We met in the city thinking that we'd definitely find a spot somewhere. Starting at Chin Chin, it was an hour and a half wait for a table (at 6pm on a Wednesday). Then Yu-u, just around the corner, didn't have any spots til 8pm. We started to feel disheartened. So we turned our attention to Coda, sneakily hiding in Oliver Lane, and... victory! Two seats at the bar, which even had hooks for our handbags. It was almost perfect - though Tegan did comment that the heat from the kitchen (located just behind the bar) was a little uncomfortable. But once we had a glass of wine in our hands, any issues were long forgotten.
In fact, once we had our wine, we were so busy catching up that the waiters decided to stop asking us if we were ready to order - they were very polite about it though.
But we eventually found the need to draw breath and order a few of the smaller items from the menu. Two of each of course.
First up was the Crispy prawn and tapioca betel leaf. Yum! It was deliciously crispy on the outside and succulent in the middle. The dipping sauce, slightly sweet and tart, was remarkably complimentary. Tegan said this was her favourite dish of the night and I would definitely order it again.
Before I'd even finished taking photos of the crispy prawn, the next dish appeared before us - Quail lettuce delight, lup cheong, shitake mushroom, coriander and water chestnuts. Though it lacked the intense flavour of the previous dish and didn't quite offer the range of textures I was expecting, it was delicious. And when I grabbed the 'delight' with my hands to eat it (like a taco), the crisp lettuce and soft flavoursome filling worked perfectly together.
Next up, the Soft rice paper rolls with pork, prawn, perilla and chive bud, which was accompanied by a concoction of chopped herbs, garlic and oil. The rice paper rolls were fresh and lively, and when I added the herb and garlic mix, the flavour 'pounced'. It was an intense mixture of textures and flavours, all dancing around in my mouth. I would never think to add garlic to rice paper rolls but it complemented and enhanced the ingredients. A dish that would be ok but not amazing was transformed into a dish that altered my views on Asian cuisine forever.
Herb crumbed lamb chops made up our red meat portion for the evening. Two very cute (can you use that word with food?) frenched lamp chops sat mouth-wateringly in front of us. And as much as I love Asian cuisine, I couldn't wait to sink my teeth into a bit of red meat. The lamb itself was juicy and pink, totally tender. And was beautifully complimented by a herby, slightly vinegar 'dressing'. I loved it. Tegan's chop, however, had slightly more dressing on it and she found the vinegar flavour a tad over-powering.
We chatted away throughout the entire evening, discussing work, men, friends, the future. We'd barely realised that our last dish had come and gone. So when the waiter asked us if were keen to look at the dessert menu, I was almost shocked. Had we eaten 4 dishes already? We had and we were definitely keen to look at the dessert menu. After the desserts were explained to us in detail, we settled on the Monkey banana fritters, crushed pistachio, black sesame and coconut sorbet and the Sweet special, which was a Desiccated coconut covered chocolate fondant with vanilla ice cream.
I sneaked a small spoonful of the sorbet - it was scrumptious! It didn't taste overwhelmingly like black sesame or coconut. Somehow it created a flavour somewhere in the middle that was unique and so fresh. The crumbled pistachio nuts over the top added a divine crunch and saltiness too.
Last but definitely not least, a slightly furry chocolate mound, dollop of ice cream and bubbly caramel crunch sat before me. I was excited and full of anticipation - would chocolate ooze forth as I broke through the outer layer of the fondant?
Success! It was perfectly gooey in the centre. And as the warm chocolaty goodness hit my tastebuds, I knew I had chosen well. The small shreddings of coconut added further dimensions to the flavour and a subtle texture. It was a marvellous union of elements and flavours, and as a result, the entire fondant was soft and inviting. Surprisingly, it wasn't rich either, so the vanilla ice cream was less essential (but still delicious). And the crispy caramel-coated bubbles added some super sweet crunch. Yum! This entire dish made me swoon (and I think I might have found my favourite dessert.)
I could not have asked for a better night out. It was amazing food and amazing company. (It definitely makes up for Tegan ditching me on my birthday for a man.)
Coda has a fascinating Asian inspired menu that definitely strays from the expected. The decor is simple but alluring and the vibe is relaxed, far from the bustling and hectic atmosphere in so many popular CBD restaurants. Furthermore, I thoroughly recommend Coda as a date spot. The unique sharing plates can stimulate conversation and if you are seated at the bar, there is plenty around to help you avoid any awkward silences. But I can assure you that date or not, I will definitely be heading back there.
Location: Basement 141 Flinders Lane (cnr Oliver Lane), Melbourne VIC 3000