In my last two years of high school, I went through a phase where I only watched old films that were made before the 1960s. I had posters of James Dean, Marilyn Monroe, Humphrey Bogart and Audrey Hepburn stuck up over my walls. I considered Katharine Hepburn and Grace Kelly my style icons and wanted to date Cary Grant.
As part of that phase, I embraced old rock’n'roll music, drive-in movies and fast food diners with waitresses in pinstriped shirts. The iconic Soda Rock Cafe in South Yarra was my dining establishment of choice. Ten years after my flirtation with retro, the Soda Rock Cafe is still welcoming retro-inspired diners through its doors every day. In my recent month long stay in Melbourne post-family tragedy, I dropped in for a meal with my younger brother, for old times sake.
As soon as you walk into the diner, you’re greeted by a life-size model of the King himself, Elvis Presley. With sweet fifties rock’n'roll tunes cranking in the background, and the service staff dressed in crisp white uniforms, you almost feel like you’ve stepped back in time – perhaps dressed in a poodle skirt with bobby socks!
My brother opted for the chocolate flavoured Coke, and I tried the lime flavoured Coke. The chocolate Coke was surprisingly creamy, though with the characteristic Coke fizz – not unlike a Chocolate Spider! The lime flavoured Coke was super refreshing with a nice level of sweet tartness – not unlike a fizzy lime cordial.
After examining the list of burgers, sandwiches and other mains available, I decided that it was pointless to pretend that I was even vaguely interested in any of the other offerings – I was fated to get the Big Bopper. Bacon? Egg? Grilled Onion? Pickles? They are pretty much my only requirements for the burger from heaven, so it was really the only choice for me!
It was a heavenly burger – the bacon was nearly fried to a crisp which is the only way to eat bacon, and the grilled onion was thickly sliced which is much better than those wimpy thin slices you get with other burgers. The only downside from my point of view was the beetroot that was included – it’s not my favourite vegetable (I say, as crowds of Australians around the country cry out in protest at this display of anti-patriotism).
Unfortunately, the chips weren’t as crispy as I tend to prefer. While the small chips were crispy, the bigger chips could definitely have benefited from a longer relationship with the deep fryer, as they were quite soft in the middle!
My more eminently more responsible younger brother chose the chicken burger, which was marketed on the menu as the choice for more health-conscious diners. I tried a bite of this burger, and found the chicken to be well marinated with a tangy spicy sauce. Unfortunately, it was a bit too over-grilled for my liking and the meat too dry on the inside.
An old-fashioned ice-cream sundae is the first thing that many people think about when it comes to a retro diner like this – can’t you just imagine being perched on a high stool at the bar with the high school football star, sharing a sundae and hoping that he would be your guy, and you would be his best gal? Or is it just me who’s slightly delusional and lives in a fantasy world?
Anyway, sharing a sundae with my younger brother was a far cry from my fantasy, but the dessert itself was more than worthwhile – the hot, sticky, sweet fudge was just heavenly with the super creamy ice-cream. The marshmallows were plentiful, though I could have done with more chopped peanuts overall.
Overall, I rate Soda Rock Cafe a 7 out of 10. It earns its points mainly on the excellence of its funky old-style drinks and desserts, and trendy retro atmosphere – it really takes you back to (what I imagine to be) a simpler time. You can almost feel your cares and worries slip away as you enter the diner!