Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Impromptu meal for four at Panama Dining Room

(The) Panama Dining Room
3/231 Smith Street, Fitzroy (map)
9417 7663

It was a few weeks ago and best-friend-K and I were strolling through Fitzroy in good spirits, having seen Slumdog Millionaire at the Nova. I was chattering away to b-f-K about how I'd been chattering away that afternoon to housemate DJ about Gigibaba, the hot new Turkish restaurant on Smith Street. I hadn't been there yet, but had been tantalised by reviews of it on Fitzroyalty and in the Epicure.

When who should we run into but DJ, his dining companion P in tow. "Ha! Where are YOU off to sweetheart?" "Sweetheart! We're off to Gigibaba." "Of course you are sweetheart. Us too! But we can't seem to find it."

With absolute minimalist signage and a narrow shopfront, Gigibaba was indeed tricky to locate but the four of us found it eventually. Alas, I was thwarted for a second time in my attempts to visit Gigibaba - it was nearly 9pm on a Tuesday night but the place was jam packed and the waitress said would be an hour's wait. Nyet!

We had an emergency housemate meeting. Where to go? I think it was b-f-K who suggested Panama Dining Room, an establishment where I've had several vodka and tonics in my time but had never before eaten.

Panama Dining Room

Newly arrived in Melbourne from London and Sydney, P loved the incognito Melbourneness of walking up two dingy flights of stairs to double doors opening onto a vast space, featuring restaurant tables, bar tables, pool tables, floor-to-ceiling Play School arched windows and light fittings made out of repurposed desk lamps and laundry baskets.

Panama Dining Room

Between the four of us, we decided to share three entrees, three mains and three desserts. P had put in a vote for the ink dressed cuttlefish, salt cod and green gazpacho ($17.50). I only had a small taste of this one, but P adored it.

Ink dressed cuttlefish, salt cod, green gazpacho

Next up were the Moorish lamb shank pastries, served with tahini aioli, barberries ($16.50). I hadn't had barberries since I'd had the freekeh salad at Cumulus Inc, so was keen to try these. They were delicious - wish we hadn't been sharing them four ways!

Moorish lamb shank pastries, tahini aioli, barberries

Of course, once I saw that there were goats curd stuffed zucchini flowers ($17) on the menu I knew I had to order them. They'd been fried in a tempura-like batter and came with a baby beet salad garnish and mustard fruit dressing.

Goats curd stuffed zucchini flowers, baby beet salad, mustard fruit dressing

For the mains, we ordered the grilled marinated Thirlemere chicken, served with a quinoa and corn salad, cumin yoghurt ($28). Love quinoa, but I'm not convinced corn was the right match for it. But the chicken had a nice smokiness on the skin, and notice how nice P was in his attempts to provide better reflected light for my photo!

Grilled marinated Thirlemere chicken, quinoa and corn salad, cumin yoghurt

A dish which I wouldn't have chosen but I turned out to quite enjoy was DJ and P's choice, the Coorong mullet, served with a bouillabaisse garnish, fennel and panisse cubes ($29). Loved the chickpea from the panisse cubes contrasted with the flavoursome mullet.

Coorong mullet, bouillabaisse garnish, fennel, panisse cubes

B-f-K's choice was the twice cooked spinach yoghurt souffle, which came with vadouvan spiced vegetables ($25). Again, not something I would have chosen, but I'm so glad b-f-K did - it was delicious. Loved the hot yoghurt, and the vegetables had just the right amount of bite to them.

Twice cooked spinach yoghurt souffle, vadouvan spiced vegetables

I selected the (delicious) salad: heirloom tomato and basil salad with cabernet dressing ($7.50).

Heirloom tomato and basil salad, cabernet dressing

We'd all left room for dessert. Devastatingly, we were told that the kitchen was out of chocolate éclairs, but luckily there were lots of other lovely desserts to choose from (as well as an excellent sounding cheese list, which I intend to try on some future visit). Dessert #1 was a chocolate and sherry trifle with praline ice cream ($12.50). It all sounded a bit Miss Marple to me, but tasted great (especially the praline).

Chocolate and sherry trifle, praline ice cream

The dessert I was least convinced with was the lemon verbena brulée, served with roasted apricots and pistachio crumbs ($12.50). The reason this one didn't work for me was because I really don't like the taste of verbena - I used to have a verbena aromatherapy candle and soap, so to taste the verbena made me feel like I was eating perfumed soap. The others liked it though.

Roasted apricots, lemon verbena brulee, pistachio crumbs

I saved the best one til last: the Valrhona chocolate fondant, with poached cherries and mascarpone sorbet ($12.50). I'm not much of a chocolate fiend, but boy oh boy, was this dessert good - the fondant all melty in the centre and tasting fantastic with the cherries. The mascarpone sorbet was outstanding!

Valrhona chocolate fondant, poched cherries and mascarpone sorbet

All in all, it turned out to be a most enjoyable evening with rather fabulous food. There were lots of trendy ingredients on the menu, but I thought that almost all of them were used in interesting - not tokenistic - ways. Worth it, if only for that chocolate fondant!

Panama Dining Room


Johanna said...

wow that sounds good - esp those desserts - and these dinners are even better when you have no expectations

Sarah said...

Hey, don't diss Miss Marples! Lol.

The fondant looks deeelicious.

xox Sarah