Sugar and spice and all things nice... as it goes. This restaurant has been on our to-do list since moving to Melbourne a year ago. Like many fine diners in Melbourne, it's a choice of early or late sittings these days and it pays to book as far in advance as possible. I suppose one downside is that a 5-course set menu (which we chose) feels a little rushed if you have only two hours. That aside, the first three dishes were simply world-class, just delightful. A coconut and carrot broth with prawns, scallops and crispy fried kale was a little bit of theatre at the table and a delight on the taste buds. Quite something. Cardamom cured salmon with salt and vinegar jelly and olive oil powder, wow. One of us usually avoids uncooked seafood. Yet, this dish drew superlative after superlative. Our waiter had helpful tips on how best to enjoy, smear the jelly over the salmon etc. The third dish kept us smiling. Billed as crispy skinned chicken leg, the chicken was already shredded and came with rice, corn and an egg over the top. We would have been happy to stop right here at this bowl of heaven. But onwards and - perhaps due to the time constraints and steady flow of food - the mains were probably more food than we needed. Yet we were right to choose the 5 course as those first three dishes were a triumph and exclusive to the 5 or 6 course menus; the 4 and 2 course offerings of less appeal to our palates. With the benefit of this, our first experience, we have filed this restaurant as somewhere to return with friends, a group destination to make the most of the various dishes. Our lamb shoulder main had a little too much fat for our liking, but we're not complaining as there was plenty of tender flavoursome meat. The barramundi had a strong flavour. My partner is a hotelier whose exec chefs over the years have shown some tricks of their own. I'm a farm boy. Both Queenslanders, at least a little learned, we politely queried the waiter on its origins and the reply was he'd never been asked that. Equally, he never returned to explain. Some farmed barramundi can taste muddy, not sure if that was the case here, but you certainly couldn't have eaten this fish as a fillet alone. It needed the ginger and almond to mask the strength of the fish in our humble opinions. And a response to our query would have been nice, but towards the end of our time the second sittings were arriving and the floor became quite busy. Desserts were nice enough, rounding out our sugar and spice and all things nice experience. We also had a great bottle of Vic chardonnay from an interesting list featuring some of this country's best labels. Make no mistake, the hero dishes here were the first three, they alone will have us savouring this experience and returning to again try the creations of a chef who is rightfully known for constantly staying on trend, ahead even. If not yet a Melbourne institution, Maha surely nearly is.
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