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Monday, 24 June 2013

Worst Italian Restaurant Ever

Firstly, let's bring a bit of context into this blog review about a restaurant which had once been one of the 'oldest' and most respectable Italian restaurants in the West Perth neighbourhood, Villa D'Este. I do recall dinning here more than a decade ago and loving the food and service. Sadly, this time around ... nothing lived up to expectations - except maybe the Chianti Classico. But then, since I had very little to eat, this would be all relative.

Additional context, I am a self-claimed foodie and I am particular about my food. I eat out quite a lot and have tried restaurants from street side stalls to high end Michelin starred restaurants here and overseas.

Short summary:
Food: 1 out of 5 stars
Service: 0 out of 5 stars
Ambience: 3 out of 5 stars (this is if you exclude food and service, I'm only counting the decor & lighting).

Full neko paws DOWN on this restaurant. Don't go there!

Let me set the scene. This is to for a family dinner to celebrate my mother's birthday. The booking was via Dimmi using their 'point redemption' for the booking and a voucher of $50 which is applied without having to present a voucher. Clearly stated on the booking that it's her birthday. I received a booking confirmation call at 9:43am WST to confirm. I was in a meeting and called them back to confirm details for 3 at 7pm.

Arrive 10 minutes before booking and was led to the table by, we shall call him Waiter A. Waiter A asked if we would like sparkling water, I translated for my parents and we agreed on sparkling. This was brought to the table and poured. Waiter B brought 'appetiser, compliments of the chef'. Ritz biscuit sized pizza with 1 slice of parma/pepperoni like meat and cheese with what could have been tomato puree or a small bit of sun-dried (benefit of the doubt) x 3. Another waiter came by to tell us the specials, he had a strong 'Italian' accent and in most cases I find accents quite reassuringly authentic in the relevant restaurant environment. He gave us the specials, my mom was delighted with the option of being able to have twice cooked duck and my dad opted for the Carpretto (baby goat) - a dish which we have had before at Siderno and he had loved it. He went away to give us a few more minutes to decided.

After a while of waiting, while we saw waiters come and go. I next got hold of Waiter A to order, but he said I would have to wait for the maitre d' to order as he only dealt with drinks. I asked for his recommendation for a rounded Italian wine, he suggested the Chianti Classico 2009. We agreed to order this and our mains. We waited for a while - wine was served before MD came over to our table to take our order.

Here's what we ordered:
Peppoli Chianti Classico - upon recommendation by Waiter A $66.00

1/2 dozen Oysters (Baked with mushroom and Italian sausage) $28.00
Italian sausage stuffed mushrooms with balsamic reduction (3 on plate) $31.80
A soup of the day - Cream of Asparagus $16.00

Twice Cooked duck with Port Wine sauce $48.90
Carpretto with polenta 'slice/cake' $48.80
Beef cheeks with polenta 'slice/cake' $44.80
Crusty Italian Bread $4.50, we asked for 1 serve *($1.50 per serve, it was not stated on menu it was "per person")
Spinach salad with tomatoes, olives and olive oil and balsamic dressing and parmesan $11.80

The bread came and was surprising to us a basket of several (8+) pieces of large chunky Italian bread. Since dad loves this type of bread we were fine with it, not realizing they had given us 3 serves. The oysters arrived 'au natural', I pointed out the mistake and the waiter gave me a look. He later came back to say it would take a few minutes to cook. I was fine with this. The mushrooms were fine, the stuffing was actually 'stuffing' there's sausage flavour, but I could not actually bite into any. The soup was very green and watery with dried parsley sprinkled on. We all tasted it and agreed it was not edible and was extremely salty. You could not taste the natural freshness of asparagus which I love. The Waiter B took away the soup and asked if we wished for the other soup of the day as replacement, I agreed - it was a Italian Vegetable soup (not minestrone) just a soup less green and with pieces vegetables.

We waited for quite a while - so much so that Waiter A came and with Waiter C cleared our entree plates and cutlery. I had to stop them and state we have not been served our other entrees - they cleared the plates any way and was going to bring new ones.

I had a small sip of the 2nd soup and found it still salty, and was informed by my parents it was still too salty but they were not willing to embarass themselves or the restaurant to sent it back. From this point on, no one came by to check how we were doing or to even re-fill our water or wine glasses.

