New Box Hill cafe-restaurant Zero Mode is inspired by nothing. More accurately, it's inspired by the Cantonese word for nothing, "mao", or, as owner Cain Xu elaborates, "making something out of nothing".
That ethos informs everything from the made-from-scratch, minimal-waste approach, to the way Xu and head chef Kyo Tze Jian Tan invent and execute unusual and creative dishes.
Take the Boozy Broth, which has already reached signature status on the daytime menu. What looks like noodles floating in a tankard of beer is actually chicken ginseng broth with house-made noodles and a layer of cheese foam. Paired with a side of karaage chicken, kimchi and fungus, it's a play on the Korean passion for eating fried chicken with beer.
Then there's the Happily Avo After, their take on the fiscally irresponsible breakfast of smashed avocado. It sees avocado mousse and a pit made from spicy salmon tartare cradled in a skin-shaped rice cracker.
On the dinner menu are dishes such as sake-marinated Drunken Prawns, which are brushed with butter, cooked over charcoal, and finished in a hot pan with tomato paste and jiuniang, a by-product of rice wine, and given a final drizzle of prawn oil made from spent heads.
Although Xu, who also owns anime dessert bar One Plus Piece in Balwyn, likes to have fun with presentation, it doesn't come at the expense of flavour. "I don't want my customers to be shocked by the look of the dishes," he says. "I just want them to enjoy the flavour and have some fun."
Design agency Studio Equator is behind the refit of the former Whitehorse Chloe cafe, giving the space lots of natural light, a white espresso bar, pale grey walls and banquette seating. In the evenings, signage bathes the room in a neon glow.
Open Mon-Fri 7am-10pm; Sat-Sun 8am-10pm.
850 Whitehorse Road, Box Hill, 03 9939 2873, zeromode.com.au