When Mono-XO opened in 2019, it was loud and brash. Kiss songs blared from the speakers; artworks on the wall featured hallucinatory Jurassic Park sunsets and pixelated temples; and the whole room was washed in a wild, neon-lavender glow.
But then 2020 came along and Covid-19 shook things up. And just like many of Melbourne’s bars and restaurants, Mono-XO came out of lockdown looking and feeling a little different. The music was softened, the purple haze replaced with a warm halogen white and the food was promoted to a starring role.
The focus used to be exclusively on Japanese kushiyaki-style cooking (essentially food grilled on skewers), but co-owner and head chef Sam Stafford’s menu has gradually evolved. You’ll still find a knockout rotating skewer or two on the menu, but now they’re joined by a bevvy of Japanese-influenced share plates.
You might try a plate of kingfish crudo with pomelo sauce and yuzu cream, followed up by some oysters and a bowl of whipped mullet roe served with kimchi crisps.
The extensions to the food menu also led to a shift in the drinks list. Previously, the focus was on Japanese-style Highball cocktails. Although spirits still factor in, Mono-XO has its sights set squarely on natural wine. The list – put together by co-owner and winemaker Andy Buchan – champions small and local makers who favour minimal intervention. (The list also features several bottles from Buchan’s own label, Analog).
There are only 22 seats here, so the space is deliberately minimal. The couches and seats are comfortable, and the walls are crisp and white. Wine bottles on shelves do double duty: they make up both the bulk of the decor and the drinks list.