Plates cleared we eagerly awaited mains thinking this would rescue the meal. The mains came quite quickly and was plonked down "across" the table by Waiter B to my mother. Reaching across me diagonally across. All this time serving was done by each wait staff from the side, he just didn't bother to walk over to my mother. I had two bites of the beef cheek and realized I couldn't taste the meat and only the salt. The texture was fine but the whole thing tasted like salt cured. The sauce was just as strong. I tried dad's carpretto and it was the same - the nice goat flavour was gone. The fine texture of the meat was there ... but if you finished the dish you would end up drinking litres of water after to re-hydrate. Mom's duck was saved by the sweetness of the port. You could taste the heavy salt, but the sugary port sauce covered it and helped balance it. We put aside the two main dishes. Mom and dad shared the duck with bread and the salad.

Finally got hold of Waiter B and I told him to take the mains away as they were too salty for us to eat and stated I didn't want them any more when he looked at me with an annoyed expression. (This may have been his expression for not understanding why). He stated that they served the same here all the time and no-one has found a problem with it.

After a long wait and my parents finishing their shared dish. Waiter A eventually came with two container boxes labled with our main meals. I was very angry and stated that we had returned the dishes to the kitchen as they were inedible and was too salty. He said I should be upset with him as he only did drinks and clear tables. I asked to speak to the manager or the maitre d'.

15-20 minutes later, no one had come by our table again. I asked for the bill. Waited another 15 minutes and was provided a FULL bill for everything that was presented to us, inclusive of the mains. I went to the front counter to speak with the manager as he had deemed it not necessary to come see his customers. No apologies and no questions about how was your meal before he launched into a rant about how I had upset his chef and insulted him and none of his food was salty. He claimed to have tasted all the dishes I returned and said they were fine and all other customers were fine with their food, so my taste must be bad and that I could not take salt at all. He also walked away from me whenever I was stating my case about the food being not palatable at all and defending my taste buds.

I was extremely polite in pointing out that my table considered the food too salty and if he did not think there was a problem why did he replace our soup? And if he had taste tested the returned food, why did he allow them to be packed into take away containers and returned to our table? He claimed this was a misunderstanding and that Waiter B did not understand I meant to 'return' the food. If that was the case, why did Waiter B tell me that no-one else had thought the food too salty to eat?

When I asked about the Dimmi discount, he said I had to present a voucher - which is not the case. When I stated that it was with the booking and he damn well knew it. Finally I was at my wits end, I asked he again if he was going to put the discount through or not. When he did, he asked the Waiter C to double check all the details and proceeded to take my credit card for payment without showing me the bill.

I've tried Galileo, Siderno and a number of the best rated Italian restaurants in the business. None of their dishes have ever been salty enough for me to send back to the kitchen.

If I pay $50 for mains, I want my waiter to at least "smile" at me. I don't care if it's false, it's your damn job to smile at customers.

Villa D'Este Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Monday, 8 April 2013

Living it up, but loosing an icon...

I heard along the grapevine (small as that may be within little old Perth) that the Loose Box is closing. It's always been a place I wanted to visit but never had that special somone or been able to co-ordinate a group of friends willing to make the 45 minutes drive up to have a degustation meal (without the matching wine set - if you were the skipper). From previous experiences with degustation we can definitely say that it lasts between 3 to 5 hours, depending on the company and wine consumption!

Alain Fabregues is deservedly retiring after over 34 years of delighting diners with his multi-award winning culinary skills since 1979. A lot of people I've spoken to know of and a great number of friends have decided to do the trip throughout the past few weeks.

The weekend is a close friend's birthday and I really wanted to spend a nice but quiet evening out with him to celebrate. It was definitely lucky to have called up and be told that there is a table available on a Thursday evening and if we'd like we can have it at 7:30 pm. Essentially meaning we wouldn't finish until 11 pm at the earliest. This was perfect, as we both worked in the CBD and getting out there would take potentially longer than the Google Map drive time.

We arrived nicely just 10 minutes before 7:30 pm and was greated and led to our table by a new waiter. I say new, he was young and possibly quite new at the restaurant role due to the hesitant way he greeted us.

He presented the menus to us, and left us to bring water. Explained the specialties of the evening and we were pleasantly surprised with the flexibility in the degustation menu. Normally you'd receive a list of items with very little choices. But I felt like we were encouraged to swap and change how we wanted. You can choose from the standard degustation or a vegetarian degustation. In addition, thatevening we had 2 entree courses where there were a special optional dish. As well as having 2 additional choices for mains.

