As a Sydney expat who has lived in Melbourne for 3 years now, I think I am qualified to say that Sydney people love Melbourne. Most of them, not enough to actually leave the harbour city- but since the day we announced we were going to move, we've been regaled with comments about how fabulous Melbourne is. Especially the food. And the fact that true gems are hidden in Melbourne, not lit up in neon.
So when we have visitors from Sydney, as we did this weekend, I feel a strange responsibility to my adopted hometown to show it in its best light. So choosing a restaurant for a Saturday night "double date" should be hard right- well no, its not- because I've got the Panama Dining Room- and it has never let me down.
So on Saturday night, we set off in a cab bound for Smith Street, with Sydney friends in tow. Stepping out across from the inauspicious entrance and going up the stairs, we all marvel at how Melbourne's delights are hidden in such a curious way.
Every time I step into the dining room - a turn of the century furrier's warehouse, with enourmous semi-circular gabled windows along two walls with a great view- I like to reimagine it as my apartment- an open plan kitchen where the bar is- I'd probably leave the pool table where it is...well anyway, its a fabulous space, and usually full enough to generate a pleasing buzz. The kind of buzz that makes you feel like you're part of the city...
But the best part is the food- and Saturday did not disappoint.
The highlight was definitely Frizz's perfectly cooked pork- that thin line of perfect golden crackling skin, but the rest of us did alright with succulent, moist rabbit loins succulent and chicken pie- all exquisitely cooked and flavoured.
Deserts were great- I shared a lemon custard with citrus salad with Rusty- tart and creamy, the custard was perfect. The Frizz and FC had chocolate mousse- an absolute delight...
Another highlight (sorry, it felt like just one after the other!) was definitely the cheese plate- we decided we would each pick one- and each of us wanted a different cheese, so we just got all 4- served at room temperature they were absolutely divine!
Commencing the evening with brilliantly mixed cocktails (I had a gimlet, the boys had martinis of various complexions) and complemented by an extensive winelist and a sommelier who knows his wine and food, the overall culinary experience can hardly be faulted.
For anyone into detail, here the cheeses we enjoyed with their descriptions from the Panama website.
GABRIEL COULET ROQUEFORT This blue made from raw ewe’s milk is matured in caves in Southern France. This artisan cheese has a strong salty flavour yet is rich and creamy
BRILLAT-SAVARIN A rich cow’s milk cheese from Normandy in France. Made with whole milk and enriched with extra cream. It has a dense creamy texture similar to that of ice cream.
SEVRE & BELLE CAPRIFEUILLE This log shaped goats cheese is ripened using a geotrichum mould giving it a slightly yeasty flavour. Typical of cheeses from the region of Poitou-Charentes in central France.
LE NAPOLEON A rare hand made single dairy ewe's milk cheese from the Central Pyrenees. Slow ripened in cold humid conditions it develops a condensed nutty texture and rounded caramel flavour.
THE PANAMA DINING ROOM AND BAR
Level 3/231 Smith St, Fitzroy Phone: (03) 9417 7663