Restaurant Reviews | Page 9 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?

Corner Hotel

Let another year of eating Melbourne begin, and where better than at the Corner Hotel, a treasured live music venue with a sprawling, buzzing, newly renovated rooftop dining area. It’s one of those highly congenial ‘we’ve got you covered’ scenarios: there’s indoors and outdoors, smoking and non-smoking, stools and seats, a warm welcome for kids and a sanguine understanding that grown-ups can get semi-rowdy. Bookings are welcomed, including for private parties.

Moby 3143

We were sitting by the kitchen hatch where I could see the action. I loved watching the chefs folding omelettes, piling burgers and scattering chia seeds with that careful orders-are-rolling-in combination of speed and delicacy. But it was a bit noisy for mum and dad so I thought I’d check upstairs. And that’s where I found one of the best outdoor rooms in Melbourne, a rooftop deck with cushioned benches and high walls, a sun trap with umbrellas, a space that’s crying out for sunset drinks and cheese platters (stand by for the liquor license – exactly such plans are afoot).

South Society

If there’s one thing that’s important about a neighbourhood restaurant it’s that the owners understand the neighbourhood. They know the locals because they are the locals. They respect their rhythms and preferences: if they’re earlybirds, whether they need almond milk in their coffee, if they’re happy to dig into a share plate or prefer their own main course, thank you very much.

Smith and Daughters

Well, that’s a relief. I don’t care how hot it gets now, because I’ve found the key dish for summer. It’s Smith and Daughters’ spiced melon salad: fat bricks of watermelon, cantaloupe and honeydew are casually jumbled with pickled pineapple, jalapeno peppers and mint. It’s oh-so-fresh in attitude and flavour, hydrating and cold, chilli-spiked and sparky. I foresee baking hot north-wind days when this is all I want to eat.

Rochester Hotel

There are old-timey pubs with gristly steaks, grizzly proprietors and grisly muck at the back of the coolroom. I know because I worked in one where fresh salad meant opening a tin of three-bean mix and the night’s special was curried whatever-was-on-the-turn. Then there are gastropubs, with their fancy pies, unpronounceable charcuterie, posh beef cuts and half-ironic fondness for pursuits like cricket and beard-growing. And there are places like the Rochester Hotel, swinging back around to the old-school but with new-fangled sensibilities, a happy meeting place between the two strands.

Long Story Short

How does brunch sound? No, literally. What noise does it make? If it’s the spectacular Dessert Burger at Long Story Short, it sounds like snap-crackle-pop as tiny nuggets of popping candy celebrate sweet living. The dainty cacophony doesn’t start straight away: what you see at first is a swirled mound of pink fairy floss, decorated with flowers and freeze-dried berry sprinkles. There’s a jug of coconut milk alongside: when you pour it over the spun sugar, it dissolves to reveal a brioche ice cream burger. The popping candy is activated by the liquid and the breakfast music begins.

Holy Basil Thai

Croydon. Car yards. Chain eateries. To be honest, I was not expecting to come upon a creative, buoyant Thai restaurant on this six-lane highway 30 kilometres east of the city. Also, this is meat-and-three land so Holy Basil’s veg-aquarian focus felt worryingly courageous. But the happy surprises rolled along from the moment we walked in. This three-month old restaurant is smartly decorated, passionately conceived and rife with decidedly delicious food.

The Baths Middle Brighton

The sea, yes. Sand in my mouth, not so much. If I can eat with a floor underneath me and a clean window between me and the water then I am a big fan of bayside dining. If I’m sitting on a towel fighting seagulls for chips then I am not a happy chappie. The Baths Middle Brighton keeps coastal nibbles nice with unimpeded views, classy food and inside tables that let me appreciate seaspray, tickling breeze and ruffled sand without actually feeling any of them. And seagulls, feel free to look at my food and caw in covetous rage all you like!

Secret Kitchen

The first thing that catches the eye at Secret Kitchen is the fish tank, apparently the largest restaurant aquarium in Melbourne and full of finned and shelled creatures lolling despondently before their sudden dispatch from tank to wok to plate. It’s a $700,000 investment delivering freshness beyond dispute. Beyond the glass and gleam, Secret Kitchen’s lavish majesty is revealed with prestige wine displays, throne-like chairs, private chambers, scores of name-tagged staff and a general air of efficient excess.

Phu Vinh

Here’s the problem. You go into a cheapie Asian restaurant, page through a menu of 150 items and feel overwhelmed. How on earth can all those dishes be good, or even fresh? One solution – my preferred – is to find out the restaurant’s specialty. At Phu Vinh, that’s hu tieu, southern Vietnam’s answer to pho. Like pho, hu tieu is a noodle soup. Also like pho, it’s a soup of many variations, so it’s tricky to define, but it’s based on clear broth (often pork but here chicken) and special noodles.

© Dani Valent 2018