Restaurant Reviews | Page 7 of 38 | 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?


It’s 2009. You’re a young chef working at a hot restaurant in London. You’re charged with a serious duty – making the bread sauce that’s served with partridge. Overtasked and distracted, you make a terrible mistake: you leave the sauce too long and instead of being smooth and silky it becomes sad and sludgy. The bollocking rings in your ears for days.


I’m eating compost for dessert and I couldn’t be happier. Shiraz lees (a yeasty debris of the wine-making process) have been repurposed as a heady purplish granita. Grapefruit peel is blitzed into a powerful citrus paste. Coriander stems and roots are the flavour base for an insistently herbaceous ice cream, and egg whites are whipped and baked into crisp shards of meringue. It’s a curious, pretty, highwire balance of sweet, tart and fragrant. I’d love it even if it wasn’t an environmental statement.

Code Black

I’m eating duck waffles for brunch and I’m thwacked over the scone by a thought: geez, Melbourne is good. I’m in a well-loved four-year-old Brunswick cafe and the food is so plainly at the standard of a very good restaurant that I blink a few times, take a bite break, and look around.


I walked into Pigro on a Friday night and instantly knew I was in a good neighbourhood restaurant, the kind of place real estate agents might reference at local auctions. The place was busy but a waiter saw us straight away, smilingly acknowledged us even though she was busy, and arranged a table with swift cheer. It set the right tone.


You know you shouldn’t lick the plate. You know it’s not okay. But you’re also sure it would hurt a lot to watch a plate of delicious shellfish butter be taken to the kitchen to be scraped into a bin. Then, while you’re weighing up two evils, a waiter asks a question so insightful and timely that you’re not sure whether to answer or merely weep. “Would you like some sticky rice to mop up that butter?” Yes. Oh yes. Make it happen.

Dear Abbey

‘Dear Abby’ is a US advice column known since the 1950s for its crisp wit and no-nonsense wisdom. It’s also a tortured John Prine ballad from the 1970s (“Dear Abby, Dear Abby, My fountain pen leaks, My wife hollers at me and my kids are all freaks…”) And, since late 2016, it’s also a magnetically appealing cafe opposite the Moonee Ponds Woolworths carpark.


There’s something to be said for jumping before you’re pushed. In a series of bayside ripples, Middle Eastern restaurant Mr Lawrence has decamped the about-to-be-redeveloped London Hotel. It’s now in the two-storey premises previously occupied by pan-Asian chow house Tenpin, which has the same owners and executive chef. Tenpin has bowled itself down the road to a corner spot once taken by Mon Ami bistro. Got it?


It’s always a pleasure to see an undercapitalised neighbourhood landmark given new life. Built in the 1940s as a boatshed and rebuilt in the mid-noughties when the adjacent floating marina was constructed, Anchorage always toddled along but the dining rooms were a little stuffy and the food somewhat staid. The view carried it: sparkling water, sleek swans, big skies and the sweep and swoosh of the West Gate Bridge are easy to love and, because it’s the west, cranes and shipping containers are part of the tableau too.

© Dani Valent 2018