Address: 133 Ormond Rd, Elwood
Ph: 03 9531 4900
Hours: From 5.30pm Tuesday to Sunday. Lunch Thursday to Sunday.
In Melbourne, restaurants in the suburbs have some extra challenges. They are often still amazing, with some of the best restaurants being outside the CBD, and very successful, but they don’t often boom like the city joints.
City restaurants can explode with excitement. As spoken about last week, Chin Chin is spilling out the door every night and has been written about in every single food blog Melbourne. People are clamouring to get there.
But out in the bayside suburb of Elwood Dandelion, the equally excellent new place by Geoff Lindsay, is being a little overshadowed. That’s not to say that it’s struggling, seemingly going through at least two services an evening, but it hasn’t had attracted that same level of being the new big thing.
But that’s just bad luck for the people who don’t venture past the City Circle Tram, because this update of the local Vietnamese restaurant is a winner.
As with most Asian food, the experience is always better when going as a group. Although, with some dishes, you do wish you could eat it all to yourself.
Start off by choosing some items from the wrap and roll bar. These are exactly what they sound like, wraps and rolls, to be eaten with your fingers. Some were rice paper rolls, others things to wrap in a lettuce leaf, and each with their own sauce.
A rice paper wrap of soft shell crab and avocado was excellent was served with Mrs T’s magical sauce, and magical was the right name. This sauce was a revelation, sweet, sharp and beautifully balanced, lifting the freshness of the roll. Although, with it cut into four pieces, try to nab the ends where the spindly crab legs can deliver a more distinct flavour.
For a vegetarian option the Buddha rolls delivered with tofu, shitake and a crunch of jimica. Prawns grilled on sugar cane were basic, but seafood and sugar is hard not to like, and they were strongly supported by some green banana.
A salad of vermicelli and river prawn with hot mint, cucumber, peanuts and green chilli was the most recognisable dish of the night, the sort of classic crowd pleaser that can be found in most Vietnamese restaurants. It is just that here it was made with better quality ingredients than usual, and was wonderfully fresh.
But it is winter, so at some point you need to move on to something with more guts. When a dish of pork belly, caramel and black pepper is on offer, I doubt many people would be able to go past it. Nor should they, because this is a stunning dish. Slabs of tender, fatty pork, with a sticky dark, rich, sweet sauce punctuated with hits of black pepper heat. Wonderful, and sure to be one of Melbourne’s must have dishes.
Which isn’t to say the other dishes weren’t also good. Duck braised in mandarin juice and star anise with chill, ginger and holy basil was a beautiful combination of bitterness and sweet with moist duck, cut through with that hit of anise.
A whole baby spatchcock with garlic lemon grass and five spice was a very simple dish, just a whole grilled bird. The meat was sweet and moist, and got serious flavour off the coconut grill. Unfortunately, a side of Hmong spicy eggplant mash was a disappointment. It lacked that beautiful smoky eggplant flavour, instead being dominated by coriander.
While the savoury dishes were almost all excellent, Dandelion does struggle a little with the bane of Asian restaurants: dessert. While better than most, they still lacked the lusciousness that you want from sweet dishes.
A dish called Bo Bo Cha Cha was a peanut and red bean rice ball in a sweet coconut soup with sweet potato, yam and lotus seeds, and heilala icecream. The peanut and red bean rice ball was overly firm and lacking in much flavour, and the coconut soup was reasonably sweet with a good mix of textures, especially the extremely fun lotus seeds. Topped with excellent vanilla icecream, this was pleasant but not great.
The service was very good, being really helpful with decisions on what to order. This was true again with the wine, chosen from a wine list with white varietals understandably dominating.
One of the few qualms is the noise. As a long, thin room of brick walls and hard floors, this is a one of the loudest rooms I have eaten at. For some people, this is a difficulty, but don’t let it stop you going.
It may not have had the hype of Chin Chin, but it does have the quality. So get out of the CBD, head to Elwood, and just wish that it was in your suburb.