Urban Ground Is a Massive, All-in-One Food-Truck Park, Health-Food Cafe and Distillery in Mordialloc

Originally published on Broadsheet.

A co-founder of Carlton’s D.O.C and his former head chef have teamed up to transform an old car-wrecking site into a buzzing, family-friendly space that gets moving at 7am and doesn’t stop until near midnight. And there’s room for 250 people, plus dogs.

What can you create from an old Mitsubishi wrecker site in the backstreets of Mordialloc? Quite a lot, proves day-to-night venue Urban Ground. The dining precinct is home to Bowl’d, a plant-based cafe; Saint Felix, a fruit-based distillery; and a bar and food-truck park, which hosts up to four trucks at a time. Eventually there will be room for 400 people. The number is currently capped at 250, due to Covid.

“We want this to be a place of discovery,” says co-founder Robert de Santis, who’s also the co-founder of Carlton’s D.O.C and The Rocks Mornington. “People can explore the distillery, grab a meal at the cafe, or something from one of the food trucks,” he says.

“We really wanted to create a family-friendly hangout. Here, the kids can play and parents can drink.” Dogs are also welcome.

He’s teamed up with Xavier Nalty, his previous head chef at The Rocks. Following a gig at The Craft & Co’s in-house distillery, and brandy-production training at Calvados Christian Drouin in France, Nalty sought to start his own project. Urban Ground’s fruit-based distillery, Saint Felix, is just that.

The distillery’s forte will be brandy, though that’s currently ageing in barrels and won’t be ready for a few years. But the traditional copper-alembic still is already producing a few creative unaged spirits, including a “super punchy” gin infused with mastic. (Mastic is a sap with a musky, pine-like flavour that’s been harvested from trees on the Greek island of Chios for at least 2000 years.)

Saint Felix also has a rotary evaporator (also known as a rotovap). Using low pressure and a vacuum seal, this high-tech machine allows liquids to be boiled (and thus, distilled) at temperatures well below the usual 100 degrees. “It’s ideal for processing fruit if you want to retain the full flavour,” Nalty says.

Rotovaps are mostly used in labs but do find their way into high-end bars and restaurants, such as Byrdi and Attica. Saint Felix is using its machine to produce a Japanese-style spirit that unites yuzu and green tea. As of this week, the distillery’s bar is open for tastings and food pairings.

Nalty and de Santis’ original idea was just to open a distillery, but Urban Ground’s roomy site called for more – hence the food trucks and bar. Last year they were also running an on-site cafe named Cassia, with chef Daniel Mandarano (ex-Bills, Sydney) at the helm. That’s now been replaced by a second outlet of Bowl’d, a health-focused cafe founded in Frankston.

Mandarano is still running the kitchen and oversees two separate menus. The first is available until 11.30am and covers cafe basics such as smashed avo, tofu scramble and bacon-and-egg rolls. The second, much more extensive menu, runs from midday until dinner and features a range of highly customisable “bowls”, built by choosing a protein (such as sesame-roasted tofu, shredded chicken breast or pulled pork) and adding a rainbow of vegetables, nuts, grains, cheeses and dressings.

There’s also a sizeable range of smoothies and smoothie bowls, plus St Ali coffee, Golden Grind turmeric lattes and Tea Culture loose-leaf teas. The cafe’s bar window conveniently connects to the food-truck area, for those who want tap beer or wine with their meals.

What’s next? “We’re going to have a few market stalls on weekends, with local producers selling things like fruit and veg, baked goods and flowers,” Nalty says. A summertime open-air cinema and DJ sets are also on the cards. Stay tuned.

Urban Ground
1 Lamana Road, Mordialloc
(03) 9042 6074

Urban Ground Bar (until January 31)
Mon to Thu 12pm–8pm
Fri to Sun 12pm–11pm

Urban Ground Bar (from February 1)
Wed & Thu 12pm–8pm
Fri to Sun 12pm–11pm

*Food trucks (until January 31)
Mon & Tue 4pm–8pm
Wed to Fri 5pm–9pm
Sat & Sun 12pm–9pm

Food trucks (from February 1)
Wed to Fri 5pm–9pm
Sat & Sun 12pm–9pm

Mon to Sun 7am–11.30am & 12pm–8pm

Saint Felix
Fri 5pm–11pm
Sat & Sun 12pm–11pm


Photography: Jessica Prince.

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