and Stokehouse, runs the kitchen. It shows in the food. There is an emphasis on free-range ingredients from local suppliers such as Noisette bakery and Jonesy’s Dairy Fresh milk. 

Everything on the breakfast menu at Life on Mars is under $13, and everything on the lunch menu (with the exception of the Gippsland cumin salt lamb loin served with black quinoa, green olives, chard, salad and a Perisan feta dressing) is under $15. Visiting for brunch at 11am meant we could order from both menus.

I sampled the toasted muesli from the breakfast menu. It was different to most in that it was noticeably fine and not dominated by oats. Instead, shaved coconut constituted the base, mixed through with chewy cranberries, flax seeds, chunks of dried orange and an abundance of toasted almond slithers, topped with a dollop of yoghurt infused with specks of vanilla. For a few extra dollars, a chopped strawberry salad added some freshness.

For once, no eggs were ordered, but a few dishes stood out under the “all day eggs” banner. Favourites included the duck egg frittata with young asparagus, radish salad and Reggiano, as well as the Kaiserfleish braised white beans with pork and apple sausages, Proscuitto di Parma, double smoked ham, organic bacon and smoked Yarra Valley trout rillette… talk about being piggy! Also worth a mention is that Wendy Hargreaves, editor of the Herald Sun’s Sunday Food section, included Life on Mars’ crumpets with Tasmanian leatherwood honey in her top five crumpet dishes in Melbourne last week.

The other meals came from the lunch menu. The toasted Rueben sandwich was a successful replica of a classic Rueben in both size and form. Thick brown bread arrived stuffed with a generous amount of shredded corn brisket, a layer of pickled cabbage and melted Swiss cheese, all finished with a Russian dressing. Of course, pickles also made an appearance, with two cornichons skewered to the sandwich. 

Another meaty sandwich was also ordered: the “scotch steak sanga.” It was served on warm ciabatta bread with bitey horseradish mayo, peppery rocket and a sweet onion jam. The flavours melded well, but the person who ordered it had Rueben envy nonetheless.

The final dish was another carnivorous choice: the Waygu burger. This one deserves a special mention due to the fact it was only $12.50, despite the quality meat being sourced from Moondarra, which is about a two-hour drive southeast of Melbourne. The huge burger patty was encased by a sweet, seeded brioche and blanketed in melted tasty cheese. Complete with a slow cooked egg and fresh lettuce leaves, the minimal fillings enhanced the flavour of the meat. Finishing the burger – as well as the mass of golden fries –was a mammoth task subsequently failed by the two boys who attempted it.      

The less carnivorous customers can choose from sandwiches such as Yarra Valley rainbow trout with watercress; Woodside goat’s curd with walnut pesto and pickled baby beetroots; or organic chicken with avocado and seed mayo for something less meaty... or you can go straight for the treats cabinet filled with macarons and pastries!

Rumours are circulating that Life on Mars could be open for dinner with a liquor license this summer, so keep your ears, eyes and tastebuds peeled. You don’t need a crystal ball to foretell that this affordable and tasty gem will soon become a local hot spot. Get down there before the queuing begins – it’s out of this world.  


Life on Mars on Urbanspoon

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