Coda absolutely epitomises Melbourne’s laneway culture. Located in the basement level on the corner of Flinders and Oliver Lane, narrow windows at street level offer a glimpse into the trendy dining room, cleverly styled in monochromatic tones of black, charcoal and steely grey, lit by the warm glow of bulbs under mesh shades. The restaurant is divided into a dining area which allows for reservations, as well as a walk-in bar, which is by far the most exciting, allowing you to catch all the action in the kitchen through the a metal mesh divider screen.
Designed for sharing, Chef Adam D’Sylva’s menu is full of punchy Asian flavours, with nods to classic French favourites. It’s quite an odd menu to navigate, with Vietnamese rice paper rolls and Thai-style betel leaf starters appearing alongside steak tartare and charcuterie. However, both styles are presented well and there are some real gems amongst the small plates. Prawn mince wrapped in betel leaf is battered and fried tempura-style, two takes on sang choi bao see delicate lettuce cups encasing moist quail, sweet lup cheong and shiitake mushroom, and a fragrant, vegetarian stir-fry of eggplant, tofu and enoki mushroom, topped with crispy slivers of garlic.
A crispy Hanoi-style spring roll filled with pork and taro (just like Mum makes it!) is served in the traditional way with lettuce, Vietnamese basil and nuoc mam sauce.
BBQ pork buns (while not quite up to Wonderbao standards) are likely to be a hit, with caramel-y char-siu style pork on fresh cucumber slices, encased in sweet, fluffy, steamed bao.
Blackened quail, prepared in a Japanese marinade and flash-fried to keep the flesh moist and juicy, is the perfect finger-food, served with a fresh, zippy salad of shredded daikon and shiso.
And I must recommend the beautifully soft rice paper rolls filled with raw tuna and finely shredded vegetables, served with a punchy wasabi mayonnaise.
Larger sharing options include an XO sizzling plate of king prawns, mushrooms, peppers and chilli, as well as steak if you feel so inclined. However, the clear winner would have to be the roasted yellow duck curry; duck cooked on the bone until it melts in your mouth, sitting in a rich curry sauce and topped with taro crisps and fresh coriander for texture and freshness.
On the side, gai lan stir-fried with garlic is cooked just right, topped with fragrant fried shallots, and a bright palm heart salad with sweet honeydew, cucumber and mint is on my order every time.
My only complaint is that I have always been too full to order dessert despite the temptations of souffle, chiffon cakes, meringue and exotically flavoured ice creams. Will have to make this the goal for my next visit.