Mantra Studio Kitchen and Bar, 10A Campbell Street, Yarraville. Phone: 0419 329 936
The location and setting of Mantra is both a surprise and just right: In a light industrial conclave way over in the Yarraville back waters near Francis and Hyde.
Inside, the warehouse has undergone a gorgeous cafe transformation.
There’s lots of space, high ceilings and plenty of room to grow.
Which makes me think that Mantra will continue evolving to become something of a multi-faceted community asset.
In the meantime, there is food.
Very lovely food.
The menu (see below) runs to breakfast items such as sweet corn fritters, breakfast ramen and jasmine rice pudding.
Lunch choices range from a falafel burger to what sounds like a delectable salad of heirloom carrots, beetroot hummus, dukkah and sweet potato.
CTS visits twice within a couple of days and has a swell time lunching.
The service is cheerful and efficient and the wait times good.
Visiting on my own for reconnaissance purposes, I go with the wagyu burger with chilli relish, cos lettuce, tomato, baco and fries ($24).
Now, $24 is quite a lot to pay for a cafe burger in these parts.
On the other hand, this is a terrific specimen of the burger art.
Simplicity is a virtue here.
It’s a two-fisted joy, juicy and redolent somehow of Middle Eastern seasoning.
The chips are good, though those on the outer reaches of the mound are barely luke warm and the rest could be hotter, too.
For a return visit of the family Sunday lunch kind, Deb gets the same burger with an equally agreeable outcome.
Here, though, she substitutes the regular fries with crumbed eggplant chips.
They are superb.
I’ve already seen enough – and eaten enough – to rather wish the “poke bowl” fad fades away with some haste, seeing as it widely seems to be an excuse for slopping mediocre ingredients in a bowl and charging richly for it.
The Mantra Bowl ($18), by contrast, shows how it should be done and how good such an offering can be.
The ingredients are top-shelf in every way and – just as importantly for this kind of meal – they are beautifully arranged in the bowl with skill and talent.
Rice ‘n’ black beans, heaps of robustly crunchy pickled cabbage, several kinds of mushroom, bean sprouts, tender asparagus – and even a trans-national touch through brown baba ganoush and flatbread: All wonderful, alone and/or together.
Bennie muchly enjoys his BBQ duck waffle with mango chutney, lychee gel and grilled asparagus ($23).
The meat is juicy yet nicely chewy, though it seems to me his meal would benefit from a greater sauce/liquid component.
Apart from the breakfast and lunch routines, Mantra is already happily experimenting with Friday evening events of the “beer and dumpling” and “beer and sliders” variety.
There is some parking available right outside the cafe, while the surrounding streets are subject to time limits.
Check out the Mantra website here.