With Asian-fusion cuisine that leans towards the big, bold, flavours of French-Vietnamese fare, Coda is the restaurant so many others have tried to copy. Pleasingly, after more than a decade, Coda is still a hip basement restaurant where the cocktails are polished and the dishes are punchy and skilfully balanced.
Location: Basement/141 Flinders Ln, Melbourne, VIC 3000 Ph: (03) 9650 3155
Since first opening 13 years ago, Coda Melbourne has established itself as a leading light in Asian fusion dining.
Whilst many restaurants may try to combine the flavours of Vietnam, the techniques of Japan and the produce of Australia, few manage to pull it off with such consistently high results. At Coda, the term ‘Modern Asian’ is a complement rather than a byword for higgledy-piggledy jumbles of food and clashing ingredients.
Update: Although it comes as no surprise, given the quality of the food and service at Coda, it’s great to see the restaurant getting One Hat at The Age Good Food Guide Awards 2023.
Although this upmarket eatery is often described as a French-Vietnamese restaurant, the influences of other Asian cuisines are evident. An obvious example is a dish such as the Tempura Bugs. Here, succulent Australian seafood comes in a Japanese tempura coating and served with Roy Choi’s Kimchi (hello Korea), Chilli Salt and a Garlic Soy Dipping Sauce ($16 ea). The result? Delicious, multi-cultural harmony.
If you adore Asian fusion food, see our review of Kekou in Richmond
Very Melbourne. And as someone who loves Melbourne, that is definitely praise.
You can see the glow of exposed light bulbs beaconing below street level as you approach via Flinders Lane. To enter the basement restaurant, you need to turn into Oliver Lane and descend down into the industrial-chic dining room.
Coda restaurant has a concrete and steel minimal look with dark wood furniture. There’s a bar set on one side of the room with stools for those who simply fancy a drink. A bright, semi-open kitchen can be spied through the wide mesh and shelved bottles framing the bar staff.
From a basement bar to a high-rise one. Check out our review of The Rooftop at QT.
The lighting and ambience is fashionably moody, in keeping with the subterranean location. Those stark globes that you can see from Flinders Lane are softened by finer mesh shades, which are reminiscent of delicately woven fishing pots. It’s the kind of place where you could happily hop up on a bar stool and drink a cocktail or 2 before sitting down to an intimate dinner with a date.
Having already had a cocktail earlier, we decided on stay on theme and try another one at Coda.
The Four Pillars Negronis were smooth and dark with aromatic citrus notes. In contrast, the Jasmine Cocktail, though it also contained gin and an orange burst from Cointreau, was sour and sharp with Campari and a good shot of Lemon Juice. It was dangerously easy to drink!
From there we advanced to a couple of glasses of wine – a Pinot Grigio and a Rose – both perfect with the style of the food.
It’s worth noting that the wine list features a number of half bottles. This is always helpful if you’re sharing food and hoping to try a number of different dishes. What’s more, the wineries of France are well-represented, along with a smattering of local producers.
For another take on modern Vietnamese fare, see our piece on New Quarter
I’m happy to report that the sharing philosophy is still alive and well at Coda Melbourne.
The charming wait staff ran us through the menu. They also gave suggestions on how many dishes from each section might feed a group of our size. Armed with their advice, we dived straight into the Smaller plates with Semolina Puff, Duck Liver Parfait, Umeshu and Sumac ($8ea).
Now I’ve made no secret of my love for duck liver parfait. On this occasion, the semolina puff was an incredibly delicate ball, filled with a rich, gamey scoop of parfait, rounded out by plum wine. It reminded me of the wonderful pani puri entree at Coda’s Indian-inspired sibling eatery, Tonka. For the optimum experience, you should enjoy the puff as one explosive mouthful. Believe me. It’s worth trying to cram it all in in one go!
From there we tried the Shark Bay Scallop, Granny Smith Apple, Celery, Charred Allium and Seaweed Butter ($13ea). It was a lovely morsel of sweet, soft seafood and fresh, crunchy accompaniments. However, it was very small. In fact, my scallop (piece of scallop?) was tiny and barely registered amongst the apple, celery and seaweed dressing.
Entrees dispensed with, we moved on to In Between plates.
Initially, we kept things aquatic with the Spencer Gulf Kingfish Sashimi, Chrysanthemum, Kohlrabi and Potato Salad with Chuka Vinaigrette. This proved a real belter of a choice. Translucent leaves of pearly kingfish lay in a pool of dressing that sang with everything that you want from an Asian fusion dish. It was sweet, sharp, aromatic and fabulously salty with the flavours coming in waves. Basically, you could pour that incredible vinaigrette over pretty much anything and I’d lap it up.
Another of our favourite sashimi creations can be found at suburban gem, LiHO Shokudo. Read more here.
From there, we went rogue and took the Eight Treasure Duck Fried Rice ($22) and added it to our selections for the Bigger part of the menu. Again, the rice dish was packed with savoury flavours and beautifully seasoned, but we could easily have eaten twice the portion.
Happily, the Javanese Curry, Warrigal Greens, Choko, Tempeh and Macadamia Rempeyek ($38) was another triumph. Thick, turmeric yellow and full of generous pieces of veg, the rempeyek – a savoury cracker – was brilliant. Generally, I’m not massively enthusiastic about tempeh – usually finding its taste overpowering. However, the magical touch of the kitchen had clearly tamed the dominant nature of the tempeh. The result was a nutty, textural delight that soaked up the fragrant curry sauce.
Any professional chef will tell you that a good knife is an essential investment. With thousands of 5 Star reviews, the XYJ Full Tang Butcher Knife is a great place to start.
Finally, we completed our mains with the Scotch Fillet Yakiniku with Green Onion Yuzu Kosho ($55).
This dip into the flavour profiles of Japan was a great contrast to the Curry and Fried Rice. The steak was juicily medium rare and buttery whilst the citrus kick of the yuzu dressing cut the richness perfectly. A side of Roti ($8) to mop up the last of the sauces and our plates were clean.
Having grazed our way through a large swath of Asia, it seemed rude to refuse dessert – so we gave it our best shot.
The Kuih Rose, Goats Cheese with Sorrel Sorbet ($17) divided us as a table. Personally, I was a fan. It reminded me of festivals in Malaysia and Singapore and the intricate pastries that may be sweet or savoury. Half the fun of eating them is that you won’t know until you try them. As it turned out, it was the sharp sourness of the goats’ cheese element that gave the treat the thumbs down from one of our party.
Work in your own Asian fusion menu with this Traditional Hand Hammered Carbon Steel Pow Wok. It looks as good as it cooks.
But all was not lost. We had the presence of mind to also play it a tad safer with the Jaffa Rocher, Geraldton Wax and Finger Lime ($18). After all, what Aussie could possibly resist the pull of finessed chocolate and orange? Gooey and lush, it was the ideal end to a divine meal. Although once more, both it and the Kuik Rose were on the small side.
For Vietnamese street food in a friendly local cafe, check out So Pho So Good
If you want a polished, fine dining experience based around clever Asian fusion food, then it’s hard to go past Coda Restaurant.
This is confident cooking, from a team that understands the flavours of Vietnam, Japan and beyond. What’s more, under the guidance of Adam D’Sylva and Head Chef Hendri Budiman, they know how to combine them into memorable dishes.
Add to this the perfect intimate basement vibe and superb staff and it’s clear why Coda Melbourne is still one of the best restaurants in town.
Adam D’Sylva moved on from Coda in March 2023, leaving the more than capable Hendri Budiman at the helm.
We will let you know when we learn what Chef D’Sylva is up to next.