Saturday, December 09, 2006

December 9, 2006: SOS

To celebrate my 26th birthday Michael booked a table for two at SOS, a somewhat upscale restaurant that I'd been wanting to try for a while. What sets SOS apart from Melbourne's other fine dining is its premise of sourcing sustainable and seasonal produce as much as possible, with seafood the only vegetarian violation on the menu. And Another Outspoken Female's review and the online menu gave us due warning that there is a lot of seafood on offer: the entree list is roughly 40% vegetarian, the mains list 33% veg, and all the specials were distinctly fishy.

I found the atmosphere of SOS to be a little disjointed. It's very open, making the most of the summer daylight, and ultra-modern in design. The communal tables and placemats give a casual feel, yet the service is more formal, with the staff pulling out chairs and setting napkins on the customers' laps. While I appreciate the constant topping up of my water, I'd feel much more comfortable looking after my own jug (and my own lap). While we're at it, I'd also feel a lot more comfortable in different chairs.

While we perused the menu we were treated to our choice of bread and a shallow dish of citrus-infused olive oil. I was going alcohol-free, and was disappointed that my 'lemon squash' was almost certainly a can of Lift in a crystal-glass-with-a-lemon-peel-garnish disguise. After we'd made our decisions and returned our menus, we were presented with tiny bites of bruschetta on crunchy, oily mini-toast.

As an entree, I ordered "warm green and white asparagus served with 'pane croccante', parmigiano and bottarga" ($17). Having since dicovered that bottarga are fish roe, I'm pretty confident that they were omitted from my dish. The asparagus were fresh, flavoursome, and a little firmer than my preferred texture. The creamy sauce, sliver of cheese and salty-crunchy breadcrumbs were the perfect accompaniment, but a bit more foliage would have been nice. Michael had zucchini flowers stuffed with ricotta, with crispy tomato skins on the side.

Michael's main course was "hand made polenta pasta with borlotti ragu, baby silverbeet, Roman cauliflower and truffled Pecorino" ($27). A tasty mix of textures with silky-soft pasta. I had "hand filled triangles of pumpkin and ricotta served with pumpkin puree, butter and sage sauce" ($27). The mathematician in me protested that these weren't really triangles, but the gastronome was well satisfied: soft sweet filling contrasted with garnishes of sharp salty cornflakes and orange rind, all made especially indulgent with melted butter.

We had plenty of room for dessert, and a sly look at portions served near us confirmed that we had plenty of room for a dessert each. On the left is my "traditional Italian style Zucotto served with chocolate sorbet and vin santo sauce" ($14). The innocent ice-creamy centre with lollyish glace fruit pieces was wrapped in an extremely alcoholic layer of pink sponge cake. The chocolate sorbet was a strong cocoa hit with a hint of coffee, and not a drop of milk or cream to be tasted. A new and very adult summer dessert experience for me! Michael picked the daily special, a tart with grapes, custard and pistachio ice cream on the side.

It was certainly worth visiting SOS to sample the upper end of Melbourne cuisine for the first time. But as vegetarians rather than seafood-lovers, the increased quality of ingredients and creativity in the menu doesn't quite match the increase in price and decrease in portion size. For my next birthday, I'll remind myself how many Melbourne restaurants offer fabulous meat-free feasts for under $25.

Edit 21/07/07: SOS has since closed but creator Paul Mathis has opened a new restaurant, the 100 Mile Cafe, in the same location.

Address:Level 3, Melbourne Central, 211 La Trobe Street, Melbourne
Ph: 9654 0808
Fully licensed
Price: entrees $17-21, veg mains $27-29, desserts $13-18

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