Eater – Page 26 – Dani Valent


We’ve all got to eat so it might as well be good! I’ve been a restaurant critic for almost 20 years, and have been writing a weekly restaurant column in Melbourne’s Sunday Age since 2006.

My approach is to always take a restaurant on its own terms: there’s no point slamming a burger joint because it doesn’t have white tablecloths. I try to be constructive in my criticism and I’ve always got the diner in mind: there are many places you could choose to go. Why should it be here?


Copper Pot

Eaten any snails lately? You should, and not just because they are an excellent excuse to marinate yourself in melted butter. Firm, salty sea snails (Tasmanian periwinkles) also offer a good reason to visit Copper Pot, the first restaurant from chef Ashley Davis. The menu says they’re served “how they should be” and I’d agree: bobbing in green-tinged shells, they’re meaty and unadorned, slow-cooked then lavishly loved up with garlicky butter. The snails are a signpost. Copper Pot bills itself as “a foodies’ roadtrip around Europe” and it visits some lesser lights: Croatia, Portugal and Germany as well as the power trio of France, Italy and Spain. The produce, by contrast, is a passionate, ethical exploration of Australia.


There may not be a scientific correlation between the pride with which a dish is served and the pleasure with which it’s consumed but I’m sure there’s an association. Everything at Anju, a casual Korean bar and restaurant, is delivered with a tangible, though often silent wish that it will satisfy. It would taste good anyway – the food is fresh, careful and punchy, with big flavours that marry well with alcohol – but there’s an amplification sparked by the fervent hope that everything will be truly enjoyed.

The Craft & Co

I can feel it: 2016 is the year I’ll be nurturing a sourdough starter, stuffing my own sausages, churning my own butter and turning pallets of tomatoes into a year’s supply of passata. And, on the off chance that none of these DIY resolutions makes it to February, I’ll be coming to the Craft and Co and enjoying the handmade goodies of proper makers and creators.

Las Chicas

It’s a lazy time of year. If the remote control is out of reach then I stay on the same channel. If the bread isn’t sliced I just tear off a hunk and shove it down. If no one gets me a glass of water then I guess I’ll be thirsty. I do have a survival plan, though: have someone piggyback me to Las Chicas for a happy holiday brunch.

Ichi Ni Nana

Stop wondering where you’ll be hanging out this summer. It’s here, at 127 Brunswick Street, a three-venue five-level indoor-outdoor dining and drinking playground. This optimistic megalith was carved out of an 1850s pub by Vince Sofo and Paul Adamo, nightclub guys from way back and owners of the currently closed Espy.


Seasonal circumstances find many a soul at Shujinko, a 24-hour ramen restaurant on Russell Street. Epic shopping efforts can call for the kind of afternoon refuelling only noodles and rich broth can offer. Good sense may haul a person out of the office Christmas party in need of a steadying soup before soldiering home. A let’s-have-a-drink-before-the-holidays session could require comforting calorific boosting at either end of the evening. And, of course, you might just come here because you like it.

Prohibition Food and Wine

I’m not sure what prohibition sounds like but I don’t think it’s the sounds filling Prohibition: ice bopping in a cocktail shaker, an explosive roar of laughter from a high-topped table, the pop of a Prosecco cork and the happy whoosh of tap beer flowing into a chilled glass. Prohibition is a handsome and instantly popular new Camberwell restaurant in a corner bank building that’s now more brouhaha than balance sheet. The name references the eastern suburb’s infamous ‘dry area’, a set of recently relaxed regulations that made it annoyingly hard to slake an honest thirst but extremely easy to locate the moral high ground. As the rules have eased, Prohibition’s customers seem to be making a mission of celebrating the lapsarian flow of liquor.

1889 Cucina Povera

Life can be complicated. Food doesn’t need to be. And pizza should always be simple. They understand that at Cucina Povera 1889, a restaurant named for the frugal food of peasant Italy, low on flounce, coaxed into deliciousness via loving treatment and nonna’s lore. The ‘1889’ references the year pizza margherita was supposedly first made; it’s something of a year zero in Italian cuisine. Cucina Povera riffs gently on tradition but basically, this is food that is what it is, little more and certainly no less.

Ministry of Curry

For a restaurant to be tempting at this time of year its first qualification must be that it is open. That’s a tick for this two-year-old Sri Lankan eatery, which is keeping pots bubbling every day including Christmas Day. The next necessary quality is that the restaurant be relaxed: when our airs and graces are hidden under scrunched piles of wrapping paper or stuck behind the ham in the back of the fridge we don’t want formality. Again, Ministry of Curry comes through. It’s a small business with all the warm-hearted hospitality that implies. If that also suggests that inexperienced waiters are sometimes roped in, well, that’s as I mean it to be. Of course, good food is always the core appeal. On this score, Ministry of Curry romps home.

© Dani Valent 2021