I have read very mixed reviews about Dandelion, an Age Good Food Guide hatted restaurant that serves upmarket Vietnamese food. Situated in the cool little beachside suburb of Elwood, our experience of Dandelion was really lovely. We experienced none of the bad service the reviews speak of, and found the food anything but bland.
We visited to have one of the Good Food and Wine Festival's express lunches. Whilst the festival is almost over, keep your eye out for these events next year. Heaps of Melbourne's best restaurants feature a two course or three course express lunch with a glass of wine for around $35-$45. Its a great way to experience those restaurants that you normally couldn't afford.
The decor at Dandelion was beautiful and tranquil- lots of white and green, and an amazing vertical garden that really stands out with lots and lots of gorgeous green hanging pots. We were seated at a little booth seat near the wrap and roll bar that makes fresh rice paper rolls.
There were some yummy goodies on the Express Lunch menu, but heaps of variety on the real menu and for a second we were tempted to ditch the cheap option and go all out on some of the amazing sounding food on the normal menu. In particular, the glazed beef ribs (voted dish of 2012 by The Age) and the whole snapper sounded really tempting. Also tempting were the different varieties of 'pho'- such as tofu, kangaroo, salmon etc. We all know how much I love my pho so I can't wait to try some of those varieties. However, we did end up sticking to the Express Lunch menu and ordered a three course feast of great sounding Vietnamese food.
The prawn tail rice paper rolls were probably the stand out dish. Filled with succulent crispy prawns, herbs, vermicilli noodles and crunchy green rice, once again the textures and flavours stood out and were really enjoyable. In particular the addition of the crunchy green rice gave the rolls a very different texture than that of a regular rice paper roll.
We both couldn't go past the crispy pork and pomelo salad with caramel sauce. I loved this dish as I am huge fan of anything with pork, and bean sprouts. The pomelo added a nice acidity to the salad and the pork was tender and tasty. The only negative aboutt the dish was that it didn't meet the description of 'crispy pork'. It was lovely and tender but there was nothing crisp about it, and using a cut such as pork belly or adding a little crackling as a garnish would have given the dish a wonderful crunch. Still very good though.
We both also had the coconut panna cotta with tropical fruits and passionfruit sorbet, which was just lovely. The subtle coconut flavour blended well with the punchy passionfruit flavour. I really loved the way it was presented in the stemless wine glass. I have always wanted to try to make panna cotta and if I do this seems like a really simple and easy way to present it.
So overall, our experience at Dandelion was lovely. The staff were courteous and helpful, and filled up our water glasses regularly. The food showcased the simple Vietnamese flavour combinations that I love so much in a way that was a little different than your average Vietnamese restaurants. Having travelled all over Vietnam, I can see why people have commented on reviews that this isn't Vietnamese food. But, what do you expect from a alacarte Western restaurant? Of course it is going to be a Westernised version of the dish- this is Vietnamese inspired, but not Vietnamese food. However, still very enjoyable and worth the trip to try it for yourself.