Saturday, 4 August 2012

Croft Institute - The Journey of the Beautiful People

Yesterday was certainly a slow news day. The headlines involved Bill Shorten having a "misunderstanding" with the owner of the North Carlton Convenience Store about a meat pie and remarks that she may or may not have said about Julia Gillard is the best that can be reported on when we are involved in operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, something is indeed awry. I suppose it distracted the media from usual banal topics though. One thing I will say about Bill Shorten, who appears to be the Minister for Everything, that is he always appears quite busy. Proven by the fact that he wants to eat a pie on the run when he could be languishing on a Friday afternoon enjoying foie gras at The European is slightly refreshing.

One of the most over-used words these days is "journey" as every chef or even inane contestants on reality television shows seemingly have to undertake one to finish a dish, develop a skill or get to the point where they are turfed off a show that nobody will remember six months from now. A true journey is what Homer described in The Odyssey as you venture from Little Bourke Street to the end of Croft Lane where you will have to avoid "slaughter and blood and the agonized groans of mangled men" as Homer would say.

If you are brave, your odyssey will take you down the winding Croft Lane, which is not far from intersection of Russell Street and Little Bourke Street in Chinatown. Passing street art and vandalism you make your first left turn. You are then confronted with rubbish from the restaurants and sometimes tramps. Another right turn will take you along a laneway where you pass skips full of decaying food, more rubbish, vandalism, the smell of urine and on my last visit, human faeces. At the end of the lane-way you get to a foreboding door but once you pass into The Croft Institute, it is as you are in another world where time ceases to exist. The journey as the reality television contestants like to reference is worth it.

The bar is spread out over three themed levels. Depending on how busy the place is will dictate whether the top floor will be open but it is worth a visit if it is. Before becoming a den of inequity, the site was abandoned for twenty years and the place manages to keep the general feeling of desolation and mysteriousness. The ground floor is adorned with items you would find in a chemistry lab, high tables and stools and you are quickly absorbed into the overarching theme of the place. This is one of the few bars that I have found that that flogs Marilyn Manson absinthe, which despite its pedigree is actually really good and unlike the boring Absinthe Salon in Sydney, limitations are not placed on you should you want to indulge in the anise-flavoured spirit. The bartenders have always been extremely knowledgeable and should you not wish to indulge in the green fairy, leave it to the professionals to make the drinks based on their suggestions as you will not find a drinks menu. When nature inevitably calls, you will need to go to level one to find the toilets. The theme changes to a hospital-like waiting room which is fascinating as you walk past their licensed vodka distillery. On the weekends, Croft gets busy but not insanely busy like you would find at a superclub on King Street. I have never found too much pretension here, and is completely opposite to what you find at Cookie, where people here generally have been friendly and unassuming. Despite the loud hard trance style music not really being my thing it strangely pairs well with the place and never served as an annoyance or even a distraction to enjoying myself. This is a bar that you will have no problem spending all evening at and my recommendation would be to head to Manchuria afterwards which is within stumbling distance.

Croft Institute, Croft Lane, Melbourne

Croft Institute
Link to review
21 Croft Alley  Melbourne VIC 3000
(03) 9671 4399
no web site
My Rating: 16/20
Service: 4/5
Ambiance: 4.5/5
Quality: 4/5
Value For Money: 3.5/5
Comment: Marilyn Manson Absinthe is available

twitter: @epicurean3006
e-mail: epicureanofsouthbank (at) gmail (dot) com

When I made this post, 86% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon liked The Croft Institute. I think you will too.

