Wednesday, May 5, 2010


Does my recent culinary experience define the epitome of globalisation? Highly probable, but why don’t you be the judge ... an Anglo-Indian enjoying Vietnamese tapas at a Melbourne restaurant cooked up by an ingenious Sri Lankan Chef ... does this qualify or what?

Chef Adam D’Sylva has undoubtedly found a niche platform – Vietnamese tapas – light, flavoursome cuisine paired with a stylish, simplistic ambience that oozes calculated carefree attitude and a sexy playfulness. The success of Coda definitely rests on the Chef’s precise ability to create winning concoctions – big and bold, yet balanced perfectly. One taste of D’Sylva’s menu and it’s not hard to understand the success story and what all the fuss is all about. In fact I guarantee after a meal here you will be puffing hot steam up all your mate’s skirts, raving about your experience again and again.

At first attempt to secure a booking for a table the very same evening I was told I had to wait for up to four weeks for a booking. Wowie I thought – a definite must try. Luckily somehow we were squeezed in and ended up seated at a gorgeously intimate table for two against the back wall in the corner. The incandescent lighting is alluring as it is offset by flimsy paper lanterns revealing exposed light bulbs that add a contemporary, minimalistic feel. Within minutes of being seated we were swooped down upon. Sommeliers, maitre’d as well as our respective waiter for the evening – it was like we were at the theatre and all the actors were bursting out to introduce themselves eagerly! While it may be somewhat of an exaggeration the first ten minutes felt as though I was plonked into a scene straight out of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds as the wait staff took turns swooping down to our table rambling incessantly.

“Would you like me to guide you with the wine selection?” a flustered and overly worked sommelier enquired in rushed tones hunched over at our table. “We’re good at the moment” was my reply without a thought. Before I could turn my gaze from the wine-spert, a little blonde thing smiling ear to ear had swooped in arranging and re-arranging napkins and candles, rambling about menu choices and how she would plan her meal should it be her that was eating. At this point I was rather tempted to remind her she was not eating – or paying for that matter – instead I politely said we had just been seated, hadn’t had a chance to look at either drinks or food menus and would like some time to let the place sink in. Before I could say Jack however, the next sparrow tweeted and squealed, but by this time I was turning pro and we rid our table of him too in no time.

While I perused the menu excited at the endless possibilities – the wine list is extensive with a great world selection as well as domestic wines I settled on an interesting Italian white – crisp with light fruit and slight acid. It was a variety I had never heard of and one I cannot remember, which reminds me next time when trying a new drop for the first time get the wait staff to note it down for you or save the label. Anyhow, we decided to pick several tapas items – one each since each come out as single portion serves – and then share a main and a dessert thus maximising our tasting journey and oh boy was this the way to go!

It was like taking an actual travelogue (or should I say foodlogue) through South East Asia with the characteristic vibrant notes of sticky sweetness intermingling with lip curling sour and dotted with piquant yet addictive heat. There was crispy prawn in a betel leaf – deep fried and damn good is all I will say.

There was sugar cane prawn with sweet chilli sauce that at face value sounds and seems to be oh-so-boring, but the crispy outer noodle texture yielding a minced delicate prawn meat mixture inside is a textural delight hard to convey its brilliance through words. Of course we had to partake in some soft rice paper rolls and so we did – ones stuffed with pork, prawn, perilla and chive bud.

The Hervey Bay scallop seared perfectly and served with a pearl tapioca was reminiscent of creamed corn and the finishing touch of the salmon caviar was beautiful. While delicious the blackened quail with daikon and shiso salad left me wanting more, the portion size did not allow for justification in terms of the full on flavour profile – I simply wanted and needed just a tad more to be satisfied. The last tapas item, far from Viet inspired was nonetheless possibly my favourite – the herb crumbed lamb chop was phenomenal – the ratio of fat to meat just spot on, the doneness of the meat perfecto – medium rare pink in the centre and the herb crust aptly seasoned with a robust crunchy bite.

For main course I could not resist the black pepper wok crab. And you know when you order crab Asian style you are in for trouble – you simply have to be prepared to get down and dirty – so we were forced to check our manners at the door enjoying it with our fingers fleshing out the sweet meat and rubbing it around in the fiery but oh-so-addictive peppery sauce, messing the steamed jasmine rice with the flavoursome goodness of the rich gravy.

Having licked our crabs clean we sneaked another peak at the menu and decided it was time to try the banana monkey fritters, salted peanut caramel and black sesame ice-cream – it was so different, cooling and not overwhelming sweet – the best way to wrap up an overly indulgent night.

Loved the place, loved the food and thoroughly lapped up being pampered by educated, well trained wait staff. Do wish the staff – passionate bunch that they are realise they need to allow clientele to ease into their evening before jumpstarting things and pulling out all the stops -there is a time and place for everything!

Basement 141 Flinders Lane (Cnr Oliver Lane)

Melbourne 3003
Telephone +613 9650 3155

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