Monday, 14 January 2013

Coda - Baby Steps

I had been looking forward to visiting Coda Bar and Restaurant on Flinders Lane for many months now. After the restaurant won the Brown Brothers Wine List of the Year and Travis Howe won the Louis Roderer Sommelier of the Year awards respectively in the eponymous Age Good Food Guide, I knew that I was in for a special time.

There was a small furore in the press in May 2012 about Coda. Interestingly enough a happy couple presented themselves at the restaurant without a booking and asked if the restaurant could accommodate their hunger and provide a level of hospitality on the dark and cold Melbourne night. The restaurant said they could seat the couple at the bar so one of the patrons went outside and then pushed a large pram (with baby) into the restaurant. It was never communicated to Coda that the happy couple had a large pram with them (as they asked for two people to be accommodated) and when the restaurant informed the diners that in fact that they could not safely have the pram at the bar, a storm in a teacup ensued, The Age picked up the story and it was inferred that Coda refused service to the parents of the baby. After looking around Coda and inspecting the area around the bar, I can understand if the restaurant was filled to capacity why a large pram would have caused a hazard to the diners but also to the baby itself. How this story turned into something of national interest is beyond me however the tale still entertains me a bit.

The fit-out is minimalistic with exposed walls. As the restaurant is set virtually subterranean the windows that provide natural light from the street are located high on the wall. This causes the travellers of Flinders Lane some amusement as many people like to stop and glare down at the restaurant patrons. I don't know why this arrangement causes such surprise or entertainment to the casual wanderers of the street but I suppose some people are just easily entertained by other human beings. Still although you feel you are in a human zoo at times with the pedestrians  leering at you from the outside, the dining room is comfortable and doesn't get very noisy.

The menu is designed for diners to order multiple dishes and share. I always like this arrangement as it makes the experience more social. I couldn't wait to order the spanner crab with galangal, roasted chilli on a lime betel leaf ($6.80/each). It was fresh crab where the hint of chilli was playful and the lime betel leaf did not overwhelm the dish but actually complimented it. Sometimes I get concerned that chefs try to overdo dishes involving spanner crab but everything worked out well with this offering and I was very impressed. It tasted even better with the bottle of 2010 Punch Chardonnay which rested on its perch above our table and was quite restless during our afternoon dining.

A visually beautiful soft rice paper rolled with fresh tuna and wasabi ginger mayonnaise ($10/each) tasted as good as it looked. The Hervey Bay scallop with pearl tapioca and Yarra Valley salmon cavier ($7.80/each) conjured up memories of being in and around Fraser Island and the delectable seafood that is sourced in the area. Normally I feign hesitation when ordering scallops but since my relaxed mate was keen to go down the road of the edible bivalve mollusk, I could not refuse and I was just as impressed with this choice and greedily ate mine off of its shell in the middle of my feeding bowl.

The aptly named "That's Amore" buffalo mozzarella, zucchini fritters, mint and pea salad ($22) reminded me that I enjoy dishes this style too much and that I really need to start visiting the gym again this week. The mint and pea salad were not only a beautiful bright green but crunchy and very fresh. The presentation of the dish and when matched with the fritters and consumed with the Punch Chardonnay was magnificent. Along with the mozzarella, the tempura bugs with Roy Choi's kimchi, chilli salt and the soy dipping sauce ($18/each) were my favourite dishes. Such a good contrast - the tempura and the bugs and the chilli sauce, like with the spanner crab, was a nice surprise and the chilli once again did not overpower the dish and it left me impressed.

The char siu pork bun with picked vegetables and most importantly the chilli jam ($8/each) was memorable and has encouraged me to want to try to prepare this at home. The chilli jam was both sweet and spicy and really brought out the flavours of the pork bun and motivated me to have small tastes just so that I could make the experience last longer. Of course I could have just ordered another round but that would have been too easy. The tour de force concluded with the blackened quail, daikon and shiso salad ($7.80/each) at the recommendation of the house.

If our engorged stomachs did not prevent us from consuming anything else we would have ordered more as there are some other very exciting items on the menu however after the positive experience, it will just cause me to return to Coda soon to continue the epicurean journey through the menu, the next time trying some of the larger share plates (the sizzling king prawns and the duck curry seem like they would be great) but also some of the desserts but that sort of reward should only be given after actually returning to the gym this week otherwise I will be rolling down Flinders Lane when I next stumble out of Coda.

Coda Bar and Restaurant, Flinders Lane, Melbourne
Coda Bar and Restaurant
141 Flinders Lane, Melbourne VIC 3000
03 9650 3155
My Rating: 14.75/20
Service: 3.5/5
Ambiance: 3.5/5
Quality: 3.75/5
Value For Money: 4/5

Twitter: @epicurean3006
e-mail: epicureanofsouthbank (at) gmail (dot) com

At the time of this post, 87% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon also like Coda.

Coda on Urbanspoon