The Croft Institute on Urbanspoon

Friday, 3 August 2012

Beer DeLuxe - It is all happening in Federation Square

It is a happy day. Today is the last day that Channel Ten will air "The Circle" as it has been axed along with Yumi Stynes and to commemorate this much anticipated event, I am timing this post to coincide with the start of their last show. You may remember that earlier in the year she made a sexist and disrespectful comment about Victoria Cross recipient Ben Roberts-Smith. I am sure Yumi will end up on the air doing something that we should supposedly care about soon enough though. If only Lara Bingle and "The Shire" would meet the same fate as Yumi, I would feel like I have won the trifecta for the month. It isn't hard for me to avoid all of this garbage as I do not watch anything, and I mean anything, on Channel Ten however I was subjected to Lara Bingle's five minute ad promoting New Zealand when I went to a screening of The Dark Knight Rises. I was stunned to think that the kiwis think that Lara Bingle can encourage Australians who have never been to New Zealand to visit. This is five minutes of my life that I will never be able to reclaim.

This week I have found myself in Federation Square on two occasions having fun. Last night I attended the Federation Square Wine Awards in the Atrium. It proved to be a good venue to taste wine although I pity the people manning the table from Hanging Rock Winery as they were closest to the entrance and thus the cold outside weather. Enjoying their pinot noir kept me warm after starting off with everything that both Red Hill Winery and Seville Winery had on offer. Seville incidentally took out the most awards including the "best wine" award for their current release Chardonnay. It proved to be a great wine and I am looking forward to visiting their cellar door in the Yarra Valley soon. When I returned home I was in no shape to write anything on this blog however I managed to partially hoover my unit for some unknown reason. It was evidence of a good night indeed and fortunately I did not lose my phone.

The other day I tweeted that I intended to visit the ACMI and view the "Game Masters" exhibition. 95% of what this exhibit has on offer are working video games. The classics like Pac Man, Space Invaders, Centipede and Elevator Action are what you first see when you enter the exhibition. All of the games work and are free to play. It didn't take long to reacquaint myself with Mario and start jumping barrels in Donkey Kong or drive the car in Out Run. As you progress through the exhibit you find the current games available for Wii, PS3 and also a fair amount of PC's that are equipped to play titles like Minecraft and Diablo 3. I tried a 3-D game for five minutes which was a weird experience and also tried my luck playing Angry Birds on a large touch screen plasma screen. It was well worth the price of entry.

Before attempting to liberate The Princess of Zelda and relive my wayward youth, I had lunch at Beer DeLuxe in Federation Square. This place was originally recommended to me by my cultured mate in Brisbane (yes, these types do exist in Queensland, although they are very rare) before I travelled to Melbourne a few years ago to watch us get our arses handed to us by the English during the Ashes series. I spent a fair amount of time in the Beer DeLuxe beer garden which flows onto Federation Square, drinking their craft beers and eating from their hamburger bar. From the beer garden you can watch the giant television in Federation Square and be amused if you enjoy watching people. Beer DeLuxe is constantly rotating the craft beers that they have on offer on tap which makes it an intriguing place to visit if you are into beer.

Over the last two years I have frequented Beer DeLuxe multiple times and enjoyed a lunch there before venturing into the ACMI the other day. It was too cold to languish in the beer garden so I opted to eat in the salon downstairs which has a different menu on offer along with a range of craft beers on tap and in the refrigerator. They update their website weekly with the beer that is available which is useful. The table service was efficient and friendly and we were even quizzed as to whether we wanted a fork and knife to eat the messy yet very tasty buffalo wings that were ordered as the first dish. It would seem that some people actually use a knife and fork, which we laughed about, to eat buffalo wings there. That is something that I would like to see. The wings are served with a very mild blue cheese dipping sauce which was a great match. A Napoletana pizza was brought to us next which was cheap and cheerful and loaded with anchovies. I never say no to these little fish on the pizza which matched well with the Sierra Nevada that I was drinking. Full of liquid courage, I then attempted to free Zelda from her captors and was resoundingly defeated.

