The cafe, bar and restaurant Zero Mode opened just a month ago, and gets its name from the Cantonese word Mao, which translated means Zero or nothing. Zero is the new Hero at Zero Mode, located on the ground level of Whitehorse Towers (The Chen) at 850 Whitehorse Road, Box Hill. As owner Cain Xu explains, it's like starting from nothing; creating imaginative, delicious and well-balanced meals starting from ground zero.
Cain and his head chef Kyo (Kyo Tze Jian Tan with a vast knowledge of herbs says Cain) have an unorthodox way of creating their masterpieces. Cain is always mindful of balance and texture whenever he cranks up his imagination and dreams up a dish for Kyo to create. Luckily for both of them, Kyo is in sync and sensitive to Cain's meal dream and successfully brings it to fruition. The result of which we can all taste daily at the venue. Together, this dynamic young owner from China and head chef raised in a home in Malaysia filled with good cooks are the dream team.
I had read so much about the Boozy Broth Ramen; a beer ramen with a broth cooked for 14 hours that features house-made noodles, chicken ginseng broth, egg white foam, karaage chicken, in-house fermented kimchi and fungus. Contained in an Asahi glass jug, it's made to look deceptively like beer with a good head atop (made from egg white foam); an element of surprise alien from the look. Seems like a nod towards one of Cain's food heroes, (Heston Blumenthal, the other being Gordon Ramsey) where what you see is not necessarily what it seems.
However, being a seafood lover, I couldn't go past the D S T Mode on the lunchtime menu. It's raw diced salmon and tuna, with avocado, pomegranate, sriracha maple sauce, spring onion, fresh chilli and crispy kale. It's eye candy the minute it steps out of the kitchen and lands on your table. There's so much deliciousness and freshness going on, you can't help but be impressed. It's superfood on a plate. There's a generous serve of seafood, everything perfectly balanced and that pop of crispy kale is just heaven in the mix. You get a choice for your base as to whether you want carbs (rice) or coleslaw with your serve.
I chose coleslaw so I wouldn't be too full for dessert. There's a method to my madness. I'm Makin' Waffles was the only dessert on for lunch time and one wouldn't need much more. It's a belgium waffle with vanilla ice cream, maple bacon, strawberry glaze and bubble tea pearls and crumble. Dare I say/repeat it's picture perfect when it lands on your table with the ice cream in the cone, sitting atop the waffles scattered with deliciousness.
Cain's commitment to balance manifests in the addition of the maple bacon, which is a perfect pairing with the rest of the ingredients. The bubble tea pearls are a reminder there's a pop of Asian influence; so good, just close your eyes and you're in food heaven.
There's not much left to do but have a delicious hot cup of latte after all that. It was already a struggle fitting both meals in, not to mention the fresh watermelon, lime and mint juice I was sipping throughout the meal. Having any of all that delicious cake behind the glass cabinet was just out of the question. There was no more room in my tummy. However when I got home I did think 'darn it, why didn't I think to buy some cake to bring home'.
Committed to quality and having only the best, what Cain and Kyo don't create; they make sure they bring the best onboard. There's an array of glistening, delicious looking cakes from Bibelot who are renown for their arsenal of all things artisanal pâtisserie filled with decadence that pays homage to classic French pâtisserie. So you see, waffles may be the only sweet on the lunchtime menu, but you have pastries and desserts to choose from at the coffee counter manned by a friendly staff member with style.
As aforementioned, serious about quality and putting its best foot forward, the coffee beans at Zero Mode are from Seven Seeds, a micro-roastery and coffee shop in Carlton, relentless in their commitment to providing first-class coffee. It was delicious. Even more interesting is the vessel it's served in. I paid attention because it was so light, as opposed to what we're used to in a cafe. The thoughtfulness of the little upright nodule in the centre of the saucer that holds the cup in place made me smile.
Hailing from HuskeeCup this is a sustainable reusable cup which puts Zero Mode in the good books as now they can add Zero Waste to their list of Mao aka Zero. It's also stocked for purchase, along with coffee beans at the restaurant. These award-winning Huskee Cups are created from the discarded, hundreds of tonnes of raw coffee husks, once the coffee cherry is removed from inside. This is waste made beautiful and chip and crack resistant. It also keeps the coffee hotter for longer, and it's dishwasher friendly. It's all win-win for the environment.
There's so much more to discover on the menu, be sure to take a party so you can steal a variety of tastes from each other. Serving all day breakfast, choose from DIY Eggs your way, Big Buns, Smoothie Criminal Bowl and more. The Wild West Waffle listed is NOT a sweet, though it may look like one. It's crispy chicken, fried egg, maple bacon, chilli sauce and house-made waffle. The twist, a giant puff of fairy floss encasing the whole plate. Your surprise shall be revealed once the waiter pours the chilli sauce over the whole thing.
