Expert of the week

Dani Valent

Food writer, hospitality advocate, restaurant critic, and cookbook author based in Melbourne, Australia.

Updated on Apr 09, 2024 | World of Mouth team

Dani Valent is one of Australia’s most respected food communicators. She is a longtime freelance journalist and restaurant critic, award-winning cookbook author and host of the Dirty Linen food podcast. She is also a frequent media commentator on hospitality issues and a leading industry advocate.

Please introduce yourself to our members.

I'm a freelance food journalist and restaurant critic in Melbourne, Australia. I started my career as a travel author for Lonely Planet, zipping around to places including Bulgaria, Broken Hill and Bonaire, but when I did my first food writing gig, I fell in love with the possibilities of connecting with people and places through culinary adventures. I love food writing because it cuts across every area of life: history, geography, environment, politics, craft, business, education. It's rich and I know I will never stop learning.

Tell us about your current project.

I do a food and hospitality podcast called Dirty Linen, which started almost four years ago as part of the Deep in the Weeds network. We cover issues in the restaurant world, as well as giving a platform for people to tell their stories. Big names are fine but we love to chat with unsung heroes: the dishwasher at Vue de monde, the barista from Warkop, a food truck entrepreneur who's dealing with rising costs. Podcasting is a great medium that really keeps me on my toes, laying bare the way I interview. I feel like people can hear the cogs in my brain grinding!

Tell us about the restaurant scene in Melbourne.

I'm currently working on a big new series for my main freelance publication, The Age. It's called Eat Streets: I go around to Melbourne's well-known and undersung neighborhoods and survey the dining landscape. What's underlined again and again is how diverse Melbourne is: it's an incredible melting pot. We are also lucky to have great produce grown within a couple of hours of the city, much of it by small farmers. Visitors to Melbourne tend to spend most of their time in the central city, which is an excellent place to explore. We pride ourselves on an obsession with great coffee, laneway bars, and top-quality contemporary dining at a reasonable price.

What are your three favorite restaurants in Melbourne and why?

Embla is an exemplary wine bar with great food cooked over fire. Cicciolina is a 30-year-old Italian in a woman-run restaurant with great service and plenty of soul. Sunda Dining is a great example of the Asian-influenced modern dining that Melbourne does so well.

What’s a new restaurant or hidden gem in Melbourne that you think is doing great things?

I'm currently writing about Kitchen 55, a small, modest family-run restaurant in the outer eastern suburbs with a revolving menu of Persian dishes. Go on Saturdays when they feature dishes from northern Iran, which are rarely seen in restaurants.

"The cuisine is less important to me than the mood."

What’s your favorite kind of restaurant and why?

I love restaurants that have been around for a while, so they know who they are, and feel confident in the experience they are delivering. The cuisine is less important to me than the mood.

What are your three favorite food cities and your favorite restaurants in those cities?

In Barcelona,  I love the chic tapas and natural wine at Bar del Pla. Bar Brutal is noisy and fun with great seafood, vegetable dishes and wine. La Dama is a bistro and bar located in Casa Sayrach, a Gaudi-esque icon, and is worth visiting for the spectacular entrance alone.

In Sydney, Bar Vincent has handmade pasta in an atmospheric bistro with great service. Sean's Panaroma is iconic seasonal dining on Bondi Beach. Baba's Place is an indie warehouse restaurant serving creative cuisine.

In Bangkok, sit in a shady laneway for egg noodles, wontons and crab fried rice at Hom Dee Noodles. Mango sticky rice is compulsory in Bangkok and Mae Varee Mango Sticky Rice is great. Charmgang is brilliant and fun, super buzzy, curries and salads with heaps of sass.

What is your favorite dish and where is your favorite restaurant to have it?

That's tough! My death row meal is probably bread and butter, so I'll choose Brae Restaurant in Birregurra, two hours from Melbourne, where they grow their own wheat and churn their own butter.

Who is an up-and-coming chef you are keeping an eye on?

Oh so many! I interviewed Sarah Cremona on my Dirty Linen podcast. She's currently at the MAD Academy on a scholarship. She's sous chef at Moke, in Flinders about an hour from Melbourne. One to watch!

Who is a food expert whose restaurant recommendations you’d like to see?

I'm always keen to see where Michael Ryan is eating. He's the owner of Provenance in Beechworth and often travels in Japan. I kept a close eye on his recent travels in France, too.

Find Dani Valent on Instagram: @danivalent

Website: danivalent.com

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