three great places - Melbourne

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Each month, a resident self-confessed foodie offers three exemplary places to dine. Rachel Lebihan explores Melbourne. Melbourne’s laneways are a navigational challenge for those unfamiliar with the city’s topological charm. Add to that Melbourne’s penchant for unnamed venues and nondescript entrances, and finding a stellar restaurant can be tricky. Remove the uncertainty by heading to these winning food destinations.

 

Coda Restaurant & Bar

Coda is a captivating destination for culinary explorers, fusing French and Vietnamese flavours with subtle Asian elegance and traditional European flair. Pull up a stool at the bar and watch a gastronomic performance unfold in the open kitchen. Chefs diligently pick leaves from sprigs of herbs, pans are flipped, and orders plated and perfected before waiters whisk them off to expectant diners.


Coda has a cult following. The basement level restaurant is permanently busy with business parties, group celebrations, and tourists who stumble across its laneway location and are swept along by the buzz of happy customers being served consistently top-class food.


Be warned: it is easy to get carried away at Coda. Small plates of bite-sized morsels, such as crispy prawn and tapioca betel leaf parcels, herb crumbed lamb chops, and freshly shucked Pacific oysters with a mirin and pomelo dressing, fill you up quickly. Resist the urge to sample them all, or you will have to defer on the menu’s bigger, and equally impressive, dishes.


Izakaya Den

A popular late-night haunt of the city’s top chefs and trendy bartenders, this Melburnian take on a Japanese tavern is all about adventure. There is no neon sign illuminating the way to this hidden treasure. But once first-timers locate the entrance and descend the staircase to the dimly lit, cavernous dining room, the underground vibe enthrals them.


The queue of diners waiting for a table (there is a no bookings policy in the evenings for groups of less than five) is sufficient stamp of approval.


The décor is industrial chic: lots of concrete, leather chairs, and stone-topped tables.


The drinks list includes sake, shochu (distilled spirit), and umeshu (plum wine). Deep fried sweet corn fritters sprinkled with green tea sea salt are a good way to start. Kingfish sashimi is meltingly delightful. Vegetarian options are plentiful, including a dish of braised, sweet beetroot that is topped with mushrooms. Wagyu tataki, served with soy dressing and wasabi mayonnaise, is a winner. Ditto Izakaya Den.


Siglo

An elusive, but not to be missed, Melbourne dining destination is Siglo, a high-end, rooftop bar with sensational snacks. Enter via an unmarked door next to the European restaurant and ascend the stairs to a sophisticated spot with expansive city views.


Melbourne urbanites and after-workers flock here for the extensive wine menu, spectacular list of Champagne, and classic cocktail selection. Edible tidbits include meatballs with tomato sugo, which are bold and fulfilling in flavour. Tom Cooper smoked salmon and toast is simple, yet refined. A shared serving of fried prawn lemongrass wontons initiate competitive dining as companions fight for a fair share. Freshly shucked oysters and caviar add a touch of class.


There is an old-world charm to Siglo that is accentuated by the rooftop location overlooking the Victorian façade of the State Parliament building opposite, and an old advertisement for the Princess Theatre painted on a neighbouring red-brick wall. Siglo is a convivial spot, with an intoxicating yet unpretentious ambience.

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