For Valentine’s Day, Raquel and I went out for dinner at one of the finest restaurants in Melbourne. People we know keep on gushing about this Italian restaurant so our expectations were a bit high. Personally, I would have preferred to have gone to a fancy Chinese or Japanese restaurant instead but I thought it was worth eating there once, specially since I have a $350 voucher for that restaurant, hand-signed by the owner/chef, as prize for winning an art competition a few months ago.
The restaurant itself wasn’t large but it was still quite obvious that it was a fine-dining restaurant. They had a headwaiter (or is it called maitre d’hotel?) wearing formal wear plus several more employees waiting on us, ready to serve. At the lobby, there was a whole wall with photos of the owner with various celebrities and hand-written letters of personal praise for the establishment. The toilet even had those stacks of folded hand towels which you dispose of in a basket after one use. We totally felt out of our element.
When we sat down, the maitre d’ offered (more like insisted) to take my blue backpack for safe keeping in their office. They probably just don’t want me to strap my backpack behind my seat or leave it lying on the floor. Raquel left her bag on the floor but soon, one of the waitresses came over with a small old-world upholstered stool where Raquel’s bag could sit. Very fancy.
While discussing what we should be ordering, they brought us what looked like breadsticks in a tall silver cylindrical container along with four slices of bread in a metal basket plus two varieties of butter: salted (which tasted like wonderful creamy cheese) and unsalted (which tasted like, uh, butter). We weren’t sure if the “breadsticks” were indeed breadsticks or some decorative plant with no leaves. In the end, we didn’t touch those. We did eat the bread in the basket but I found it really tough to bite. I even tried ripping it to pieces but still found it very tough. Anyway, the butter tasted great so it wasn’t so bad.
We had a difficult time deciding what to get. We basically have $350 to burn there but after looking at the prices of the dishes, the money probably won’t go a long way. We ordered two appetizers to begin with and the portions were smaller than an entire cheeseburger at McDonald’s. It tasted okay but for $40 each, I would have expected it to have tasted like something that fell out of heaven! Or at the very least, the portion should have been bigger. Ah, well, it’s free anyway, we justified to ourselves.
After the waiters got our empty plates, one of them approached us with a plate. On the plate were two very small salmon-topped pastries. Apparently, those were also complimentary. I didn’t realise you get a lot of free food eating in fancy restaurants. Although I don’t personally like salmon, I wasn’t about to let a freebie get away so I took one anyway.
Anyway, due to the small food portions, we were far from being full. So, we ordered our next meal. We both got entree-sized risottos. These were about $48 each if I remember correctly. The portion of the risotto wasn’t big either. We weren’t surprised at this point. We did get an extra side dish which the waiter suggested: a small bowl of spinach with a bit of parmessan cheese for added flavour. It actually tasted quite nice. But again, we couldn’t stop thinking about the cost and portion size of what we had just eaten. For that much money, we expected more or something that was delicious by far.
Still not full after the risotto. I had wanted to eat something with meat this time. When I looked at the menu, I saw an entry called Wagyu beef and was immediately drawn to it but then saw the word carpaccio after it and thought to myself, “oh no, you don’t!” I recently went to an office lunch where I ordered an angus beef carpaccio and when the dish finally came, it was a thin shaved piece of beef which looked raw. In fact, it was raw! There wasn’t much meat there and there was a bit of a salad and all that for a whopping $20! I won’t fall for that again.
Okay, so no beef carpaccio. But there was a 1kg rib steak in the menu for about $160. That would probably be good. Although I’m sure I won’t have problems eating meat, I felt like the 1kg steak might just be too much for both of us. We might end up being too full.
In the end, the waiter suggested the 500g lobster they had on special for that day. I can’t remember having ever eaten lobster before so that was a good time to give it a go even if it did cost $120 (as far as I can recall). We have a $350 voucher anyway.
The lobster finally arrived. It was nice of them to split the lobster to go into two plates for us. They also set aside the bulk of the lobster flesh aside for convenience but still left much of the lobster’s carapace and limbs for us to slurp clean, I assume. What I didn’t expect was to be slightly grossed out by the sight of the lobster itself. It reminded me of an oversized insect and taking it apart with my cutlery and nutcracker silverware only added to the gross factor, for me. In the end, I only ate the lobster meat that was already set aside and that tasted good. It certainly went well with the extra bowl of spinach that came with the lobster.
That must have been the only time I’ve eaten that much spinach in one single day. I asked Raquel if they had a dedicated “kangkongan” (place where you grow spinach-like vegies in the Philippines) out in the back of their restaurant. At least, the spinach tasted good.
After the waiter took our plates away, one of them placed on our table two bowls of what looked like hot water with a lemon in the middle. We looked at each other, wondering whether this was another free dish or was it for washing one’s hands with. If it was for washing hands and we sipped it, that would have been gross. If it was actually some kind of broth and we washed our hands in it, that would have been embarassing. We ended up just ignoring the two bowls. They soon took the bowls away which sort of proved that those were for hand washing.
To finish off, we decided to have some gelato for dessert. Each order was about $24 and what we got was a plate with four scoops of sorbet/ice cream, each one a different flavour: mocha, lemon, apple and licorice. I admit that I’m not a fan of the actual licorice lolly but I found that the licorice-flavoured gelato was the best tasting of the four. The mocha probably comes in second. The lemon was too sour for my taste and the apple was a bit too sweet.
After that, Raquel had a cup of coffee and that came with 3 small treats. A small cube of lamington, a small piece of nougat and a small heart-shaped biscuit with jelly in the middle. I was too full to even take more than a few bites from these treats.
Finally, we asked for the bill. The total cost of our dinner was $380. Since we only have a $350 voucher, we had to still pay an additional $30 out of pocket. Ah, well. It was a good experience. At almost three hours, it was the longest time we had to sit down for dinner. At $380, it was the most expensive dinner we’ve ever had. Would I eat at such a fine-dining restaurant again? Not if I can help it. If I ever win a voucher for such a restaurant again, this time around, I’ll try to sell it off to my friends first.
The food, while it tasted nice, wasn’t the most delicious thing I’ve ever eaten. I could get food that is a lot tastier and has a bigger serving size for less money. I just don’t get the point of eating in such a place. I’ll probably be more willing to spend the same amount at a very fancy Japanese or Chinese restaurant than at a Eurpoean restaurant (well, maybe except Spanish or Portugese). At least in a fancy Asian restaurant, chances are, we can order lots of rice and whatever fancy dish we wanted. I also don’t have to worry about all the fancy European table etiquette.
In conclusion, we’re not going to try that again unless it’s free and we can’t absolutely help it.