I know I’m going out on a limb here.
I’m sure I must be the only person in Melbourne who wasn’t impressed by Coda. But at least I have the Jetsetting Parents to back me up on the NOT verdict. Trust me, I really wanted to like Coda given its mountain of rave reviews, but in all honestly I just can’t recommend it based on my experience.
The pluses first: funky underground bunker space with just the right amount of difficult-to-find coolness, a buzzy yet relaxed atmosphere and excellent service – they catered for all of my parentals’ requests for communal cutlery, new bowls etc etc without a blink (while I face-palmed in acute embarrassment).
The minuses: heavy-handed salting, dry jasmine rice, high prices relative to the good but not outstanding quality of the food and bad ventilation.
We stuck to the predominantly Vietnamese/Thai dishes and ordered a selection of small eats and a curry with rice to share. We just couldn’t fathom mixing up Asian and Western dishes in the same meal (yah yah, fusion whatever).
Crispy prawn and tapioca betel leaf and spanner crab, galangal, roasted chilli and lime fresh betel leaf ($5.80 each). Chef Adam D’Sylva used to work at Longrain and he appears to have brought Longrain‘s signature dish across to his restaurant. The fresh leaf was a lovely delicate balance of flavours, while the crispy version was interesting texturally, with a light crunch on the outside and juicy soft spanner prawn meat on the inside. However, the crab meat was too salty for my liking and combined with the fried batter it left me gulping down water.
Hanoi style crispy rice paper rolls with nuoc nam dipping sauce ($6.80 each). A lightly fried rice paper roll which was pleasant but not spectacular.
Soft rice paper roll with pork, prawn, perilla and chive bud ($6 each). Mum said that the wrapped up prawns were way too salty.
Blackened quail ($7 each). I quite liked this dish, with a teeny juicy quail and a teeny spray of contrasting daikon and shiso salad.
Coda rolls ($10.80 each). When these came out Mum was like ‘What?? Spring rolls?’. Not quite, Mum. An unusual combination of super rich bone marrow, ginger and shiitake mushrooms encased in a Chinese spring roll pastry and served with a branch of rice paddy herb and white pepper dipping sauce. I personally didn’t love it only because I’ve now realised that I’m actually not such a fan of bone marrow, but it was certainly the most creative dish we ordered and the furthest departure from traditional Vietnamese/Thai fare. But notice the price for each fried morsel.
Roasted yellow duck curry ($36). This dish had nice big chunks of meat but unfortunately the curry sauce was distinctly salty and not sufficiently tempered by the jasmine rice. And I’m not fussy with my rice but even I have to admit it was dry – how is it possible to stuff up steamed rice? Oh the ignominy of paying $5 for dry rice!
While dessert is normally a must-do for us, we were so uninspired with our experience by then (and conscious of our mounting bill) that we gave it a miss.
To top off the disappointing evening, when I came home RM said to me ‘Where have you been? You smell like a kitchen!’. And yes, my clothes and my hair all smelled like I’d just been cooking inside a greasy Chinese restaurant. Luckily I wasn’t wearing anything that couldn’t be thrown in the wash quickly, but I wouldn’t want to pay $40 a head for dinner (without drinks) only to have to get my suit or silk dress dry-cleaned as well.
So there you have it. Our main complaint was that the food at Coda, while generally good and beautifully presented, wasn’t that much more outstanding than the fare on offer in Victoria Street. I know that the eateries of Victoria Street provide a different dining experience (expect no service, flourescent lighting, plastic plates) but I’m willing to be seated at wipe-down plastic table if I can eat similar, albeit less sophisticated, food for much, much cheaper. Maybe I would have been better off if I’d stuck to the Italian/French dishes instead? For me Coda just wasn’t good enough to deserve the two to three times mark up, sorry.
Coda Bar & Restaurant, Basement 141 Flinders Lane, Melbourne +61 96503155