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?

Bar Carolina

Let's start with the salt dispensers, because they say as much about Bar Carolina as the silky pappardelle tangled with rabbit ragu, the gay divorcees gossiping over prosecco, even the designer dogs in the rear outdoor nook helping their owners decide between wood-roasted eye fillet and lamb rump with sweetbreads.

Brae

Brae has three Good Food Guide hats. It was named 44th in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. Its owner Dan Hunter could fill a barn with ‘chef of the year’ awards. So, you would expect this five-year-old country restaurant, two hours west of Melbourne, to be very, very good. What you might not anticipate is how great it makes you feel.

IDES

Two years is often a sweet spot in the life of a restaurant: the mania of opening is long past, wrinkles have been ironed out once, twice, probably thrice and, best of all, there's a settling of identity which means more attention can be focused on the diner experience. In short, it's less "look at me" and more "how are you?".

Whitehorse Chloe cafe

Is this Melbourne's most avant-garde smashed avocado? It's art on a plate: I see a splash of impressionism, a stroke of cubism, a dollop of pluralist 2018. Not just a lively breakfast, it's a considered study that places two-tone green arcs in a verdant colour field. There's the icy cool of sliced green tomatoes, bright circles of nasturtium leaves, the emerald pop of fresh edamame, snow-white splotches of cashew cream, and an underpinning wash of smooth mashed avocado.

Yu Chu

It's easy to lure hungry pavement wanderers into a restaurant. You don't need neon signs, special offers or spruikers. A plump, glistening roast duck hanging in the window is the most brilliant beacon of all. If you really want to up the ante, add a chef with a cleaver working on crisp pork belly, crackling turning to shards with every satisfying thunk.

Pascale Bar & Grill

"Hotel restaurant", words that conjure visions of conveyor-belt toast and a queasy sense of underwhelm. If there's a type of eatery that is ripe for a makeover, it's this. Andy Harmer, who started his career as a 16-year-old in a five-star hotel in England, has taken over the dining at QT Melbourne and given it a vigorous shake-up, aligning the food offering with the hotel's glitzy, polished brand.

Pizza One at Sagra

Sagra opened three years ago and if there's anything that illustrates the simultaneous extravagance, optimism and naivety that characterised this three-storey Italian food palace, it's the fact that a pizza oven hulked unused in the massive open kitchen. It wasn't until chef Tony Moss came in nine months ago (brief: turn this grand, romantic vision into a viable restaurant) that he saw a place for it.

Lorna

Here's a cross-cultural breakfast spread that tells a lovely Australian story. Crumpets with lemon curd – as Anglo as it gets – are on one side. On the other, a bowl of Mexican chilaquiles (think of them as brunchy nachos). This is Lorna's story in two satisfying dishes.

House of Mandi

"There's no wrong way to eat here," says Abdirahman Abdi, owner of House of Mandi, a Yemeni rice restaurant. That's lucky, because I've taken the "no cutlery" option and a cube of beef has fallen down my sleeve as far as my armpit and the cute baby in the highchair on the other side of the room is wearing less rice down her front than I am.

© Dani Valent 2018