Friday, May 8, 2009

Cafe review: Mart 130

Commuting is a necessary but unfortunate aspect of urban life, made especially frustrating if public transport is unreliable, as is often the case in Melbourne with our privatised public transport system. Train commuters regularly arrive at stations to find trains running late, while tram commuters adopt a particular stance that involves peering hopefully up the line to see if a tram is in sight.

If more tram stops and train stations had a cafe like Mart 130 available, commuters might be a happier bunch. Mart 130 is a bright, busy cafe located in the old stationmaster’s office at the Middle Park light-rail stop (it’s stop number 130 and “mart” is “tram” spelt backwards – cute). You can tuck yourself away in the warm interior that overlooks Carmelite tennis club and Albert Park, and imagine that you’re at any normal cafe, or sit outside above the platform and watch the trams glide past.

At 10.30 on a wintry Friday morning, Mart 130 is packed, so I take a table outside on the platform. As an icy wind drifts along the tracks, I feel a familiar, jaded commuter expression settle on my face and I can’t help myself peering up the line to see if anything’s coming. But, happily, I have a long black on the way and an interesting breakfast menu to peruse, which puts me in a much better frame of mind than a commuter running late for work who can’t even stop to grab a take-away.

The staff are friendly and efficient and, before my long black arrives, a waitress tells me a spot has become free inside at the window bench, so I quickly move, grateful to be under a heater. Why does the temperature at tram stops and train stations always seem to be a few degrees cooler than elsewhere?

Aside from the usual cafe breakfast standards such as porridge, granola muesli and Bircher muesli, there are some imaginative takes on other dishes on the menu. A triple stack of pancakes comes with either a berry compote or bacon and maple syrup. The French toast, made with brioche, may have a Middle Eastern influence of pistachio mascarpone and orange syrup, or be served with the more conventional grilled bacon. The menu sternly notes that “no alterations” are allowed to the four egg dishes, but this should not present a problem, as the options will tick most people’s boxes. Scrambled eggs come with chives, shaved parmesan, truffle oil, mushrooms and spinach. Large free-range poached eggs, with intense yellow and runny yolks, are served on a thick slice of sourdough bread, perhaps smeared with avocado and folds of smoked salmon.

Oven-roasted corn fritters, plump with juicy corn kernels, are stacked in a tower with alternating layers of grilled bacon and accompanied by sweet tomato relish and a scoop of sour cream (the coriander noted as part of the dish on the menu turns out to be a sad, solitary stalk). The bacon is full of intense, smoky flavours, and the fritters are pleasantly robust, although some spices in the fritters, or a more spicy tomato relish, would have lifted this dish to near-perfection.

There are large muffins or some cakes for the sweet tooths, while toasted pides and salads are on offer for lunch. Genovese is the brand of coffee served here and the coffee machine whirrs constantly in the background. Life as a commuter is infinitely sweeter with a cafe such as this at your tram stop but you’ll enjoy this place even more if you’re in no rush to head off somewhere else.

Mart 130, 107a Canterbury Rd (light-rail station), Middle Park
Open daily, 7.30am to 5pm

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