I dined in Coda many years before, and a table has since become ridiculously difficult to get. I was trying my luck and I was surprised I got it at first try.
Housed off Oliver Lane, the space was given a minimalist makeover by Melbourne-based studio Projects of Imagination. It’s replete with wire mesh screens, aluminium-framed windows and exposed light bulbs. The space is split almost equally between the sit-down restaurant and the no-reservations bar area.
Coda offers a diverse range of dishes that celebrate Asian and European flavours and the best of local Australian produce. Head chef Hendri Budiman explores the bright aromatics of the French-Vietnamese cuisine and takes inspiration from a broad selection of culinary traditions. The kitchen is backed by an experienced and enthusiastic team of floor staff, guided by owners Kate Calder (ex-Taxi) and Mykal Bartholomew (ex-MoVida).
Yellowfin tuna sashimi, preserved olives, tamari and mizuna
Crispy tapioca and prawn betel leaf with kaffir lime and green chili
This dish has been on the menu since they started 14 years ago. Thought that when the original head chef left, this would be taken off. I am glad they kept it. This folded fried morsel was a crisp chorus of prawn, lemongrass and green chilli with the iridescent green of the shiso (perilla leaf) shining through. It’s bouncy and bright, bubbly and light. The dipping sauce is not tempura sauce, and is overwhelming. I enjoyed them as is.
Bug meat lettuce delight, leek, garlic chives and water chestnut
Morton Bay bugs, shelled and chopped and prepared like the second course of Peking duck, served on a leaf of Romaine lettuce. A great idea for my next BBQ at home for an appetiser – simple and can be assembled in a minute.
Wuxi style duck, pine nuts and allium salad
When you think Wuxi-stye, the classic Wuxi-style pork ribs 无锡排骨 come to mind. Sweet, sour and salty pork ribs that fall off the bone, coated in a magical sticky sauce. Traditionally the sauce has a striking red colour thanks to the use of red yeast rice – a fermented rice with a rich red hue.
Here, the same treatment was done to roast duck deboned and julienne, and then tossed in a loose salad made with Chinese parsley, shallots, cucumber and ginger with pine nuts and sesame. I cannot placed any one origin but a variety of influence on one single dish. Nice, and luckily the portion was quite small, else it would be quite heavy because it’s a sweet dish.
Hot and numbing crispy lamb, whipped chickpeas and sansho
The hot and numbing lamb is like a 2am collision of shawarma and loaded hummus on a backstreet in Xinjiang. Slow-cooked lamb shoulder was shredded and fried, dressed with chilli oil, and piled over a blend of tofu and chickpeas. We were advised to order roti to mop up.
When the roti was served, it was not what we expected. It looked more like pita bread than roti. But you cannot pull it apart to make pockets. Too thick to be roti, too think for pita pockets.
But when we put this “schawarma” into our mouth, the flavours started exploding in our mouths. First to report to duty were the Sichuan peppercorns; you couldn’t miss these little b**tards because they will play tricks on your tongue. And then some spiciness from chilli powder and then the familiar cumin and Xinjiang BBQ rub came through. The so-called “hummus” only provided some moisture to the mix and held everything together, but taste wise not much contribution.
Wagyu 9+ Intercostal beef rendang
With those hits, we were anticipating the beef rendang to be superb. And we had a native Indonesian in the party to verify. Of course, we didn’t expect authenticity, only if the flavours of a rendang came through. And then this “soup” came.
It tasted like a traditional rendang went into a coconut bath. The wagyu was tender and juicy, not quite the classic dry version you get in Indonesia (or anywhere). But this being an innovative restaurant, we gave it a rain-check. But Chef Budi’s background should produce a much better rendang than this. In a simple sentence – don’t mess with rendang.
Chocolate and peanut parfait mochi
After the “rendang”-gate, we proceeded with desserts, and the first was a mochi that suspiciously looked like a snow skin mooncake. And it tasted like one as well, with a delectable peanut butter and choclate filling – just like Reeses meet Meixin.
Coconut tres leches with black truffle
Next up, coconut sorbet with coconut mousse and mango sauce and shaved truffle chocolate. If you like coconut, this is alright. I don’t , but that doesn’t mean I would not order it for the table.
Smoked chocolate mousse, cognac, burnt honey ice cream and fennel pollen
Everyone likes chocolate – dark, milk, and the weird. This one belonged to the category of the weird. The chocolate mousse tasted like the beans got burnt and still the chocolatier still proceeded to make chocolate out of the burnt beans – bitter in a rather bad way because the cognac just accentuated the bitterness.
And then it was saved by excellent instagrammable plating, the crunch of the keropok which glistened with the pollen, and the delicious honey ice cream.
The el cheapo fitout (chicken wire light shades, distressed finishes) is timelessly chic. There’s energy that comes from a strong sense of identity, underpinned by
experienced staff and given breath each day by diners who are thrilled to be there. It’s a great Melbourne restaurant, pure and simple.
But it is trying to look for a new direction, with many of the dishes moving away from Vietnamese influence towards a more Northern/Northwestern Chinese influence. I wish them luck, because that’s another frontier (in terms of taste).
Basement/141 Flinders Ln, Melbourne VIC 3000
Tel : +61 (03) 9650 3155
Visited Jul 2023
@codamelbourne #codamelbourne @henribud @goodfoodau #onehat