“Life On Mars” by David Bowie is one of my very favourite songs, and seeing him perform it live back in 2003 is one of only two instances where I’ve burst out crying at a gig.* So, to hear that a cafe in Hawthorn had named themselves in homage to the song immediately gave it weight in my mind. One would imagine that you wouldn’t name your cafe after such a song unless you had the foodie chops to match it with!
On the Tuesday morning I finally wandered in to Life On Mars to check it out, a laid-back vibe predominated, as I took my seat at the front communal table and took in the dark-wood finishes, the chairs hanging from the walls, and the constant stream of suits filing in to grab their mid-morning coffee.
Speaking of coffee, I started off with a mocha while I perused over the menu. It was nicely satisfying with warm, earthy notes, but the chocolate powder had not been properly mixed with the coffee and there were little secret powder bubbles hidden within sips that caught me unawares. I mean, I know if most coffee snobs had their way all the mocha drinkers in town would be rounded up and shot, but still, is it too much to ask to have the chocolate and coffee nicely blended?
The breakfast menu is heavily sweets-stacked, with multiple types of fancy cereal bowls, featuring everything from bircher to quinoa, culminating in pancakes which involved fairy floss. Dessert for breakfast! I am actually quite regretful that I decided I should be sensible and go with savoury instead of these decadent pancakes, especially when I realised after ordering that it was actually Shrove Tuesday. Pancake fail!
So, what savoury had I decided to be sensible with? The poached eggs with herbed mushrooms and hollandaise on two slices of sourdough (what do you mean hollandaise isn’t sensible, what mad world are you living in?). When the massive serving reached me promptly at my table, it was quite striking, but I was immediately wary of one thing – the colour of the hollandaise was not the bright, vibrant yellow that I have come to expect of the sauce. It was instead a very pale yellow, and giving it a sniff brought forth a pretty noticeable waft of vinegar. Oh oh.
A taste confirmed my suspicions – very sour, very vinegary. Such an instant disappointment, there really is nothing more deflating than poor hollandaise.
But maybe other aspects to the dish would be able to make up for the hollandaise. I immediately went to pop the two poached eggs, as dribbling egg yolk all over the other components is always fun. One was perfectly poached, oozing bright orange yolk everywhere. The other was hard boiled. I honestly can’t remember the last time I’ve been served a hard poached egg, I was a bit shocked.
Luckily, the mushrooms went a long way in salvaging this dish for me. They were very impressive looking mushrooms – a mix of shiitake, enoki and a variety of button – threaded through with a variety of herbs (‘herbed’ meaning more than lots of just one herb = so many points in favour!), all charred from pan-frying yet glistening with moisture. And lest you think like I did that you only get the mushrooms ringing the toast like a moat, think again – lift up the first piece of toast and you find a generous cache of mushrooms hiding between the slices. A genius surprise!
The mushrooms really were gorgeous, and lifted the dish as a whole for me. Only snag with the mushies is that they were rather moist and served with quite a bit of their pan-juice, meaning that the bottom slice of sourdough got soggy very quickly. A minor quibble though, especially in the face of the more egregious eggs.
Despite all the negative aspects I have described, I really don’t feel like I can completely write off Life On Mars yet. The elements in the dish I had that worked were crazy delicious and really quite clever touches. And considering that there were so many sweets on offer, that could be where their menu’s strength lies, and I may have been on surer ground going with those decadent sounding pancakes than with the eggs. So if anybody wants to join me on a future second visit where we attempt to stuff ourselves with sugar-laced dishes to see if they show Life On Mars in a more complete, hopefully positive light, I’m all ears!
Life On Mars
842 Glenferrie Road, Hawthorn
Ph: 9078 8663
*The other was completely breaking down during Arcade Fire’s Big Day Out set in 2008. Why would you unleash the emotional king-hit that is “No Cars Go” three songs in, WHY?!