Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Melbourne Series - Coda

We knew that we'd be on our food safari in Melbourne one one of the worst possible days to book into a restaurant, Valentine's Day.  I'd actually forgotten we would be down for arguably the most romantic day of the year when I went to book into Vue De Monde for dinner, only to be told that it was a special Valentine's Day menu.  I backed out of that pretty quickly and ended up at Vue De Monde on the day before (see post here).  I've a personal view that Valentine's Day is the worst day for seasoned diners to go out for dinner as restaurants are booked out by 'loved-up' couples who want to be treated special.  What was worse was that Valentine's Day fell on a Friday this year, so restaurants would be even more packed than usual.

The plan was to skip the restaurant booking merry-go-round and head for a restaurant that had a no bookings policy and then just wait in the queue to get in.  Mamasita was that restaurant.  I'd heard of some pretty horrendous wait times at Mamasita at the best of times, so we thought we'd get in quickly by hitting the queue at 5:30pm and hopefully be in by 6pm.......  Wrong!  The madness that is Valentine's Day had taken over Mamasita and they'd, for some strange reason, taken bookings for the day, which left only a few tables for walk ins.   Even though we were there early and queued right at the bottom of the stairs, we were told it would be a one hour and thirty minute wait!  Well, we were there and thought we would see it through, but after thirty minutes of waiting with still no movement we decided to 'blow that popsicle stand' and go somewhere else.

You might be thinking that it would be lunacy to look for another dining spot at 6pm on a Friday night in Melbourne that just happened to be Valentine's Day!  Well, believe it or not, we lucked out and got straight into Coda, albeit sitting at the bar, but we were in!

We'd been to Coda once before on a Melbourne trip and had been pretty taken by the cool little basement restaurant right off Flinders Lane.  Coda is what I'd call an Asian Fusion restaurant, with the menu deeply rooted in Asian cuisine but with a modern European slant that's just perfect.  Executive chef and co-own Adam D'Sylva had teamed up with Mykal and Kate Bartholomew and is a large part of the restaurant's success, with Adam picking up The Age 2008 Good Food Guide's Young Chef of the Year.  In a dream come true, the prize for the award was to head over to Thomas Keller's world beating restaurant Per Se in New York.  It didn't take long for Coda to pick up a coveted Chefs Hat, which the team has maintained practically since opening.

For a foodie that lives in Brisbane, Flinders Lane is a pretty cool spot and there is nothing at all like it up in my home state.  Coda fits right into that coolness by being located in a basement just off the lane and with a vibe that is both subdued and uber cool at the same time.  The dining area is split into more traditional seating on one side and a bar area on the other, with everything having a semi industrial feel about it, including the cage that separated the kitchen from the bar area.  We'd been in the dining area last time, so had no issues sitting at the bar, which gave me an opportunity to watch the kitchen in action.

Like most Asian fusion restaurants, Coda is all about the share dining and the menu just simply states 'smaller' and 'bigger' as options.  The smaller options start off really small, so small that you order by the piece and eventually get bigger, until they are so big, they appear on the bigger menu.  This is a great way of getting a lot of tastes and we started off our meal by getting a few of the really small options, but weren't greedy, we just ordered one of each.

First up was the quail lettuce delight with lup cheong, shitake mushroom, coriander and water chestnuts, which came presented in a couple of little bowls, with lettuce cups and the ingredients inside.  The idea was that you pick up the lettuce cups and munch on them by hand, but they were super hot so we munched on some of the quail bits while it cooled down.  The first little bit of quail I had in my mouth tasted so good that I couldn't wait until it cooled down and just went for it.  It was delicious, with different flavours and textures working together perfectly.  It was quite a sweet dish, which made so much sense as I munched away.  It was perhaps the best thing I'd eaten in Melbourne so far and I immediately regretted not ordering more. 

I didn't have much time to lament not ordering half a dozen of the quail before the soft shell crab rice paper roll with Mr Vo’s special sauce was placed in front of us.  After my first bit of the crab dipped in the lovely Mr Vo's special sauce my idea of ordering so many of the quail seemed silly....  I should have ordered a dozen of the soft shell crab!  There was a generous amount of crab wrapped in translucent rice paper and a bunch of fresh salad and a touch of mint.  The crab was cooked to perfection and had a wonderful crunch before that sweet, sweet crabby flavour exploded on the palate, which was followed by that scrumptious sauce.  It was so delicious that I started to resent SC for getting the first rice paper roll, which I'm sure was bigger than mine!