We ordered the following:
  • 2 mini-bottles of Moet & Chandon Brut Imperial N.V. Epernay, France.
  • the Degustation menu (with variations) - keep reading for descriptions and photographs.
  • Darjeeling and Earl Grey Teas with our petits fours

First Course:
Coconut and Prawn Broth (His)
Coconut broth served with freshly shelled Prawns, kaffir lime leaf and Balmain and Rozelle spice. 
It was, sadly lack luster for a first course. It felt like a lighter spiced green Thai curry soup - missing the glass noodles and the bite! The prawns were sitting at the bottom of the lovely bowl. This may have been intentionally done to provide a surprising discovery, but sadly created a disappointing first taste and then made you feel as if it was only improved to the level of ordinary.

Cappuccino de "mange tout" (Mine - from the vegetarian menu)
Snow Pea cappuccino soup, garnished with lightly braised lettuce and a whisper of peppermint.
I have sadly developed a prawn allergy and also am not a great fan of cooked coconut milk. This soup offering was intriguing but I had no expectation of it ... I like snow peas but could not envision it being a creme soup with lettusce and mint.
Matching Wine: Louis Bouillot Cremant de Bourgogne Grand Réserve N.V.
60% Pinot, 35% Chardonnay, 5% Gamay and Aligote
A lively effervescent sparkling rose wine with a fresh, citrus palate.

Second Course:
Tian de Fruits de Mer (His)
Salmon Gravlax, prawn and smoked trout tian folded in a dill mayonaise, served with a lemon fennel salad and saffron aspic.
This was brilliant, the fennel was not over powering and the saffron aspic added a piquant taste to theGravlax. Delightfully presented and I could have had more and more of this.

Pork Trotter (Mine)
Matching Wine: Domaine du Rimauresq  Provence  2010
Tibouron Cinsault Granache Shiraz
Close your eyes and imagine the warm Provencale sun on your skin and transport yourself to the south of France with this superb dry Rose.  Made from indigenous red grapes grown on this Cru Classe vineyard in the shadow of the Massif du Maure mountain range of Provence.  Typicall dry and savoury Rose, but with a refreshingly fruity mid-palate.

This was delightfully presented, soft and melty but in a tube that had a gelatinous texture and a little hint of mushrooms and cheese. Seems like no time and the mouthful was finished.

Third Course: 

Le Saumon & Jacques Aux Aromates "Jean Delaveyne" 
Fresh Atlantic salmon and local scallops poached in champagne served with a light butter sauce infused with fresh herbs.
We both went for this one, the vegetarian option was just not as enticing as this on the menu.
 Matching Wine: J.J. Vincent Bourgogne Blanc  2009  Burgundy
100% southern Burgundy Chardonnay with fresh mineral characteristics, stone fruit and a touch of oak. 

Fourth Course:
Escargots à La Bordelaise en Pâte de Brick sur Ratatouille Provençale
Snail fritter served golden on a warm ratatouille stack with a tomato and chilli sauce.

This dish felt a little underwhelming. The ratatouille was lovely and balanced in taste. However, the escargot was missing something quintessential and was overwhelmed by the wealth of other flavours.
Matching Wine: Plan de Pegau Rouge  2007  Southern Rhone
50% Granache, 50% Mourvedre and a splash of Cabernet
The Plan de Pegau comes from one of the great Chateauneuf houses, Comaine de Pegau.  Their southern Rhone vineyards are planted to Grenache and Mourvedre, both staples of the region.
The wine felt a little bit over powering on this match as well.
Main Course:  
Duck Confit (His)
Special option of the evening, was either a Duck Confit - which is a twice cooked duck leg or the option of beef cheeks with baby roast vegetables.
I always feel that (over)cooking duck is a crime. However, Alain is a Mastermind! This was extremely well done. The duck leg presented well, it didn't look stewed (as some I have seen posing as Duck Confit). Melt in your mouth texture and retaining the full flavour of duck. Delightful with the Plan de Pegau Rouge  2007  Southern Rhone.

