Restaurant Reviews | Page 8 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?

Woodland House

I was sitting in the grand dining room at Woodland House, sunset bathing my padded table in a luxurious golden glow, nibbling on a fried duck tongue, wondering if this kind of restaurant matters anymore. Fine dining has been buried a thousand times. I’ve written stories declaring it dead myself. People want casual. They want to get in, get fed and get out. They don’t want to spend.


The pork hock is gone. The sticky, spicy caramelised pig’s knuckle that’s been an Ezard signature for 16 of the restaurant’s 18 years made its last trot to the dining room in December. The hock’s departure is symbolic of a shift at this Melbourne fine dining institution.

Northern Eatery

Some restaurants arise out of strategy and spreadsheets, others spring from the heart. Northern Eatery is in the latter camp, operated by a Greek guy from Preston (Anastasios Stamatiou), the business partner he met during 12 years in Greece (Tony Tzoumabas), and the life partner and now chef he brought back from Athens (Dimitrios Petrakos). If that makes it all sound very Greek, it isn’t. Northern Eatery is a restaurant for the northern suburbs of Melbourne, cosmopolitan in outlook and welcoming to all.


Eating a multi-course tasting menu can feel like being bludgeoned by well-meaning butterflies. Each morsel is delicate and dancingly pretty, tickling the senses with glancing blows, and so modest in size it seems unlikely any pain could ensue. Then, all of a sudden, around course six, one notices deep bruising to the appetite, desensitised taste buds and general torpor. How can butterflies be so brutal?

Humble Rays

If you’re bored with breakfast in Melbourne, you mustn’t be trying. When you’ve munched too much muesli you can move to matcha bowls. If you’re tired of toast there are waffles in the wings. And when you’ve smashed every avocado in sight, you’ll see coconut pannacotta jiggling with excitement as its moment in the spotlight approaches.

Beau Kitchen and Cellar

Sometimes a restaurant opens and you can almost hear the sighs of relief around the neighbourhood followed by a hundred plans clicking into place. “Let’s go to that new joint for coffee and eggs.” “Why don’t we meet at that place on the beach road for a cheeky spritz?” “I can’t be bothered cooking – let’s just go to Beau for some steak and fish.” “We should have dinner with them: what if we head to Beau for a slap-up dinner and an easy roll home?”

Uncle Collins Street

Just 10 paces from one of Melbourne’s most trodden (and waited upon) stairways – the narrow steps leading to no-bookings Mexican phenomenon Mamasita – is a new staircase you need to know about. This three-cornered climb leads up to Uncle, the new city iteration of the bright and buzzing restaurant that brought modern Vietnamese to St Kilda three years ago. The CBD Uncle has taken over premises once inhabited by the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union. It’s doubtful the ladies would appreciate the smashing cocktails (I love the crisp, tart Uncle Tom’s Collins with ginger liqueur and smoked beetroot syrup) but surely they’d rock out for the lively food.


If there’s one word that describes Roxborough, it’s ‘open’. I don’t mean that it’s newly open, though it is that (just before Christmas), nor am I referring to its position on Acland Street, itself reopened after a dusty refurb (nice plaza but we need shade, please). I’m not even focusing on the fact that Roxborough is open all day, serving food from noon till late. What I really want to highlight is the open feel of the place, both physically and – um, am I over-reaching? – spiritually.

Moroccan Deli-cacy

Some people know exactly what they want the new year to bring. If you’re Hana Assafiri, owner of Moroccan Deli-cacy, you might sum it up as peace, falafel, understanding, haloumi and empowerment, hopefully all at the same time. Assafiri is an activist, chef and businesswoman. She’s been cooking, cultivating friendships and being fabulously fierce and feminist for two decades at the Moroccan Soup Bar in Fitzroy North.

© Dani Valent 2018