If food with a playful twist is what you're looking for, this is the place to bring the whole family or a group of friends. However, the food is not just playful, but seriously good. Now there's a twist!
That's just the all day breakfast menu. Then there's lunch and drinks which includes another serious contender with real hot chocolate from Mörk Chocolate. You can have a variety of drinks with your milk of choice; bon soy, almond milk, coconut milk, lactose-free milk. Then there are the Shakes, Smoothies, House Brews and Nothing But Juice. Cain has thought about, just about everything. His commitment to customer service is real with Prana Chai, Matcha Maiden and Noisette also on board for drinks and bread.
Aside from the Boozy Broth Ramen and the D S T Mode I had, you can get yourself Burgers, Bowls, Salmon, Chicken, Veggie, Tuna and Wagyu Mode for lunch. As if that wasn't enough, there's a whole dinner menu to choose from as well if you pop around in the evening, when the neon lighting is more prominent and adds to the mood.
There are Cocktails whether you want straight out Galaxy Mode (butterfly pea flower infused gin, simple syrup, grapes, mint and soda) or you simply want to go Mode - Sour, Fizz, Passion, Sweet & Sour, Banana, Lollipop or Japanese. It doesn't end there. You can enjoy dark or pale ale, ciders, or go Lychee Gold Premium.
Dinner comes with a menu of Salmon Matcha Cone, soft Bao, Karaage, Osmanthus Rice Cake, Lemongrass Poached Chicken Salad, Silky Tofu, Crispy Dumplings, and get in my tummy Drunken Prawns which is drizzled with prawn oil made from the prawn heads. No wastage there, and nope, it doesn't end there. There's the Duck Salad, Wagyu Yuzu Salad, Pineapple Pork Belly, Veggie Lover, Boozy Broth (makes a royal appearance again; too good just for lunch), The Royale and Spice Up Your Life Burgers. Or, you could have some Deconstructed Sushi in the form of King Salmon, Wagyu Wagyu, Spice Tuna, Tempura Tofu or OFC, which is tempura nori, sushi rice, crispy chicken, mac & cheese, Taiwanese sausage, sriracha mayo and spring onion.
The burgers are a reminder of Cain's other restaurant One Plus Piece. A Japanese American fusion Café just up the road, 5 years old, and also on Whitehorse Road, in Balwyn. The burgers there are inspired and adventurous, giving a nod to the Japanese manga One Piece. They're open from 8am to 5pm every day for breakfast and lunch.
A totally different style to Zero Mode, Cain keeps things interesting (would you expect anything less) with objects and images of Japanese Anime a part of the decor.
Because Box Hill is renown for traffic congestion, you can catch a train to Box Hill and brave the 7-10 min walk from the Station to the restaurant. There's also a parking lot just across the road which charges $1 an hour, which is the option I chose. Behind the parking lot is Box Hill Central to give you some sense of direction. You could make a day of it and enjoy shopping and lunch at Zero Mode to top up your sensory experience.
The restaurant is open from Monday to Friday from 7am to 10pm and Sat to Sunday from 8am to 10pm. Seating around 80 people currently, there's room to grow upstairs which is waiting for some furniture to arrive.
It's a shame I didn't get to meet or see the head chef in action, though nonetheless one of the three chefs on board was doing a stellar job outputting the quality demanded at this restaurant. The restaurant logo (looks like a lower case T and N - see on their FB page) Mao was created by a friend, Cain mentions, and stands proud at lofty heights in a modern, slightly industrial furniture setting by Melbourne design agency Studio Equator, the name behind many renown restaurants and more. There are seatings for two or more and a communal table which I personally love as it makes it a good environment for socialising, or to take a huge party to the restaurant.
Meeting Cain was the cherry on top for me. Young and impressive, he moved to Sydney from China 11 years ago, travelling on a journey of Accounting, but that was not his true calling. His imagination running wild since he was a kid, he moved to Melbourne around 4 years ago as the creative vibe suited him and served to further propel and inspire him to pursue his dreams. He loves waking up to his passions that drive him further to see the bigger picture.
He is thoughtful and admits there's a lot to learn in an industry which can be fickle. He is mindful and respectful of his faithful customers that have been going to his Balwyn restaurant since inception 5 years ago. He's still dreaming and creating, and works at surprising them with an injection of pop-up new dishes on the menu. Aiming for longevity in the business and keeping ahead of the trends, with a young family in tow, there's no doubt Cain will be going from Zero to Hero in the food industry.