Beer DeLuxe, Federation Square Melbourne

Beer DeLuxe
Link to review
Federation Square Melbourne VIC 3000
(03)9663 0166
My Rating: 13.5/20
Service: 3/5
Ambiance: 4/5 (Includes beer garden)
Quality: 3.5/5
Value For Money: 3/5
Comment: Check site for current beer on tap

I still can be found on twitter... @epicurean3006

On Urbanspoon, at the time of this post, 70% of the reviewers like Beer DeLuxe. Regardless of whether you visit the beer garden, salon or grill, if you like beer and cheerful food, you will like this place also.

Beer DeLuxe on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 2 August 2012

The Enigma of Flower Drum - No Longer Concealing Their Identity?

I discovered Flower Drum way back in 2003 when it was all of the rage, part of every "best of" list along with movies like Japanese Story and Gettin' Square and the eponymous The Secret Life of Us on television. I never remember Claudia Karvan or Asher Keddie dining at Flower Drum when they were not arguing with their flatmates, husbands and friends so perhaps the show foretold something a bit more ominous about both the dining scene in Melbourne and the fickle public.

In its heyday, for a wayward visitor from Sydney who normally planned his Melbourne excursions with only a few weeks notice it was next to impossible to secure a table in the evening at this Cantonese restaurant. I had to settle for a table at lunch and usually it would be on a Saturday when I was nursing a self-imposed hangover that was still lingering from good times that were experienced at Circa the previous night. As my liver took more punishment over the last many years and Flower Drum started being shunned by the never-ending "best of" lists and awards ceremonies, a bit like Tom Cruise's career, I started to wonder why. There was no mystery as to the demise of my liver but for me Flower Drum losing its shine was indeed an enigma.

I began to frequent Flower Drum in the evenings on Saturday of all times with very little notice because like Tom Cruise's star, the hype and awards waned and availability of a table was assumed. For me though the quality of the produce and ultimately the product that was served remained consistently top notch. I have never proclaimed myself as an afficiando of Cantonese food, but I know what is average quality and what is bad because of shortcomings with my body. Large amounts of peanut oil or soy tends to irritate my senses a bit and the result is an itchy nose and on rare bad occasions an extremely loud sneeze. Every time I have had the pleasure of eating at Flower Drum, my allergies have never been affected which is a testament to their cooking style.

Over the years, the menu has evolved a bit. It has been cut down and a whole Peking duck is no longer available for purchase as per the menu, but you can always negotiate this menu shortcoming with the very attentive staff. It is easy to consume two perfectly prepared Peking duck pancakes and unless you indulge upon the spoils afforded by having a whole duck on-call to satisfy your taste buds and primal urges you will not leave satisfied. Dining at Flower Drum over the years inspired me to learn how to make Peking Duck myself, which was the subject of a previous blog post. The "Supreme" Shark Fin soup needs to be experienced at least once in your lifetime however at $160 per serve, it will turn out to be an addiction that you need to seriously monitor. It would be easier for a chronic smoker to give up the cancer sticks when compared to the desire you will have to keep coming back for more and more of this fabulous, if not politically incorrect soup.

I alluded to the service earlier. Over the years, it has remained consistently faultless. Although some would suspiciously wonder why there is always a member of the floor team standing in your general area seemingly looking the other direction. The staff act like guardian angels (if you believe that rubbish, but I needed an analogy after all) to make sure that your dining experience is perfect. This includes always having a beverage, sauce, cutlery or masking a faux pas that the clumsy diner makes on the tablecloth.

If you have a spare $500 you can announce with a few days notice that you intend to eat a suckling pig which would serve 6-8 people. Sadly, I have not gorged on this beast as of yet but it is on my to-do list of things to do this year.

