So it finally happened. TV celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay has opened not one, but two restaurants in Melbourne, expanding his ever growing ego, I mean... worldwide chain even further. The question is, does it have what it takes to survive in a food-centric town like Melbourne, or is it relying on a big name owner to bring in the casino tourists?
I'm keen on Gordon Ramsay. Wait, that came out all wrong. I mean, I like his TV shows. No, actually even that's not true. But for some reason, I have some unfathomable respect for this man. Maybe it's just that I've seen too many wannabe-celebrity-chefs on certain TV shows lately, but when I heard that Gordo was going to open his doors here, I was keen to try it. Yeah, that's what I meant.
Monday of the Easter long weekend probably isn't the best time to try a restaurant located in a hotel that isn't open yet, but surprisingly word seems to have passed around that it's open for business, despite the building-site corridor through which you poke your head to gain entry. OK, so maybe it's not that bad, but a sign would help. The foyer and bar open out to a large high-ceiling space that feels a little cold during the day, but I imagine works better at night. Tacky vegas-style muzak piped through tinny speakers did not bode well for the start of our lunch.
Things picked up as we were offered drinks to start: we chose a glass of dry Prosecco and a Kir Royale. Sadly the Kir tasted like the bartender was a bit too enthusiastic with some pretty ordinary cassis, resulting in something that resembled fizzy cough medicine, but the Prosecco did the trick and got us as far as a half bottle of Chablis 1er Cru from an impressive wine list with typical casino mark up. By the glass options are good, but will set you back a bit for anything adventurous: think $20+ for anything old-world.
The food is good. Very good. Chef de Cuisine Josh Emmett sends out immaculate plates with balanced, clean lines and occasional flashes of originality and humour. With the Asian-style salmon, we mistook white asparagus for bamboo tips (until we tasted them) and green beans added a wonderful crunch to a creamy Jerusalem artichoke veloute. Beef cheek is melt-in-the-mouth to the point of being stereotypical and the jus over the lamb smacks of old-school technique. Be sure to try the marinated pink fir potatoes, which convinced my not-so-carb-crazy wife that (when you add a generous helping of smoked eel) potatoes really can be flavoursome.
It's hard to comment on service when the restaurant is only one third full, but until it came to the bill, we were very impressed. Glasses were filled, empties removed, water kept flowing and a waiter was never more than a lifted eyebrow away. Unfortunately, all this came crashing down when we asked for the bill, which took about ten minutes to arrive, another ten to be taken away with card, and ten more to be processed and brought back. This seems to be a developing trend at fine dining venues, probably worth a rant on an uncoming podcast. Watch this space. On the plus side, they fixed the muzak issue just as we were leaving.
I guess the thing is, will this place last? Does it have something to offer Melbourne that is new or better, or is it trading on the celebrity status of it's owner (who at the time of writing is yet to actually set foot in it)? While I can't fault the food, and the service is great, I'm not sure if it will be unique, or special enough to warrant a return visit, at least in the short term. No doubt the curious will face the labyrinth of casino corridors to see if his bite is as good as his bark, but will Gordon's Melbourne venture go the distance? Hmmmm.... perhaps a dinner reservation is required to test this theory...
- Marinated pink fir potatoes, smoked eel, blackened leek, fois gras
- Tuna, white radish, enoki mushrooms, black garlic
- Jerusalum artichoke veloute, crayfish, green beans
- Cured salmon, bok choy, white asparagus
- Lamb shoulder, parsnip puree, anchovy, spinach
- Beef cheek, loin, carrots, mash
- Exotic fruit vacherin, banana and passionfruit sorbet
- Chocolate banana bread, macadamia nuts, icecream
1/2 bottle 1er Cru Chablis