Dandelion at Elwood Village – ‘Savour and Share’

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The Food Dude takes new food writer, Oakley Hunter, to investigate what all the buzz is about at Dandelion Elwood, and they come away fascinated and impressed!

The Dandelion has captured the charismatic and flavorsome modern Vietnamese cuisine in a sleek, clean-cut and relaxed environment right in the heart of Elwood. Its modern contemporary design is stylish, comfortable and a true expression of its owners; operators Geoff and Jane Lindsay. Dandelion has been described in some circles as the Ralph Lauren of Vietnamese food.

I was the last to arrive, my charming companion was already comfortably seated and was soaking up the attention from our enchanting and genial Maitre D’, Balinese born Armen Jaya. Designer sparkling water already there as a house courtesy and I barely had a moment to compose before Armen started explaining the menu to us and suggesting wines to pair with the dishes. So feeling very comfortable in his experienced hands, I said courageously: “we will leave it to you to choose on our behalf!”

The friendly staff all exude experience, exacting efficiency, and are completely engaging with the patrons and imparting their background knowledge of Indochinese cuisine.

Geoff Lindsay, himself with 30 years in the industry and as an award winning Chef, nominated for Melbourne’s Chef of the Year, was taking a break this night and the mantle had shifted to Ennis Le, the head chef who originates from Saigon, South Vietnam. Wearing his signature cheeky grin, efficiently controlling the frightfully busy open spaced kitchen, dishes were dispatched with clinical abandon. Ennis has been with Dandelion for two years, conveying his vast experience with the cuisine of his motherland.

The selection was alive with a modern Vietnamese style and clean palettes, invigorating your sight with their exciting presentation and titillating your taste and smell with combinations of herbs, coco nut, fresh ingredients and a softer traditional mint that I just couldn’t get enough of.

While pouring a 2012 Ocean Eight Pinot Gris, from Mornington Penisula, Armen explained how Dandelion promotes regional wines, and this would match perfectly with our entrée from the ‘Something to nibble on?’ range. First from the nibbles selection was stir fried caramelised pork; fragrant herbs, chilli, peanuts on pineapple, cucumber and mandarin, (minimum order 3) $3 each. This dish was small in size but packed a punch so full of flavour that you wanted to be hit with it again and again. The sweet citrus hits first, then the caramelised pork comes swinging in next, followed by a light spiciness that is harmonised again by a light coconut flavour. This dish was different, but spot-on. We both worshipped this choice of Armen’s.

Green Rice covered fried Tiger Prawns with Nuoc Cham and a carrot and onion side salad.

The prawns were enormous yet succulent. This dish was generous and spectacularly presented. The light crumbed prawns are perfect if you’re looking for something unique but not as rich as the rest of the menu. The young green rice worked as a sponge to capture the Nuoc Cham, it was truly great. At $5 each you could select a couple, or in our case we greedily requested six.

Next up, at $18, was Crispy Sesame and Coconut Rice Papers with yummy Noosa Spanner Crab, dressed with coconut, chilli and lime.  Oh so very refreshing! Aromatic flavours of lemongrass, traditional mint and lime made the crab so invigorating, and the coconut balanced out the chili perfectly. My companion claimed it to be a masterpiece, as she avariciously devoured most of this dish, but I had grabbed more than my share of the prawns previously to compensate.

The menu special was brought out next: Freshwater Yabby with chilli coriander butter and ginger sauce. It was an unexpectedly good combination with brilliant flavours. The Yabby; wrapped in Vietnamese Cabbage with noodle and spicy Nuoc Cham, was excellent and added to the dish perfectly.

The next selection, a complete slice of gourmet heaven, was a traditional steamed shredded Glenloth Chicken with Vietnamese salad (or referred to as Slaw), peanuts, crispy shallots and Nuoc Cham. Intoxicating again by the divine combination of herbs, mint and fresh ingredients, my dining partner said she rarely chooses or enjoys a salad, being a meat and pasta girl, but she concurred with me and along with me, we unashamedly polished the lot off, and at $24 it’s great value for two punters like us.

Finally, just when we thought that was sufficient, we were presented with a significant challenge! In front of us was The Age Good Food Guide Dish of the Year; BBQ Pork Spare Ribs with a refreshing lychee and mint salad (The Dandelion Signature Dish). A huge rack of sweet, tender pork falling of the bones in a sauce that wasn’t thick and didn’t overpower, and the lychee was an interesting touch to a usually heavy dish. This award winning free range meat is from Western Plain and the ribs are marinated for 24 hours in coconut water. At $41 for two it’s nothing short of extraordinary. We accompanied this with a perfectly prescribed smooth 2010 Pinot Noir PN2, from Swan Bay Victoria.

We wanted to, but we weren’t allowed to stop there, Armen suggested the traditional Vietnamese desserts but left the final decisions to us. The Cumquat and Orange Wontons, with gorgeous Star Anise Ice Cream and candied chilli, appealed to me. This not only didn’t disappoint, but for me this dish was so absolutely scrumptious that I rated it as the star of the show, even after all the uncanny dishes that we had experienced so far. My companion approached her dessert with trepidation, but she opted for what Arman described as Vietnamese Street Dessert; The Dragon Eye ‘Che,’ longan stuffed with lotus seed, with coconut jelly, snow fungus, pomegranate, green tea ice cream, and rice flour tuille, it sounded scary but she was over the moon. The presentation was unusual but magnificent as it came in a fluted but elegant glass, and it had an extraordinary flavour combination; smooth and exotic. Simply two superb ways of very satisfactorily completing this extraordinary Indochinese culinary experience at Dandelion.

 

Dandelion

133 Ormond Rd, Elwood

Open Thursday to Sunday for Lunch and Monday to Sunday for Dinner

Ph: (03) 9531 4900

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