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Variations of the pork belly dish have been trending in Modern Australian and Asian/Asian-fusion restaurants alike, so needless to say, I’ve had more than my fair share of the dish. But there is one pork belly dish that stands out far above the rest, and that is Taxi Dining Room’s version. Thoughts of visiting the restaurant had crossed my mind since early uni days, but the restaurant jumped up on my to-visit list as soon as I took a bite of their sticky pork belly at the Taste of Melbourne festival. It has haunted my taste buds since, and relief finally came after a recent visit to the restaurant with Meow Meow.
The restaurant’s interior was extremely well-decorated and amongst the best I have encountered. It was modern, trendy and suave. The glowing blue shades of lighting provided a futuristic/under-the-sea vibe.
The surrounding floor-to-ceiling glass offered magnificent views of Flinder St, Federation Square, the Yarra River and South Bank.
Complimentary amuse bouche - Sichuan soup, with a dash of chilli oil.
We were offered a complimentary soup to get our appetites going, but it also served to warm us up on a chilly night. The flavours in the broth tasted quite rich, and was a cross between a slow-cooked beef stew and spicy mushroom Nong Shim noodles. The complimentary dish stood out as distinctive and hinted at what to expect with their menu: tasty dishes with flair and a ‘Taxi Dining Room touch’.
Bread with chilli-salted butter.
Further evidence of TDR’s penchant for bringing unique twists to the table was their chilli-salted butter. All eyes were on the butter and there were high expectations, but it turned out to be underwhelming. More salty than anything else, the chilli in the butter was very mild and difficult to detect. The subtle chilli component tasted like the flesh of chillies, minus the spiciness. Freshly-baked and served warm, I thoroughly enjoyed the bread.
Freshly shucked oyster & ponzu.
The oysters were perhaps a little teeny but the freshness and creaminess was immediately evident. The sour acidity of the lemon juice complemented the sharp sweetness from the ponzu sauce, and the combination did not overshadow the creamy oyster taste.
David Blackmore’s Wagyu 9+ aburi, with a teriyaki glaze.
My newfound fondness for wagyu beef was rewarded with TDR’s delicious take. It also made me mentally kick myself for how long it’s taken me to jump on the beefwagon. Super tender, the beef melted as soon as it was in the mouth. The teriyaki glaze provided a sweetness that blended perfectly with the smoky and seared taste. The balanced wasabi presence, biting onion and herbs, and vinegary rice worked in unison with the beef to produce a combination of flavours that wowed the palate.
Ginger spiced steak tartare, with confit egg yolk & kombu salt.
If I thought the wagyu aburi melted in my mouth, then the tartare by comparison was figuratively already a puddle before I even took a bite. The texture was very tender, and had a very slight but perfect amount of chewy resistance. The potent ginger flavour and sriracha sauce added an Asian spin to the French dish. The sharpness from the sprinkle of onion mince and the seasoning on the flaky wonton skin provided distractions to balance out with the strong ginger flavour. The dish could have done with one or two additional pieces of wonton skins, but we were happy to eat the rest of the tartare by the spoonful.
Sticky pork, seared scallops & red chilli dressing.
Aaaah, we finally meet again porky belly… Given the extent of how much the pork belly blew away my taste buds during the Taste of Melbourne festival, it was only a matter of time before I would encounter it again. In other words, it was a must-order dish. There was a possibility that the dish would pale in comparison to that first memory, but the second encounter was every bit as amazing as the first. Perfectly cooked, the pork was succulent and practically fell apart when cut into or bitten. The surfaces of the meat and the skin were crispy with a soft crunch. The scallops were firm and tender, bringing added refinement to a dish that was already perfect. The accompanying papaya salad was sweet, sour, subtly spicy and crunchy, tying in with the meatier elements on the dish p… perfectly. There goes that ‘p’ word again!
Crispy duck - with pumpkin daikon salad & 5 spice caramel.
The duck was well-cooked and thanks to the 5 spice flavour, the meat tasted very similar to the ducks that can be bought from Asian restaurants. Based on previous encounters with the duck+orange combination, it wasn’t surprising that the bursts of juicy and citrusy sweetness paired well with the meat. I was quite intrigued by the pumpkin when I first read the dish’s description, but thought its taste was masked by the stronger sweet and sour dressing. The salad was noticeably lacking in crunchiness thanks to the replacement of carrots with pumpkin.
Roasted Atlantic salmon - with yabbie dumplings, white onion puree & shellfish dressing.
The extent of cooking was consistent across the entire piece of salmon, with crispy skin and soft flesh. We had unfortunately left the dish for too long (my bad, I was too camera-happy), so the pasta/dumpling skin had not only lost its delicate silkiness, but was also a little gluggy in texture. The salted and peppery minced yabby at least tasted fine. Fennel and dill commonly appear side by side with salmon, so the combo definitely works. But in TDR’s dish, the flavours in the fennel salad soon faded after taking a bite to give way to the underlying sweet and sour Asian flavours of the shellfish dressing. While too sweet on its own, the onion puree worked well with the savouriness of the salmon and dumplings.
Complimentary palate cleanser - fennel and yoghurt sorbet, with fig and candied fennel leaves.
The yoghurt sorbet was creamy and consistently silky smooth in texture. The slight fennel taste detected amongst the delightful sourness and sweetness of sorbet resulted in a refreshing flavour that cleansed the palate indeed. The sugary crunch, dryness of the fennel leaves and biscuit crumb added much enhancement to both the flavours and textures present in the dish. We both enjoyed the cleanser, and had it been offered on their dessert menu, we would have happily ordered more.
Yuzu and white chocolate souffle - with mandarin and sake sorbet.
*Note: this dessert was part of their specials on the night.
It’s surprising how much of the citrusy yuzu taste was captured in the airy and foamy souffle, hitting the palate hard as soon as a ‘bite’ was taken. The citrus was very sharp, acidic and slightly bitter. There was no sign of white chocolate detectable other than from the whiteness of the souffle. The citrus flavour in the sorbet was milder compared to the souffle and tasted quite refreshing. I’m not the biggest fan of tart desserts, and so I found the spoonful of mandarin+sake sorbet more enjoyable. The tiny piece of freeze-dried mandarin that topped off the sorbet possessed a strong burst of sweet juiciness.
Complimentary chocolate macarons.
These adorable macarons were tinier than the average macaron, but the chocolate taste and delicate+chewy texture was spot on.
From the ambience of the restaurant, down to the wonderful service from the wait staff, all aspects of our dining experience at TDR rated very highly. The ingredients and flavours in each dish were well thought out and truly embraced the spirit of Modern-Asian cuisine. Bonus points came in the form of the exquisite presentation. I should probably add that while I did end up satisfying those pork belly cravings, they’re slowly starting to resurface again, along with cravings for that wagyu aburi and steak tartare. I suspect a future visit is imminent…
Taxi Dining Room
Level 1 Transport Hotel, Federation Square,
Melbourne, Victoria, 3000.
(03) 9654 8808