Coda is Melbourne to its bootstraps with its hard-to-find laneway entrance, distressed walls and wire lampshades, and a casual ambience that belies very smart service. Reservations can be tricky to get at this popular little bar/bistro but don’t let that put you off. On two separate occasions, we're able to eat without a booking - once, perched on stools at the bar area reserved for walk-ins; another time, at one of the shiny black tables nestled underneath the basement windows of the restaurant proper. If even those are packed to capacity, try your luck at sister restaurant Tonka where a boozy mango lassi and fancy tandoori will help you dry those eyes.
It takes a little while to get your head around head chef and co-owner Adam D’Sylva’s menu, which hops and skips between Asia and Europe in no particular order with rabbit rillettes, pickled cucumbers and sourdough next to a salad of octopus, green mango and kaffir lime, among the 20 plus items of smaller dishes designed to share. The latter is zesty and light but nothing to write back to Thailand about and similarly, a round of fresh betel leaves with spanner crab, chilli, galangal and lime are good but on the forgettable side. Far more interesting are the delicate eggplant and tofu lettuce delights, leafy “cups” filled with a mix of teeny enoki mushroom, crisp garlic and black vinegar. The noodle-spiked sugarcane prawns with sweet chilli sauce are worth ordering too.
From the five bigger dishes, the yellow curry of roasted duck is a winner all round - the tender meat virtually melts off the bone into the tamarind-infused sauce topped with crisp rounds of lotus root. However, you might be wiser to stick with ordering more of the exciting smaller dishes and then skip straight to dessert: Coda’s seasonal soufflé and fried ice cream are both the stuff of sweet-toothed dreams.