Restaurant Reviews | Dani Valent

Restaurant Reviews

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?

Lello Pasta Bar

Eating pasta is my favourite pastime but simply eating it means not gleaning every morsel of joy from the experience. Knowing the backstory enriches a meal, like an egg yolk spilling from raviolo. Lello, a smart city restaurant specialising in housemade pasta, delivers tagliatelle tales and fettuccine fables, elevating delicious pasta into culinary storytime.

Toorak Tracktor

You know how I knew I was going to like Toorak Tracktor? It wasn't the tasty-sounding menu, though I'll admit the double-smoked beef bacon eggs benedict is a drawcard. Nor was it because the new cafe is an easy hop from Toorak station (on the Pakenham, Cranbourne and Frankston lines). And it's not even because I knew I could have a post-brunch browse in the deli section to pick up fruit, the newspaper and some quality pasta to stock the pantry.

Lee Ho Fook

Who would have thought that an eggplant dish would become a must-eat Melbourne classic? Not me, and probably not Lee Ho Fook's Victor Liong, who stuck eggplant chips on his menu on day one and, six years later, still sends a plate to just about every table in his modern Chinese laneway restaurant.


Just when you thought there was nowhere new to go with avocado toast, along comes Oppen. The Scandi-style cafe specialises in smorrebrod (say "smairbrud"), a Danish open sandwich on rye, generally smeared with butter and topped with herring, cured meats, pickles and other such delights.


Just as we've borrowed umami from the Japanese to describe the deeply addictive savoury lure of foods such as parmesan, tomato and mushrooms, cafe owner Reiji Honour thinks we need to add another concept to our culinary lexicon. It's encompassed in the name of his new cafe, Hibiki, which is Japanese for "sound" or "echo".

© Dani Valent 2019