Coda (n): finale; the closing section of a musical composition.
When I first heard that acclaimed chef Adam D’Sylva was to open up a bar-slash-restaurant and call it ‘Coda’ I thought the term, familiar to those who studied music, was fitting. Having had stints at various locations including Longrain and Pearl, I figured that opening up his very own eatery in Flinders Lane with the aforementioned name as a big finale to his years of taking orders from restaurant owners seemed appropriate. So when I heard that the reason why D’Sylva chose the name Coda for his restaurant was due to a less profound reason – because he was a Led Zeppelin fan who liked their ninth album – I was amused to say the least.
Although it’s been barely a year since the place opened, it has managed to ensure a steady stream of patrons as well as casually picked up one chef’s hat in the latest Good Food Guide. Given that D’Sylva has also managed to recruit a power team of staff to run the restaurant (including a few from Taxi, one from Pearl and one from MoVida), it is no wonder why this place is oh-so-hot right now. Heck, I tried to make a Friday night booking in August only to be told that the next available Friday night session that they were able to sit me in was in November! Their lunch sessions, however, aren’t as busy so if you would like to have a Sunday lunch there, you may be a little bit luckier.
With its entrance just off Oliver Lane, Coda can be best described as a cross between Rufus Humphrey’s loft in Brooklyn and a Soho bar. It’s got that understated grungy, arty, warehouse thing happening which is what Melburnians LOVE at the moment… but as Larissa Dubecki said in her review in The Age, it probably cost a fortune to set up (so true). The warehouse consists of a spacious bar section with a surprisingly smaller section for the proper restaurant. And despite the fact that the place seemed dark when we walked in, a pleasant stream of sunshine shone through the glass windows overlooking our table so that I could actually take some photos. Lovely. Another thing I’d like to mention here, in this “cool” and “hip” eatery was that they were playing all of Elton John’s hits throughout lunch which I thought was a strange choice…
With a lemon-lime-bitters in hand ($3. Yep, no alcohol for me), I scanned the menu which was divided into small and big plates. Although Coda is supposed to be a French-Asian fusion restaurant according to pundits, I was perplexed to see that nothing on the menu sounded ‘fusion-y’. Instead, blatant Asian dishes dominated alongside French classics such as steak bernaise. Somewhat amused and a little bit confuzzled, I decided to go ahead with ordering a few little dishes and one big one to share with Adam.
Blackened quail, daikon and shiso salad ($7 each, we ordered one to share). Given that I don’t really have a wide range of comparison when it comes to eating quail (99% of them have been eaten at Chinese restaurants, roasted), the fact that I enjoyed this dish should really be taken with a grain of salt. Marinated in a stickly sweet mixture of soy, mirin and sake, the quail was plump and surprisingly tender. A pleasure to eat. But then again, I ain’t no quail connoisseur.
Coda roll: crisp parcel of bone marrow, ginger, shitake mushroom and rice paddy herb ($8.80 each, we ordered one to share). This was one of the very few ‘fusion’ items on the menu and arguably Coda’s ‘signature dish’ so I was keen to see what the fuss about. Imagine my surprise, however, when Adam had first bite of the spring roll… only to recoil in horror before giving me the rest of it. At first bite, I thought it tasted well… odd. Very similar to one of those giant spring rolls that one would buy at the local fish and chip shop but with the heady aroma of the shitake mushrooms. I also thought that the white pepper and lemon sauce that went with the roll was weird too but after about two more bites, I actually started to like it just a little bit. It was smooth and rich, yet playful and zesty at the same time. And like the current Body Combat release playing at my gym, it was a bit of an acquired taste yet nothing that I would cry over if it was taken off the play list.
Steak tartare, quail egg, mustard cress and caper melba toasts ($18). We left Asia for a while and stopped in France for a brief intermission. A very generous serving of steak tartare was next on the order of events, the marinade was much lighter than the one I had at Bistro Guillaume too but not lacking in flavour. A decent version though I do have to whinge about the tartare to melba toasts ratio though – there was not enough toast to eat the steak tartare with, even if I made a pile of meat the size of Angkor Wat on each piece of toast.
Western Plains suckling pig terrine ($18). This was probably the dish that would probably make me not want to come here again. Thinking that it sounded so cool, we decided to give it a go. I had no idea what to expect although for some reason, the ‘suckling pig’ in the dish’s name let me to think that there would be bits of crispy pork skin in this dish. I dunno. Or a terrine roll, cut into a generous number of slices. With pork skin in them. So when a black plate of three slices of ‘cha’ (coldcuts of pork served in Vietnamese pork rolls), I was like ‘.’ Fair enough, I guess it would be fair to call it a terrine but when one can easily purchase a pork roll for $3 at any odd banh mi stall in Springvale or Richmond and a place like Coda is charging $18 for EXACTLY the same thing you’d find in such pork rolls, my blood starts to boil. Granted, the terrines at Coda were a little bit lighter in taste and sweeter … but not by much. Tres disappointment.
Sizzling plate of prawns, roasted chilli, King brown mushrooms, fresh green peppercorns and Thai basil ($34), with a side of Jasmine rice ($5). Our one large dish which was enough to make us both full at the end. The sizzling plate hosted a festival of colours and flavours. There may have only been six prawns in this dish but thank goodness they were big prawns or I would have gone nuts. This dish, both fragrant and spicy, would have been a wonderful one… had it been, well, less flavourful. It had way too much flavour in it that I had to keep downing glasses of water to nurse my parching throat. Thank goodness, too, for the bowl of rice nearby to mop up all the sauce or I would have had a hard time trying to eat this thing. Whether D’Sylva was trying to pack in his entire repertoire from Pearl into one single dish or whether one of his minions accidentally put double the amount of salty soy sauce into this dish, I will never know.
Coconut and pandan tapioca pudding, seasonal fruit and ruby grapefruit and ginger sorbet ($14.80). Although their dessert menu was very limited, I had to admit that some of the offerings looked appealing so I chose to share one of the lighter-sounding ones with Adam. The pudding was not dissimilar in texture to that of a tau foo fa which was bogged down by a mass of fresh fruits including sweet pineapples, grapefruit, strawberries and blueberries. A light and tangy grapefruit and ginger sorbet capped off the performance along with a sprig of Vietnamese mint and a clear sugar snap. Probably one of the better desserts I’ve had in a long, long time.