We decided that May 5th was going to be a fancy dinner night purely because we were prompted by the grad ball (which costed $120), that paying for fine food was a much more valuable alternative. I took the planning into my hands and wanted it to be a surprise dinner, so I was on Google for about half a day going through Melbourne’s top dining options, reading countless menus and marking them down on my food map. Eventually Panama Dining Room was chosen because they seemed to have a good balance between food quality, fanciness and a relaxing atmosphere. All the photos of the venue also looked amazing, with tall arched windows facing a Melbourne skyline, that was bound to set a scene.
Me being lazy, I emailed the restaurant with all of my requests for me being vegetarian and table seating that was cosy but faced the views. I pre-paid for a feed me option for two plus a bottle of Pinot Blanche 2014 (Alsace) and was told that we would be getting 4 entrees, 2 mains and 1 dessert. I basically pre-paid because I didn’t want menus that will pressure and food choice with financial decision or just the decision of fantastic sounding dishes over other fantastic sounding dishes. (Secretly also though, I wanted to make sure everything was perfect and that my SO would jew out and I had things my way). The feasting menu offered also a tasting surprise for myself as well, having never dined at Panama.
Turns out, we had way too much food.
It was funny, because we had a chill day at Sorrento in the afternoon and of course turned up 30 minutes late for a 6:30pm reservation. So by the time we were there, we were pretty damn hungry. Good thing about pre-ordering is that the food comes fast. Everything was loaded on the table plate after plate. We had fresh sourdough bread (with gorgeous fresh butter), hummus with more bread, honey roasted saganaki, light roasted eggplant with garden cherry tomatoes and basil, a cauliflower and hazelnut cold plate and a beef cold plate dish for the non-veg. Oh did we count 5 plates? That was 5 dishes plus bread right? I was so confused and thought that was all that we’d be getting and led the feed to clear all of the plates. Wrong move.
After about 20 minutes and being almost all the way through our wines, the waitresses turned up with three larger plates of food. I could clearly remember how full I was at that stage and wow definitely surprised. I honestly wished that I had saved more stomach space to appreciate the mains more because my gnocchi was some of the best I’ve had with a perfect poached egg and toasted mint leaves. So much goodness. The meat alternative were two beautifully cooked steak fillets sitting on beetroot relish, a pesto sauce and more beetroot for garnish. Looked absolutely satisfying with the baby pink glow. The third dish was a side for the mains – a mayonnaise dressed corn and cucumber salad.
The dinner exceeded my expectations and I thoroughly enjoyed the surprise food experience with everything just served to the table. Just to top it all off, the egg custard dessert, that was new on the autumn menu, left our tastebuds rich and content. Rarely do egg custards taste so well balanced with it not overpowering and overly dense but also having so much flavour. The rose petals that were coated in sugar crystals were pretty and tasty – highly recommend this seasonal dessert to try.
Panama Dining Room has definitely entered my return to books. With great value, service and vibes, I’ve already been telling everyone to go there for their next dinners and meet ups. Maybe one small suggestion is to avoid the peak days in the weekends as the place does get quite loud – especially on the bar side, making it slightly hard to keep a conversation. Although, we stayed there for a couple of hours, well after the peak meal times, when it quieted down and we really enjoyed the casual atmosphere.
From me, this was a 5/5. It was slightly hard to pick a top dish because of the variety we had and how authentic all the flavours were. But I reckon I loved the entrees the best and so I’ll be voting the honey roasted saganaki as my favourite. I don’t think I’ve had a better saganaki outside of Greece until this so that’s saying something. The hazelnut cauliflower also was pretty amazing because it really satisfied my cauliflower cravings. Overall somehow the chef managed to serve us all the items I’d be craving and all the dishes were a very clean but flavoursome palette, which matched my liking very well for healthy but pungent foods.