Call in ground control, there's another bar on Smith Street.
Categorising MJR TOM is difficult. It’s not quite a cafe, a bar or a restaurant. It's named after a fictional astronaut from a few David Bowie songs, yet there are no references to outer space (or indeed, Bowie) in sight. You've got people working in tune with the free wifi, others having dinner and, simultaneously, groups gathering round the bar. And there’s something on the menu called a banana hot dog.
Open from 8am-1am every day of the week, MJR TOM is a new kind of venue — one that's open basically all the time. Just like Archie's All Day, which recently started trading around the corner on Gertrude Street, the idea here is to open up before the pubs and stay open after cafes close. There are no gaps in service; breakfast plays out until 3pm, the lunch menu gets a look in from 12-5pm, and dinner takes over after that.
So how do you create a venue that's not quite a cafe, not really a restaurant and not just a bar? Well, that's what everyone would like to know. Architecturally, MJR TOM have got it pretty spot on. Designed by Brolly Studios, the venue transitions well from day to night. A clever inside-outside nook-like area gives a few tables a view across Smith Street, and a place to catch some natural light during the day. Inside, you'll be greeted by the coffee machine (they do takeaways), but if you're looking for the bar, you’ll have to head further in. A narrowish walkway with a few tables for groups opens onto a big, centrepiece bar with plenty of standing room and a few cosy booths. Everything is covered in a blond wood panelling.
Food-wise, things don't translate quite as well. Breakfast is solid with avo, a superfood salad and the 'hot dog', which sees a banana wedged between an arepa with bacon lardons and tomato marmalade ($17.50).
At first glance the dinner menu seems to read like a Spanish tapas list — jamon, croquettes and a seafood paella all feature — but it’s clear the kitchen has taken leave from a whole range of influences. Respects are paid to South America, with a great palate-cleansing passionfruit and prawn ceviche served in half an avocado ($15) and the adobo BBQ pork ribs ($17). A little out of place was the ricotta pumpkin pasta ($13), and the crispy fried chicken — although delicious — seemed like it was there by default.
Amongst this strung together collection of bar food and small meals, some things stand out, like the bombe de papas: a huge arancini-like mashed potato ball filled with ox tail ragout ($8.50 each). With the light fluffy potato and the rich ragout centre, it's warm, starchy and satisfying. Other things don't fare so well. The meat on the pork ribs was, although falling off the bone, a little dry, and the chorizo hot dog ($12.50) was dry, basic and quite average overall.
The food might not be mind-blowing, but it certainly makes for above-average bar snacks. Which is lucky, because this is a great place for a drink. The cocktail list is matched with a few beers on tap and some great local and European wines. Nab one of the black banqueted booths or pull up a chair at the bar, and it's perfectly fine to settle in for the long haul — or until closing at 1am.
But it really doesn't matter what time you decide to head in — MJR TOM will most likely be open and waiting. It's a nice change to the Collingwood cafes that close at 3pm, and will be a reliable refuge for any time of the day or night.
Published on June 10, 2015 by Lauren Vadnjal