26 Cotham Rd Kew, VIC 3101
|Opening hours||Tue-Wed 5.30pm-late, Thu-Sat noon-late|
|Features||Accepts bookings, Groups, Events, Licensed|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Payments||eftpos, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||03 9193 0550|
All is not as it seems on Cotham Dining's menu. Take the pumpkin raviolo ($18), for example. Served with a sage and butter sauce, it's the kind of straightforward Italian-influenced dish you'd expect to see at a local diner in Melbourne's well-heeled inner east. Going by appearances, the single large dumpling glistening with butter and topped with several fried sage leaves and thin shreds of leek seems as if it'll taste as expected too.
But, like many of the dishes at this restaurant where the two owner-chefs hail from Turkey and Colombia, there's more going on than meets the eye. The sauce does its butter and sage thing but is lifted by a non-traditional hint of citrus and, inside the raviolo, the pumpkin puree has a refreshing acidic streak, courtesy of a dash of vinegar. It's not an earth-shattering culinary revelation but it's an attractive one and signals a menu where subtle, successful twists and turns are the rule rather than the exception.
Chefs Ayhan Erkoc and Federico Perez Lopez have worked together for several years, both at Fitzroy's Panama Dining and at Feast of Merit in Richmond. Cotham Dining is their first restaurant together. It's in the former Hellenic Republic site in Kew and, along with the sculptural thatched ceiling strewn with Edison globes, they've inherited an enormous space that they still seem to be working out how to manage (there's a lot of distance for just three affable floorstaff to cover on a reasonably busy Saturday night).
There's a similar work-in-progress feel to the drinks list, particularly with the wine that leans mostly Oz, with a couple of French things thrown in – perfectly serviceable but it doesn't raise the pulse.
Still, with its blondwood joinery and chairs, indoor plants, timber and black-tiled tabletops and white-tile-and-timber bar, it's a light and pleasant space. Going by the groups of well-dressed people here to celebrate birthdays, or of couples catching up with other couples, it's already being adopted as something of a Kew clubhouse.
You'd be happy to have it as a local on the strength of the snacks and entrees alone. The veal tongue kebab ($9) is an absolute cracker, the tender, deep-flavoured tongue cut into thin slivers, ribboned onto a metal skewer, cooked over charcoal in the big, semi-open kitchen down the back and then served with a pitch-perfect golden mayo flavoured with aji amarillo, a fruity, slightly spicy Peruvian chilli. Please get over any squeamishness about tongue and order this. You can thank me later.
There are other dishes that similarly speak to the combined heritages of the Cotham chefs. A pretty good hummus ($12) that could do with a little more garlic gets a textural and flavour bonus by being topped with pimentos, pine nuts and puffed grains.
Then there's an excellent take on kibbeh ($7), here made with beef mince spiced with cumin, paprika and chilli, encased in a mix of bulgur wheat and potato, deep-fried and served with shatta, the classic herby Middle Eastern hot sauce.
A more traditionally Colombian dish, arepa ($22), is given a fancy restaurant spin, prettily topped with charred onion pieces, ricotta, tomato salsa and peanut chilli, a combination that tends to overwhelm the main event, the deep-fried corn bread sitting underneath, but scores points for ambition.
There is also expertly cooked, rather expensive porchetta ($68, to share), that's steamed and then slow-cooked over wood, getting its skin crisped close to the flame just before hitting the plate. The two slices are served with an excellent butter sauce, all garlic, thyme and lemon, and a very – overly – smoky kale and grape salad.
The sweet side also speaks to the menu's ability to leap continents in a single bound and includes a superbly textured rosewater-scented milk pudding ($16), like the classic Lebanese mahalabia, served with crisp caramelised kataifi pastry and pistachio ice-cream.
See also: a South American-Turkish mash-up of baked custard ($16) wrapped around a blackberry gel that comes with thoroughly invigorating sorrel ice-cream. Great stuff.
Read the menu at Cotham Dining and you might mistake it for just one of the guys. It's not. There's some skilled and creative cooking going on here. Kew's lucky to have it.
Vibe Kew clubhouse
Go-to dish Veal tongue kebab with aji amarillo mayo
Cost About $150 for two, plus drinks
Drinks Short list, more serviceable than dazzling
Pro-tip The Feed Me menu reveals the kitchen's full potential
Michael Harden is Good Food's acting chief reviewer.