Melbourne … Summer … Beach … Sand too hot for bare feet. These are my childhood memories, and they are constant through the generations. In 50 years’ time, today’s children will have the same fond recollections.
Soft shell crab
Gelato brings us to Mornington, and while the inner child would be very happy to lunch entirely on frozen treats, maturity demands a more balanced diet. Strolling the main street of Mornington reveals many different lunch options, but all very familiar: fish and chips, hamburgers, trendy pub, café, modern restaurant, even a yum cha place (but it is closed) … one stands out.
Merchant Lane does not present particularly well from the street– a few tables on the footpath, with more lining a narrow brick-paved laneway leading into a darkish cavern. But the menu posted discretely outside is intriguing: 12 Asian-inspired savoury dishes, two desserts, plus the enticement “Let’s try a bit of everything”. It draws us into the cavern to reveal a surprisingly light-filled and spacious area highlighted by a kitchen mocked up as a stylised food caravan. It is food truck grunge, and it is done very well – providing the atmosphere without the grime.
A suitably grungy bar promises a range of boutique alcoholic beverages, but our interest is in the food. ‘How does this work?” we ask the waitress. All of the dishes are small and are to share. We are told that three to four dishes are about the right amount for two for lunch. As dessert is already planned (gelato!) we opt for three.
The standout is the mussels with coconut and lemongrass soup. The mussels are tender and juicy; the soup wonderfully fragrant with just a hint of coconut, sufficient to ensure the lemongrass does not overpower the freshness. Lamb ribs with Thai basil salad are excellent: the ribs are soft and sticky and the meat can be sucked off the bone; the Thai salad dressing includes a salsa verde and crushed peanuts, the acidity cutting the fattiness of the lamb perfectly. Tempura soft shell crab with papaya and mizuna is very good, but we can’t find any papaya.
These are excellent dishes, excellent flavours (absent papaya notwithstanding), but the servings of the lamb ribs and crab are very small for the price. $13 gets you two smallish pieces of soft shell crab (just a small fraction of the large plate of soft shell crab at Malacca Straits on Broadway for $18.80); even more disappointing, $13 delivers just three tiny lamb ribs. If gelato had not been beckoning, more dishes would have been needed.
The dinner menu contains several more options, including some larger share plates, that all sound enticing. Service is OK and friendly, but could be improved: we had to request soup spoons for the mussel dish, and getting the bill took a bit of effort.
OverallThis is a great place with great food. It has only been open for a few months and has made an impressive effort to re-create the look and feel of Melbourne’s famous laneways, with separate serveries for hawker food truck, specialty beer bar, coffee and cake truck, and cocktail bar. The website promises a nightclub as well, but it was not obvious at lunchtime. However, we found it very noisy with lots of harsh echoes from the bare brick walls and floor.
Pity about the serving sizes.
Find it atMerchant Lane
58 Main Street
Telephone: (03) 5975 2733