A shining beacon on an otherwise dark and lonely suburban road, three-month-old South Society cafe is a surprisingly hip and inviting space which is more than just a coffee mecca by day.
Fresh out of uni at 21, chef Dan Conboy of The Last Piece in Glen Waverley decided to act on his dream of owning a restaurant – one thematic to all his own favourite cafes in Melbourne.
The menu reveals proteins as sophisticated as you’d find in trendier inner-city eateries; indicative of the increasingly discerning Melbourne clientele choosing to branch out to larger plots and bigger houses, yet still demanding the same high standard of choice for consumption.
The smell of batter swirls around my nostrils as the generous plate of zucchini flowers are plonked in front of me.
Goat’s cheese squelches out as I cut the flower cleanly in half; the natural saltiness of the cheese considerably reduced by basil tones in the accompanying salsa verde, yet still retaining some of the cheese’s characteristic lingering sourness.
There is a harmony to this dish evident in the crunch of the battered exterior and the goat’s cheese smoothness of texture and flavour.
Not usually a fan of scallops, I decide to see if the next dish is good enough to change my mind.
Perfectly cooked, the natural mild flavour of the scallops is enhanced slightly by the crunch of bacon crumbs, however quickly delves into the background as the slightly wasabi flavour of the pea puree stakes its claim as head honcho.
Although the saltiness of the bacon does occasionally pop up on the tastebuds, the texture of the crumb is too refined and quantity too little to balance the overwhelming pea flavour of the dish.
Though one dimensional, the dish manages to grow on me in the end, though I wouldn’t count myself converted in the general scallop stakes.
I’ll be the first to admit I’m terrified of soft shell crab, but I sternly have a word with myself before ordering: how can I be in this business if I’m a picky eater?
Biting into the crustacean my fears are relieved: the batter is light and playful, the sweetness of the crab flesh imploding in my mouth.
Coupled with a zingy, citrusy coriander and bean shoot salad to give it a kick, the mix of fried and fresh is a yin and yang which balance each other out.
It would have been completely perfect if more Nam Jim sauce were added to the salad to impart an extra facet of flavour for some authentic Asian sweetness.
Allowing myself to try one old faithful, I dive into the beef cheeks with gusto.
It’s like a warm embrace between three lifelong friends: beef, mash and gravy, to make a cosy, classic winter meal.
The dry sweetness of the red wine contrasts with the robust delicateness of the flesh and velvety silkiness of the mash.
The outside of the meat is charred to a handsome ebony, while the interior of the flesh is lined with symmetrical precision, flaking apart when gently prodded.
The resonating flavour of the jus – an evolved, garlicy, well-reduced sauce – may be dominating for some, but I’m lapping it up like a puppy and sniffing around the plate for more.
Next is the spatchcock, something I’m keen to witness at South Society.
The corn puree is immediately sweet and unmistakably authentic, however the texture is reminiscent of baby food and does little to add to the charm of the dish.
The acidity of the onion in the salsa fresca manages to pull the flavours together, however with each mouthful, corn dominates the palate.
The spatchcock itself has been dealt enough chilli to give it bite, however the texture would have been more interesting with a little more charring on the skin to impart a depth of flavour and natural smokiness.
At the last second, fresh tones of tomato from the salsa fresca come through which gives some complexity to the dish, admittedly more enjoyable without the puree.
I’m intrigued by the idea of a deconstructed Ferrero Rocher. The plate is visually pleasing, resembling a dessert galaxy of constellations.
Gluten-free, South Society’s interpretation is intoxicating to say the least – creamy chocolate quenelles form the foundation with crunchy, broken down hazelnuts which, when mixed with dots of caramel on the plate, threaten to hold your teeth in thrilling ransom, mid-chew.
Sporadically sprinkled chocolate crumb imparts a dark cocoa depth, while the biscuit is surprisingly soft and unobtrusive in flavour.
More Magnum than Ferrero Rocher, this dessert evokes a satisfied grin both on presentation and taste.
With an ever-evolving seasonal menu, South Society have caught the wave for masstige culinary offerings in suburbia, bravely offering a plethora of unusual dishes to gently coax the area’s secondary target market out of their comfort zones.
Customers are encouraged to share grazing plates and even main meals tapas-style, promoting the generously warm Southern style of hospitality.
By starting up South Society Cafe, Conboy hopes to reduce the need for Eastern suburbs folk to travel to inner-city cafes for weekend breakfast, although he readily acknowledges an integral part of Melbourne culture is the constant exploration of different restaurants all over town.
All in all, a cool hangout with decent food – a nice addition to the ‘burbs.
Service 9, Food 7.
South Society is located at 435-437 Blackburn Rd, Mount Waverley.