The Tommy Collins group — known around town as the go-to caterers for exceedingly beautiful events — are well-versed in creating cafes (see bagel joint Schmucks and the since-sold Hawk & Hunter) and creative canapés, but Sth Central is their first foray into the Melbourne restaurant scene. Having set-up shop in the small CBD section of South Yarra, the Sth Central team, headed up by Leeroy Smith (ex-Stokehouse), have certainly taken on a challenging location.
Being within earshot of South Yarra station and a large proportion of the area's residential apartment blocks meant that the Sth Central team were hoping to capitalise on locals looking for comforting, home cooked meals they didn’t have to go too far to find. Whilst they’ve created a very chic and cosmopolitan surround, the experience falls somewhat short. The narrative around eating comforting food and kicking back after a long day is lost in the upmarket setting and the refined presentation of the food.
The menu is exciting to read and has all the necessary elements to whet your appetite. There is no doubt that chef Daniel Southern (ex-Est Est Est, Circa and Comme) likes to get inventive with ingredients; a tomato terrine starter was slightly odd in the texture department, but a memorable take on the humble tomato. However, while nothing on the menu is offensively bad, most of it was completely forgettable. The fish finger sandwich (two for $11) and Rizz ‘n’ Cheese ($10), which were effusively recommended by the front of house team, were lacklustre and unbalanced in flavour. Much was the rest of the meal bar a reasonably interesting pea, shoots, blueberry and horseradish salad ($12), which was a zesty addition to the main course.
The major standout though was dessert — the cherry and frangipane tart ($15) and the Gateau Opera ($16) are arguably two of the best desserts around. Along with this, the cocktail offering was delicious with the mint julep ($17) taking first place, followed closely by the rosemary Tommy Collins ($17).
All in all, the catering sensibility is evident at Sth Central; emphasis is put on presentation and exciting ingredients, but the flavour is yet to come to the party. However, having opened late last year, it's still early days for Sth Central, and their menu is still evolving. It's still a fine choice for South Yarra apartment dwellers, though we'd be more inclined to recommend a trek down to the restaurant-laden Windsor-end of Chapel Street.