Disclosure: I was invited to dine as a guest of the restaurant
Now that Brad and I have been dating for nearly 6 years (somehow), it’s been interesting seeing how his tolerance for spending money on food changes, and the type of food he prefers.
Modern Australian has become a bit of a ‘touch and go’ situation with Brad in the last couple of years, as there’s been some places that have been hits, where the food portions are generous and the flavours big and hearty, and some places where I can certainly appreciate the work that goes into the food, but it’s a little too subtle in flavour, a little too sweet, or maybe a little too pretentious, then I get a grumbly old man in the car ride home.
Fortunately with Panama Dining Room, who recently changed owners and got a new chef in, the latter wasn’t the case. I had previously visited with a girlfriend, and although we had enjoyed our meal, I do recall it being a bit heavy handed with flavours and richness, so was looking forward to seeing how the menu had progressed.
On a Friday evening in summer, after climbing the three flights of stairs up, the dining room is inviting, softly lit with fading light through it’s gorgeously generous arched windows. Get window seats if you can, it’s just lovely.
The cocktail menu thoroughly impresses me, not too much swirly girly stuff, but instead simple, yet unexpected and delicious sounding combinations for the educated drinker. Although I was going to just grab a classic gin and tonic, when I come across the Panama G’N’T, with Melbourne Gin Company gin, Aperol, plum and lime syrup, orange bitters and soda, I just have to give it a go. It’s a weird way to describe it perhaps, but it was kind of like a ‘jammy’ gin and tonic for me. I love the richness of the plum syrup, with a hint of citrus without being too zesty.
Brad’s boring and just gets a gin and tonic.
Beautifully fluffy house made bread is impossible to resist, especially with the cultured butter on the side that’s given a generous sprinkle of salt. Can everyone please serve up their salt like this more often? It is decadent salty heaven.
In good form as always, we order too much. Starting with a couple of nibbles to share, the fried school prawns with fermented chilli mayo and lime are the perfect finger food. I feel like school prawns were the hip thing on menus a few years back but aren’t so prevalent these days…bring them back I say! I loved how crunchy, yet big and meaty these nibbles were, the serving is generous, but Brad and I ploughed through them in no time at all.
Heirloom carrots, with cured yolk and soft brown butter are sweet honey and so delightful. I just want a whole plate of this as a salad.
The grilled saganaki with honey, oregano and pistachio is also a delicious play on salty and sweet. The salty savoury goodness of the saganaki is paired beautifully with honey and sweet raisins, and again counterbalanced by the pistachios, which add a nice bit of crunch as well.
Honestly, by the time I finished the three entrees, I was feeling pretty full; so little tip, perhaps just order two entrees to share if you’re both planning to have mains…and dessert?
I ordered the pork belly with apple, boudin noir, cabbage and kale, which perhaps wasn’t so smart on my half, because the portion of pork belly was absolutely huge, a real solid slice! The skin was lovely and crunchy, but I found the meat just a little bit on the dry side for my liking. The veggies on the side had quite a sharp dressing on them, which was really good for cutting through the richness of the pork belly, balancing it all out.
Brad’s pappardelle with mushrooms, taleggio, brioche was so pretty, complete with a couple of edible flowers on top. This was a simple looking pasta dish, but it was very rich and filling, I particularly enjoyed the toasted brioche crumbs tossed over the top.
If you want something on the side, ditch the diet and get the potatoes roasted in duck fat, rosemary and garlic. Oh lordy, these are delightful, perfectly done so they aren’t mushy but are soft and fluffy. Also duck fat.
Although I very nearly declined dessert, when I was promised that the chocolate dessert was actually quite light and refreshing, and not that big, I just couldn’t resist.
The chocolate with roast hazelnut crumble and caramel was exactly as promised, with fine biscuit sheets propped up on a bit of chocolate ganache or mousse, and a bit of ice-cream on the side (which just fits through the cracks anyway). I absolutely love that this is quite a light dessert, as it is a good compliment after an otherwise very filling meal, but that it is also a creative take on a chocolate dessert.
I can’t decide if it’s a good or bad thing that Panama is three floors up. On the one hand, you at least get to work up a bit of an appetite, on the other side, it gets a bit dangerous when all you want to do when you leave is roll down the stairs at the end of the meal!
I was absolutely stuffed, and delighted, by the end of our meal. I love the change of direction in menu that Panama Dining Room has now taken, and it also looks like that the menu changes quite frequently, in less than a month some of the items I had have already changed (or at least according to the website).
Good food, good atmosphere, would absolutely recommend and look forward to coming back; it’d be the perfect spot for a girly catch up!
Level 3/231 Smith Street