Cookie @ Level 1, 252 Swanston Street, Melbourne
11 March 2011
Renowned as one of Melbourne's best bars, Cookie offers a large selection of cocktails and beers in a dynamic, bustling environment. Cookie’s versatility is highlighted by the fact that it also operates as a Thai restaurant with a large space adjacent to the bar reserved for dining patrons. Like the bar, the restaurant is notoriously difficult to get into – reservations are strongly advised for Friday nights and weekends. In our case, we were only able to secure a table in the restaurant area for an hour and a half so we had to settle for a relatively brisk Friday night meal.
We started with entrees of baked scallops with chilli oil and pomelo salad and grilled Thai sausage with cucumber and ginger. The scallops were average – small, slightly chewy scallops smothered in a tangy salad with a hint of spice from the chilli oil. The grilled sausage on the other hand was, together with the fragrant ginger and spring onion and the crunchy cucumber, a simple and tasty starter that was packed with flavour.
Our first main course was a deep fried snapper with bok choi, tamarind and crispy shallots. It was decidedly different to the whole fried snapper offered by Gingerboy and was instead a small mound of fried snapper meat nestled on a bed of wilted bok choi with a slightly sweet tamarind sauce drizzled over the top. It was, nevertheless, a relatively enjoyable dish with the crisped, juicy snapper soaking up the pleasant sauce.
For our final main course, we enjoyed a dish of stir fried pork belly with red curry, kaffir lime and beans. Although the pork suffered from being marginally tough and dry, the dish was enjoyable for its robust and fragrant red curry sauce. Together with steamed rice, it was an addictive and comforting dish - particularly for an unseasonably cold Melbourne evening.
The desserts were unfortunately forgettable. The first, a classic dish of banana fritters with honey and coconut ice cream, was well flavoured but disappointing on account of the soggy batter and the grainy ice cream. More disheartening was a dish of pumpkin cream with sticky rice and coconut ice cream which was enthusiastically recommended to us by a waitress. The sticky rice, unlike the excellent black sticky rice dessert from Okra in Camberwell for instance, had the consistency of overcooked porridge. What feature of that dessert made it recommendable is unknown to me.
For a restaurant that provides a relatively middling experience, Cookie’s menu is not particularly well priced. Our account totalled approximately $110 for the abovementioned items. Given the abundance of reasonable and inexpensive options for Thai cuisine around Melbourne, it is difficult to recommend Cookie. Further, for an additional $30 or so, the superb duo of Longrain and Gingerboy are viable alternatives. In that light, it is hard to see Cookie’s place in the spectrum.
Cookie is, at its core, an excellent watering hole. Its solid Thai inspired bar food supports that main impetus. Its restaurant section, however, is more difficult to understand – it provides food that is good, but not great, at prices that are a little on the expensive side. On account of this experience, I will stick to its bar in the future.