MILES AHEAD

Ge­orge Me­ga­lo­ge­nis savours an im­pres­sive Ja­panese meal with a green twist

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Indulgence -

SOME­TIMES the small­est items on a restau­rant bill can be the most re­veal­ing. At the 100 Mile Cafe, in Melbourne, the ta­ble wa­ter en­joys price par­ity with a glass of wine: Yarra Val­ley Still 750ml ($8); Terra Felix Marsanne ($8).

I do not no­tice this de­tail un­til af­ter the event, but hind­sight can be a pow­er­ful thing.

The writer in me thinks: ‘‘ Great, I have an open­ing para­graph that doesn’t men­tion ei­ther the venue or the food.’’ The diner in me groans: ‘‘ Rip off.’’ C’mon, ad­mit it; no bot­tle of lo­cal wa­ter is worth $8, even in th­ese cli­mat­i­cally altered times.

For $8 you’d want to re­mem­ber it. But, as I write this some time later, I can’t tell you if it tasted any dif­fer­ent from Melbourne tap.

This restau­rant is a new kid in a cen­tral busi­ness dis­trict shop­ping cen­tre, the gar­gan­tuan Melbourne Cen­tral de­vel­op­ment. It is Paul Mathis’s sec- ond stab at a green state­ment in the same space.

The pre­vi­ous in­car­na­tion, SOS, was a short-lived Ital­ian-style restau­rant that served only eco­log­i­cally sus­tain­able seafood and veg­e­tar­ian meals (and was favourably re­viewed in Travel & In­dul­gence , Oc­to­ber 7-8, 2006).

The hook for the Ja­panese-style 100 Mile Cafe is that os­ten­si­bly about 99 per cent of the con­tent is sourced from a lit­tle imag­i­nary back yard within a 100-mile (161km) ra­dius of Melbourne. The ex­cep­tions are the miso from NSW, the cof­fee from By­ron Bay and the gin from Tas­ma­nia.

‘‘ Lo­cal food is fresher and tastes bet­ter than food shipped long dis­tances,’’ the restau­rant boasts.

It also ‘‘ pro­tects the en­vi­ron­ment’’ and ‘‘ helps make farm­ing more prof­itable and sell­ing farm­land for de­vel­op­ment less at­trac­tive’’. How very Ja­panese. Of course, when the Ja­panese tell us they can’t im­port our rice be­cause they pre­fer their lo­cal sup­pli­ers, our farm­ers mut­ter some­thing about free trade. But I di­gress.

The retro eco­nomics of the 100 Mile Cafe doesn’t mean the food is no good.

M and I ar­rive within a minute of each other and we are in a mood to un­wind. She has a glass of the Terra Felix Marsanne while I have the first of three Crit­ten­den ($10 each).

The menu looks in­tim­i­dat­ingly whole­some. Be­side each dish is a cal­cu­la­tion of the av­er­age dis­tance the pro­duce has to travel to get to home plate. For en­tree M has the yaki-niku style porter­house with as­para­gus and a mizuna, pear and wal­nut salad (av. 69 miles, or 111km, $18). I take a punt on the house-made veg­etable gy­oza (Ja­panese dumplings) with a se­same vi­nai­grette (av. 70 miles, $16.50).

M doesn’t share, which is her way of say­ing it’s de­li­cious. I re­turn the com­pli­ment by gob­bling all of the gy­oza. This dish is a rare treat. I’m a big fan of the reg­u­lar gy­oza with pork. But the veg­e­tar­ian al­ter­na­tive is prob­a­bly bet­ter than any I’ve had be­fore. The veg­etable fill­ing is chunky and the se­same vi­nai­grette gives it a nice kick.

The wines go well with the en­trees, so I sneak in a sec­ond glass of the sav blanc be­fore the mains come, then a third.

sauvi­gnon

blancs

Our mains also present lessons in pris­tine din­ing. M has cho­sen a sec­ond en­tree for hers; she is munch­ing away at the chicken and shi­take re­moulade done tem­pura style (av. 52.5 miles, $17) and of­fers me a por­tion. It is nice, though I’m not the one to rate chicken, it be­ing my least-pre­ferred meat.

I’m hav­ing the suki yaki, which is scotch fil­let slices and spinach rolled in cab­bage, tofu and shi­take with enoki mush­rooms in soy, sake and mirin dashi ($32). The dis­tance trav­elled is 67.2 miles.

I’m not sure if it is the restau­rant’s theme that has us think­ing this way, but M and I nod in agree­ment that the food is se­ri­ously fresh. The suki yaki is good clean fun. There is noth­ing com­pli­cated about this dish and hind­sight tells me it is rea­son­ably priced when com­pared with the H O.

The para­dox of eat­ing food this healthy is that dessert sud­denly feels like a be­trayal. If the food had been ve­gan stodge, I’d have picked the stick­i­est sweet to awaken my palate. But not now.

We baulk for a mo­ment, though. The warm bit­ter choco­late fon­dant with cherry ice cream and pis­ta­chio pra­line (all desserts are $14, and list no miles trav­elled) is tempt­ing. But we pass, and, in­stead, or­der on spec a glass each of the Long Gully Ice Ries­ling ($9). It looks in­trigu­ing on the wine list and doesn’t dis­ap­point. Again, the word that comes to mind is fresh.

The restau­rant has one last state- ment to make as we pre­pare to leave. We are given a packet of onion seeds to take home, a form of po­lit­i­cally cor­rect doggy bag I have not en­coun­tered be­fore. Only prob­lem is, this city slicker doesn’t have a gar­den. That’s why I have to go out to eat healthy food. All Ta­bles vis­its are unan­nounced and meals paid for.

Check­list

100 Mile Cafe Level three, Melbourne Cen­tral, 211 La Trobe St, Melbourne; (03) 9654 0808; www.100mile­cafe.com.au. Open: Lunch and din­ner, Mon­day to Satur­day. Cost: $60-$75 a head, if you skip the $8 ta­ble wa­ter. Drinks: Lo­cal reds and whites on of­fer, about 50 of each. Bou­tique beers from lo­cal brew­ers. Get­ting there: Take the es­ca­la­tor on the cor­ner of Swanston and La Trobe streets. If you try the back way to the shop­ping cen­tre, via El­iz­a­beth Street, you’ll surely get lost. Rea­son to re­turn: For the food, even if green pol­i­tics aren’t to your taste.

Pic­ture: Shan­non Mor­ris

Good health: Melbourne Cen­tral’s new 100 Mile Cafe serves fresh, lo­cally sourced pro­duce

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