Dandelion @ 133 Ormond Road, Elwood
1 May 2011
Pearl in Richmond is a Melbourne fine dining stalwart. Having opened in 2000, Pearl garnered considerable critical acclaim on the foundation of Geoff Lindsay’s Asian-inspired avant-garde cuisine. Personally, I never quite understood why it has been showered in such overwhelmingly positive praise. While its duck curry is a masterpiece, other items have generally been lacklustre. That said, on the strength of the duck curry alone, Lindsay has achieved more than enough to attract me to his new establishment, Dandelion in Elwood.
Dandelion is touted as a casual Vietnamese restaurant that showcases the contemporary Vietnamese cuisine for which Lindsay claims to have “a flair and respectful understanding”. Located in a small building in the heart of Elwood village, Dandelion’s dining room exudes informality, with the large airy space accented by rustic, urban finishes – such as the whitewashed brick walls – and dominated by the vast herb garden display. It is, in an easygoing sort of way, a typically Melbourne restaurant.
We started with two items from Dandelion’s wrap and roll bar – a soft shell crab roll with avocado and “Mrs T’s magical sauce” and a sizzling coconut pancake with crab, barbeque pork and bean sprouts. The crab rolls were pleasant but underwhelming. The crab meat was overly soft and had its taste smothered by the plentiful herbs. Meanwhile, the sizzling coconut pancake had presumably given out the last of its sizzle in the kitchen and arrived looking like a slightly burnt crepe. The dish itself was blessed with some nice flavours but, at $22, lacked sufficient quantities of crab or pork to make it worthwhile.
Given that we were visiting a Vietnamese restaurant, it only seemed proper that we order a bowl of pho – in our case, one served with raw wagyu beef sirloin and braised wagyu beef brisket. It was massively disappointing. Arriving in an unforgivably small bowl, the broth, and hence the rice noodles, severely lacked flavour. The wagyu beef, as far as I could tell, had no characteristic wagyu notes and was only sparingly added to the dish. It was half the size, and possessed half the flavour, of a random Victoria Street equivalent for roughly twice the cost.
Next arrived a black cardamom curried lamb with taro, lotus root and green mango that was accompanied by what appeared to be a Safeway baguette. As with the entrees, the curry was rich with spices and relatively pleasant. However, the conspicuously small quantity of meat and abundance of herbs and spices, including the occasional sharp horn of star anise, made it an average dish. Needless to say, for $28, it was very poor value.
Thankfully, the relative mediocrity of the savoury items was abated somewhat with the arrival of desserts. The first dessert, a dish of banana spring rolls with passionfruit sorbet, was marginally let down by the slightly soft and tacky pastry but was a delight to eat with the beautifully fragrant banana combining superbly with the sharp passionfruit sorbet. Similarly the dish of mango jelly with coconut custard, lime soaked lady fingers and fresh lychees was highlighted by a vibrant cocktail of fresh fruity flavours and was a well prepared, summery dessert.
Those desserts aside, Dandelion delivered mediocre Vietnamese food. In that light, its prices are beyond merely expensive; they are shamelessly extortionate. The $20 they charged for the small bowl of dreary pho, for instance, was nothing short of highway robbery. The $118 that we spent for our entire meal was, on reflection, better spent on six meals in Victoria Street, Richmond.
Our meal at Dandelion was bitterly disappointing. The only reason we decided to visit Dandelion in Elwood was that Geoff Lindsay would be cooking. Having now visited, I suggest that while that reason was sufficient to draw us on this occasion, it will not, on the back of this experience, bring us back again.