Daube de Boeuf Aux Chataignes (Mine)
Scotch fillet slow cooked in red wine with carrot, onion, herbs and mushrooms. Served with a lid of puff pastry and garnished with chestnuts and red wine shallots.  
I sadly chose the scotch fillet as I have a complete devotion to chestnuts and rarely get to eat it in meat meals. Doubly sad, because, yes I rarely get it and unfortunately this dish fell far short of expectations. The scotch fillet was so dry and tough to chew that I was hard pressed upon recollection to believe it was slow cooked in red wine with all the actual vegetables. The puff pastry presentation was fanastique, however the chestnuts was sadly missing (well I did find 1 sliver...). I should have ordered the off the menu - beef cheek pie with root vegetables. *sigh* It sounds not as impressive but beef cheeks will rarely let you down.
The addition of red wine shallots make it very much an tanin filled dish and I felt it did not match the wine as well as it could've.

 Matching Wine: Château Val de Roc  2008 Bordeaux Supérier
70% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc
Made by Michel Rolland from the great Château Ausone.  This wine is opaque dark crimson in colour.  The nose has toasted cedar and subtle blackcurrant.  Medium weight with flavours of cherry and spice and fine grained tannins.

Plate Cleanser: Fruit Sorbet Melon & Midori Sorbet 
This was seasonal choice of fruit. I was hoping for something a bit zesty but the clean taste of this sorbet cut through well and removed the tanin taste of the main/wine.

Le Cygne Majestueux en Voyage sur son Lac de Framboises (Mine)
How can you go past this? The majestic swan, made from home made vanilla bean ice cream and fine tuille biscuit.  Served on a "love heart lake" of raspberry sauce. Very lovely looking dessert, the double cream forming part of the body gave it a light texture mixed with the fresh vanilla bean ice cream and raspbrry sauce. I can imagine this as a 'romantic dinner/event' point to be talked about for a while

Matching Wine:  Grand Maison Monbazillac Curvee des Anges  2007  Dordogne
Semillon Sauvignon Blanc  Muscadelle
This fresh, light botrytis dessert wine comes from the hills of Monbazillac in Bergerac, east of Bordeaux.  This wine has just the right amount of sweetness and zingy acid to balance with the dessert.

The wine match was much sweeter and the counter point with the raspberry sauce was zingy but not an unwelcome one after the richness of the meal.

Cheesecake with berry coulis ? (His)
I forgot to take down the Frenchy name of this off the menu dessert option. Funnily, my dining partner doesn't eat fruit! Interestingly enough he still chose this for the Cheese cakey-ness, however this was not what he was expecting. When you think Cheese cake these days, you think of the dense heavy cheese taste and texture we've come to know. This cheese cake was "moussey". Almost a fluffy version. Great texture counter point to expectations but sadly for him it didn't hit the spot.

He also recieved a little 'birthday' ice-cream with the fine tuille biscuit and chocolate happy birthday written on it! I did get to eat 'Happy' so guess that's fair.

Petit Fours & Tea
I always love this part. Feel as if you're being given a special little treat at the end of the meal. However, I've begun to slowly realize through Main that my stomach capacity has shrunk with age. And my sugar capacity was filled by eating 'Odile'.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5
They were wonderfully attentive and courteous. As I said one seemed to be new/in-training and we all through the puppy-phase and someone has to be nice enough to accept and train us :) but this coumade me feel that this wasn't the whole overall French cuisine experience I was after. The freshness of the produce and the delicacy of the dish/sauces was lovely and the overall ambience was geared toward la romantique.
Neko paws: 2.5 out of 5. The 0.5 was given out of respect, however, even if it wasn't for Alain's retirement... I would sadly say the overall experience didn't leave enough of a positive impression to entice me back.
The fine dining echelons have lovely places like Jackson's, Chez Pierre, Bistro Bouchon and the new Crown Casino chain offerings of Nobu, Bistro Guillaume and Rockpool.
Oh reminds me next post will be on Bistro Guillaume and I shall plan in time to go visit P'tite Ardoise.

The Loose Box on Urbanspoon

Friday, 5 April 2013

The i-Gen...

It's a false confession, I'm not of the i-generation. The generation that's iPhone, iPad, and iWant, iNeed, completely i-oriented.

On that note, I haven't blogged about dining out for a while. Not because I haven't been eating out, but rather my Facebook addiction meant I could instantaneously check in via Facebook, Instagram or even Urbanspoon without posting to my blog, format the photographs and make a few quick comments. Originaly the idea is that these little notes will serve the basis of my full review online but sadly... that falls to the weyside as life goes on... and new foodage entices...

I'll make up for it I promise for whatever number of readers out there who pays attention. I will dedicate more clear and witty remarks on here as well!