Saturday, November 04, 2006

when your soul needs saving

Level 3
Melbourne Central
211 La Trobe Street
Ph: 03) 9654 0808

I’d heard that SOS, in the revamped Melbourne Central, was hard to find. Actually, it was very easy just jump on the escalators from the corner of Swanston and Latrobe Streets, get off at the top and turn left. The next bit involves a bit of faith. Stand outside the blank, rather impenetrable, black door underneath the sign, take a breath and will it to open. It does.

SOS is big on the theatrical entrance. Once through the door, which swiftly closes behind you, a slightly abstracted, dimly lit forest awaits. Ignore the black curtained entrances off to either side and go directly forward into the light. You have arrived.

And arrived we did, enjoying a quick dinner on a bright, recently daylight saved Melbourne evening. We were early enough to have a plum table for two on the wide balcony, the seating comfortable and arranged to sit side by side and admire the view. Before us skateboarders did their thing, trams rattled and couples canoodled in the grounds of the State Library.

In the same stable as Chocolate Buddha and Soul Mama, I was a little hesitant to try SOS. It sounded right up my alley being dedicated to those who eschew meat but eat seafood – I call it piscaterean. While the former two endeavours, the first a Wagamama rip off and the second an upmarket vegetarian cafeteria are good, maybe better than average but I’ve always found the food fails the deliver the “Wow!” factor.

I was spoiled for choice with the menu, though the offerings were not that huge if you are strictly vegetarian. If you are vegan, forget it. The paltry couple of entrees and one main all contained dairy. Even the side of broccolini is tainted with anchovies.

I chose a couple of entrees wanting variety of taste more than a large amount of food. Being ‘modern Italian’ pasta of various hues was abundant. The SOS website boasts the presence of a wood fired oven, supposedly to offer ‘artisanal pizzas “unlike any you have seen in Melbourne”, but none were on the menu.

While we admired the view, caught up on the events of the week, looked at the extensive wine list and made our choices, the very competent staff regularly checked in to offer us bread (a choice of three), water (bottled or tap), answered a question about some unfamiliar wines and translated the menu. I thought I was pretty good at ‘menu speak’ and the Significant Eater is half Italian, but we still needed a little help, which made me think it was just a tad pretentious. A bit dazed and confused we finally made our selections and within moments a little amuse bouche was placed before us. Nice touch. This was a small cube of marinated kingfish and a few other tastes including grapefruit, which was rather pleasing.

The Significant Eater finds it hard to pass up fresh oysters, though he prefers them just naked and unadorned in their shells. These came with what balsamic and crushed ruby grapefruit and were so nice I had to try one.

Having waxed lyrical before on my love of smoked eel I feel compelled to order it in order to keep it on the menu for others to experience this fishy delicacy. SOS’s offering was described as a “smoked eel fillet served with egg mimosa , kipfler potato, poppy seed onion ring and baby parsley salad”. Only a photo does the prettiness of this dish justice. It was a standout for me, with the exception of the top of the fillet being unnecessarily dry, suggesting the protective fatty layer had been removed too long before serving.

The Significant Eaters, otherwise delicious snapper also was a little desiccated on top, but the tang on the wasabi fish roe on top earned the dish a “Wow!” factor award.

Sadly though the pasta dish I tried, was a bit average. It featured clams, prawn and whitebait, but tasted strongly of fishy brine. There was a liberal amount of the mildest chili imaginable, which added no flavour to the dish.

SOS is a seafood haven. Do not even think of taking your vegan sister or meat eating uncle here. It does what it chooses to do very well. Prices are in the fine dinning category (or what you’d pay in an average Sydney restaurant) with entrees starting at $17 and mains in the $30’s. To get some vegetable balance, sides are around $8. Desserts are priced similarly as entrees.

Conclusion: Great service, wonderful view, better than average food and more value for money than Fifteen.

UPDATE:(Feb 2007) According to Epicure today, the SOS experiment has failed to be financially viable. The wine menu is to be stripped back and the menu tweaked. The chef is leaving and the fabled pizzas I mentioned on the site's menu are about to make an appearances. It all speaks of dumbing down. Maybe a little less pretention is not a bad thing. Becoming more "accessible" fortunately doesn't mean meat will be on the menu, but I would be happy to trade less fussiness for a little drop in the prices.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

yay! you finally made it to SOS. yes, i do agree it comes across a tad pretentious but .. eh.. no big deal. i can imagine it was lovely with the current weather in melbourne.

i'm vegan and i ate there before i moved back to kl. they did very well accommodating me with a lovely pasta dish and tasty sides (adjusted of course). the lady there told me they often have a full vegan menu but at the time i was there they were changing over menus (happens every 3 months so that fresh food is seasonal). but yes i wouldn't go there with a big group of vegans or anything!!

it is a tad expensive but i expected that, what with the decor etc.

thanks for the lovely review!

5:11 pm  
Blogger Another Outspoken Female said...

Yes, took me longer than expected to get there - it's been a busy few months! But the wait was worth it for the weather. Thanks for recommending it.

5:58 pm  

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