Tonka, Melbourne

If you had one wish what would it be? If you could take any supercar for a spin but had to choose one which would it be?

If you were doing your last trip to Melbourne for business and still had a bucket list of restaurants which would you pick?

IMG_1110For all my agonising, I finally went with my gut (sorry). Tonka may be hatted and Travis Howe may have won sommelier of the year in 2013, but there is so much more to Tonka than its accolades. Besides the fact that executive chef Adam D’Silva is genius in his fusion of Indian and Asian cuisines (with a subtle dusting of Middle-Eastern magic), the restaurant is unpretentious, offers exceptional service, inviting ambiance and such seamless precision you only realise it when you walk out on the 2 hour cut-off of your booking.

Little details – like the handy little bag/coat hooks under the bar tables, carry-through fundamental seasonal elements in the menu, exceptional pairing of rarer Italian varietals with carefully chosen glassware – is what sets Tonka apart from its contemporaries.

IMG_1129My friend and I start with the madras scallops, verbena pickled pears, caramelised onion and dill. Perfectly sweet flesh mingles with the chargrilled crust and works exquisitely with the tannic smokiness of the Tuscan Trebbiano we decided on. The cauliflower puree is shot through with a delicately spiced turmeric oil and the fusion is so perfect it would bring a cultural minister to tears.

Calamari CabbageCrispy calamari with fall-apart flesh, crunchy cabbage and apple salad throws in a little head bob of mustard seeds and a gentle inclination of green mango dressing.

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Dish of the day? Without question the spanner crab with puffed rice. Besides the ridiculously delicate flesh of this extant delicacy, it is my first experience of puffed rice.  Crispy husks with soft puffy centres take me back to my childhood (and admittedly continued adult) yen for puffed wheat. My memory harks back to milky sugariness for a second, but then pops back to the present with the punch of green chilli, crunch of green papaya and roasted peanuts, earthiness of mint and Vietnamese coriander.

IMG_1126Ridiculously tender pork belly slices put the virtually obligatory crisped squares of most establishments to shame. Devoid of the usual fatty layers (although not devoid of the flavour), there is no doubt that the wholly free-range Western Range pigs this pork was derived from were exceptionally well looked after and happy.

And so it makes sense that in the food world these days it is not only about what you put out, but what you put in and how you put it out that sets you apart.