Coda wasn't finished there though, the great flavours kept on rolling with the Hervey Bay scallop with pearl tapioca and Yarra Valley salmon caviar.  Ordinarily you'd order four of five scallops and they would be good but we'd decided to keep the theme up and only ordered one each.  I'm not sure what we were thinking, it was lunacy!  The scallops were equally as good as the previous two dishes and I'd suddenly came to the conclusion that I'd made a tactical error, we should have ordered more of this great food.  The scallops were expertly cooked and had just the right texture and the tapioca, which is normally pretty bland, had a lovely salty flavour to it that must have come from the salmon caviar.  

Both SC and I are huge fans of steak tartare, so it was natural that we would want try the Coda version which came with a quail egg, mustard cress and caper melba toasts.  The tartare looked a lot like a raw meat pattie on a plate, covered in cress and had a bright yellow quail egg sitting proudly on top.  We mixed up the cress and the egg yolk and then started to smear it on the caper melba toast but after a few bites realised that something was missing.  Normally with a good tartare, you get mustard and capers and gherkin and onion all finely chopped to give both flavour and texture.  Those extra flavours and textures were really missing in this, and while it tasted quite nice with clean flavours of the high quality beef and the salty caper melba toast, it just wasn't quite right.  It didn't stop either of us from gobbling the whole lot up, but it wasn't what I would have called a traditional stake tartare.

We were onto the bigger side of the menu with our last savoury dish of roasted yellow duck curry.  I'd actually compromised with SC on this one as we'd had the same dish at Coda before, but being a duck fiend, I couldn't convince her to try something else.  The duck curry was a much richer curry flavour than I am used to and reminded me more of an Indian curry than an Asian curry, which I guess is why SC loved this one and I found it a bit heavy.  SC just loves Indian curries.  The duck was really well cooked, tasted beautiful and just fell off the bone, the only problem for me is that it was falling off the bone into the curry sauce!  Look, I definitely enjoyed the duck and the curry wasn't too bad either, but I sure would have preferred to order one of the other bigger plates, especially since we'd had the duck at Chin Chin (see post here)

We'd decided a little earlier in the day that we would head off to Etihad Stadium to watch a NAB cup game of AFL footy and had been keeping a close eye on the time (and part of the reason why we'd ditched the Mamasita queue).  We were pushing it to get downtown to the stadium before kick off but I decided that I wanted dessert and checked in with our awesome waiter for the evening to see if we could get dessert out really quick.  

With an answer of 'you bet', I went ahead and ordered the sweet corn parfait, caramel popcorn, passionfruit and cherry sorbet.  To the credit of Coda, it had become pretty busy since we'd first arrived and they got the dessert out in record time.  One of SC's Melbourne mates had called just as the dessert was presented, so I got to gobble up most of it by the time she'd finished her call.  What she missed out on was a beautifully presented bowl of very sweet parfait that was accompanied by a cherry sorbet that helped tone down the sweetness. What was superb about the dessert was the caramel popcorn that gave a little crunch to the dessert and seemed to be just what the plate needed.  I actually did leave a couple of mouthfuls of the wonderful dessert for SC to enjoy and got a bit of a dirty look that I hadn't saved her more....  That's the price of being on the phone when dessert comes!

It was a great way to finish of what had been a superb meal in a really cool restaurant.  Especially cool for having a spot available for us as walk-ins on a Valentine's Friday night.  Sitting at the bar had also been a fabulous experience, it was nice and cozy with a great view of the kitchen, but we also had direct access to our waiter, who it must be said did a brilliant job serving the dozen or so people around the bar.

I'd thought that there was an excellent vibe the first time we'd come to Coda, which had only been reinforced with our latest visit.  I thought the food was even nicer this visit, with almost everything being tasty and perfect, especially the stuff from the smaller menu.  Those first three courses were some of the tastiest food that we'd had in Melbourne and that included our super impressive meal at Vue De Monde.

Best of all, we didn't have to wait an excessively long time in a queue and were able to get down to Etihad in time for the start of the second quarter.  I have to say, Etihad is a pretty awesome stadium.  We thought we'd go along to see Richmond demolish Melbourne, but it's a funny old world - who would have thought that a new super coach would help Melbourne to an impressive win??

Getting places early normally means a table!  Not at Mamasita so we were grateful that we could sneak into Coda
The dining room filled up quick - for those Brisbane people that don't want daylight savings - look outside!!  It's still daylight...
The bar with the great view of the kitchen

Coda on UrbanspoonCoda

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thanks very much for your comment, I really love and appreciate feedback and your thoughts


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...