Elwood hasnt known such excitement since well, probably ever. Just imagine the celebrated chef Geoff Lindsay, of Richmonds Pearl, has moved into Ormond Road, where The Collective used to be, and created a destination restaurant bang in the middle of this folksy beachside village. Its fair to say the suburbs Bugaboo and Beemer elements are in their element. Celebrities have been sashaying in from all over town to experience a menu Lindsay describes as a very personal showcase of Vietnamese cuisine.
Mod Viet, in other words. In a mod Oz interior of white brick walls, distinctive lampshades, a spindly vertical herb garden (with apologies to Patrick Blanc) and a forest of Eames chairs for your dining comfort and prestige. Its an inviting space, a chic canteen, but it suffers from sometimes-shrieking noise levels.
Ex-Bomber turned TV identity and Elwood local Tim or is it Timmy? Watson is at a table to our right; Collingwood demigod Nathan Buckley is on our left. For Melbourne diners, celebrity doesnt come much bigger than this.
Lindsay is earning his keep in the kitchen. He cant have had a smooth time of things making the transition from Pearl to Dandelion he was sporting a mysterious black eye the week before opening but he must be happy with his reception so far. The place is heaving with upwardly mobile types and we have to scrunch against the bar until our tables ready, an ordeal made more bearable with a mean Negroni in hand.
Once seated, a bouncy bloke arrives to recite the menus how-to instructions, a tiresome habit among trendy Melbourne eateries. If a menu requires that much elaboration its either too pretentious or written in a foreign language.
The first dish to arrive, and perhaps the most memorable, is the bo la lot, grilled minced wagyu in betel leaves, served sizzling and fragrant. Soft-shell crab and avocado rolls, chicken wings and a coconut pancake arrive soon after, and we lose track of what sauce goes with what dish, but the fermented anchovy one is a ripper with the betel leaves.
The mushroom-and-ginger-stuffed chicken wings come coated in sesame with a pomelo-and-honey sauce. Theyre pleasant enough, as chicken wings go. The sizzling (read: slightly burnt) coconut pancake arrives flush with bean sprouts but frugal on the crab and barbecued pork it promised. Paying 24 bucks for a bean-sprout pancake with hints of meat is a bit rich, even for Elwood.
I cant tell you what the prawns taste like because I missed out. But, like seemingly every other dish, they arrive with a bouquet of leaves for wrapping and sauces for dipping, which, by now, is not so much a recurring ethnic theme as a kitchen tic.
Swaddling everything in Vietnamese mint has the unmistakable effect of making everything taste like Vietnamese mint. It masks the integrity of individual dishes. (To the cynic, it can also feel as if the dishes are being padded out with cheap ingredients.) Hence, the barbecued spare ribs, the pancake and even the Peking duck rolls all taste faintly similar. The notable exceptions are the six unwrappable curries and wet dishes, from which we sample the mandarin- and star anise-scented duck muddled with chilli, holy basil, ginger and fried garlic a balmy, beautiful addition to Lindsays anthology of duck recipes. The snapper and elephant-ear stem with okra and corn in a pineapple-perfumed broth is more eclectic but also luscious.
By dessert time Im sick of sharing food so go for the easy option of cashew fudge and ginger chews. The fudge is standard but the ginger chews are tremendous fun, bursting with ginger juice and cane sugar and sticking in every dental crevice. Youll be picking them out of your teeth for a week, alongside bits of mint,?I?suspect.
Dandelion, 133 Ormond Road, Elwood
Cuisine Modern Vietnamese
Chef Geoff Lindsay
Hip pocket About $70 a head for ample shared plates, wine extra
Open Tuesday-Sunday 5.30pm-late
Highlights The party vibe, the duck, the décor
Lowlights Menu edicts, noise levels, excessive wrapping
Bookings Most definitely Phone 9531 4900