MELBOURNE | Los Vida recently opened in Melbourne’s new upmarket shopping complex, St Collins Lane, and we were keen to see what this Sydney import had to offer when we accepted an invite to dine there. Founded by Sumo Salad director Mark Dopson and Mexico City native Octavio Gomez Haro, Los Vida aims to bring the ‘colours, freshness and taste of the Mexican way of life’ to Melbourne. Los Vida isn’t new to the upmarket shopping centre food game – they opened a branch in Westfield Sydney in 2015, and have been tweaking their menu since. What’s at St Collins then, is an already refined version of the concept.
Hidden up a set of escalators in the back corner of St Collins’ upstairs dining space, Los Vida does a good job of making their space seem welcoming. Warm colours, soft lighting, plush seats and booths, and a decent sized outdoor area all help to create a Mexican cantina atmosphere – just don’t look behind you. The food takes inspiration from across Mexico – a sort of greatest hits of cuisines from across Mexico, inspired by Haro’s travels across his homeland. Local ingredients, brought in fresh from the markets are used where possible, and there’s a focus on letting the produce shine through a ‘less is more’ philosophy.
Small share plates features things like guacamole with totopos (corn chips), coroqueta as quesedillas, while larger share plates include things like beef and lamb ribs, and chilaquiles. Tacos feature, of course, along with ceviche, a few salads and desserts. There’s a lot on the menu that’s suitable for vegetarians and those with a gluten intolerance too. For drinks, it’s a small selection of Mexican inspired cocktails, including the obligatory riffs on the classic margarita, as well as mostly local wines and a few commercial Mexican lagers. One cocktail you should definitely try is the ‘Smokey Baja’, which is a well balanced blend of mezcal joven, cassis, lime, plum and prosecco with just the right hint of smoke.
We sampled an assortment of dishes from the various sections of the menu and were overall very impressed. The tuna tostada features chunks of fresh tuna fillet, leche de tigre, chipotle mayo,and clamato infused tapioca w avocado & pistachios. A tantalising flavour explosion of sour and chilli, soft and crunchy. The lamb ribs, another highlight, features 500g of slow braised lamb ribs with chipotle-orange glaze and caramelised pineapple. The meat falls off the bone and the fat melts in your mouth while the citrus cuts through it. A must order item, even moreso than the beef ribs, which are tasty but not quite as tender or luscious as the lamb.
There are eight different tacos on offer, and each comes with your choice of flour or corn tortillas. They are served with four different types of house made hot sauces, ranging from mild to the very hot Pablo’s Diablito. We were told that the fish taco is the most popular one, and it was our favourite too. The ‘Los Vida Famous Fish’ comes with beer battered barramundi, zesty lime, cabbage slaw, three different kinds of jalapenos, and chipotle mayo. It’s like a cross between a Baja style fish taco and one from further south and it’s delicious with quite a kick. The tinga chicken taco with guacamole, sour cream, iceberg lettuce, and queso fresco provides a milder option and is also very tasty.
Disappointments come from the small share plates section of the menu – the addition of deep fried jalapenos and pomegranate detract from what is otherwise a fresh and vibrant guacamole, and betray the ‘less is more’ mantra. The crab croquetas, while creamy on the inside and perfectly crispy on the outside, are perfectly acceptable but lacking that special ‘something’.
It’s hard to comment on service when you’ve been invited to dine at a restaurant, but our server was very friendly and when we observed the staff interacting with paying customers on the other tables, it was clear that the good service was being extended to everyone who was dining.
Food Court dining has always gotten a bad rap in Australia, and with good reason – it’s always been a sub-par afterthought. In recent years attempts have been made to change this, and St Collins is the latest Melbourne shopping centre to throw its hat in the ring. Los Vida is a great example of the new wave of food court dining – tasty food and great service that add up to an experience that has you leaving thinking “I’d eat there again”.
L2, St Collins Lane
260 Collins Street
Telephone: (03) 9909 8840
Mon – Sun: 11:00am to 10:00pm