In 1975, Gilbert Lau opened The Flower Drum in Chinatown on Little Bourke Street. In 2003, Gilbert sold the restaurant to Executive Chef Anthony Lui, William Shek and Patricia Fong. Some would argue this was the critical event that led to the downgrade of Flower Drum on all of the magic "best of" lists that seemingly dictate what is good, bad and ultimately make or break restaurants. I do not believe this was the cause though. After seeing Flower Drum evolve gradually after the sale, it is my opinion that Gilbert Lau assimilated Cantonese food into the Melbourne culture in a bygone era where Cantonese food was more of an exotic offering mainly aimed at minority families. With this assimilation into mainstream Melbourne culture, I believe Lau had to conceal his identity as a chef in order to "get along" in a very competitive environment and as a result after nearly 30 years built a consistent reputation for quality and service. I believe when Anthony Lui took over, he brought with him a new identity for the restaurant and has taken it to a place that is slightly different but realistically just as brilliant and is not effectively understood by the reviewers and so-called subject matter experts. I am confident that Flower Drum will feature on these " best of" lists again but for now I will take the opportunity to dine there without having to be denied a booking on a Saturday night. You should too.

Flower Drum, Melbourne

Flower Drum
Link to review
17 Market Lane  Melbourne VIC 3000
(03) 9662 3655
My Rating: 15.5/20
Service: 5/5
Ambiance: 3.5/5
Quality: 4/5
Value For Money: 3/5
Comment: Peking duck and perfect service

I still can be found on Twitter... @epicurean3006

At the time of this blog post, only 77% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon like Flower Drum. Most of the complaints I have read has to do with price but it is always compared and contrasted with dodgy takeaways. This is a shame.

Flower Drum on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Fonda - Would Jane Eat The Kangaroo Burrito?

Only nine hours have passed so far this calendar month and it is already proving to be very interesting. Twitter announced that they rolling out clickable stock symbols so punters like me can stay up to date on company chatter to best explain why they are losing money. The Marriott got in contact specifically about this blog post and wants to have a chat. A mate in Sydney left me a voice mail as the sun was rising in Melbourne from the Star Casino and claimed to be up but given he was slurring a bit I wonder if the trend will continue or if he will do any work today. Overnight my computer crashed hard and after I got it to power on I learned that one of the memory modules is dead. Fantastic. When I should be thinking about a glass of juice to get me in the zone so I can successfully do what I am paid to accomplish today I am already pondering lunch and also my last experience at Fonda Restaurant.

Fonda Restaurant Richmond
Fonda Restaurant, Richmond
Much like The Atlantic restaurant and Jane Fonda, Fonda Restaurant on Swan Street in Richmond is another polarising restaurant. Yet another Mexican inspired cantina to hit the Melbourne scene, I was intrigued to try this place simply because I read mixed reviews and also some hysteria regarding a certain kangaroo burrito that they produce. Also during one of my late nights at Der Raum, the boys behind the bar suggested that I try this place since it is around the corner from their premises and open late. I suppose that if the Mexicans can grill chicken, fish, pork and steak and wrap it in a corn tortilla and effectively make a national staple product and places like Mamasita can innovate and include offerings with ox tongue and goat why not go a step further and provide people the option to consume one of the beasts on the Australian coat of arms? This is one of Fonda Restaurant's claims to fame.

After recovering from the flu a few weeks ago and feeling toey as a roman sandal after isolating myself in my unit for a few days and not eating anything with any flavour, as if in a daze, or perhaps even because I was medicated, I decided to walk to Richmond and sample the fabled kangaroo burrito. Inside a tortilla that is made fresh daily from the Abbotsford Convent bakery which incidentally seems like it would be an interesting place to visit one day, I tasted a weird concoction that nearly dripped all over my white jumper. Perhaps it is because the burrito was cut in half, maybe it was the flour tortilla (which was an excellent tortilla, but I think the kangaroo would match better with a corn tortilla) or the very mild relish that is added en lieu of a home-made salsa, it reminded me of some bizarre wrap that you would purchase at a takeway. The kangaroo itself was flavoursome but I did not think any of the ingredients that were paired with it accentuated its distinct flavour. The kangaroo was very tender and moist, evident by the amount of juice that dripped on the plate. It was like drinking non-alcoholic beer at a german boozer. Your senses expect one thing but when you digest something completely different you are left in awe. A good kind of awe though. It certainly is not street food, but a meal in itself.

Being a glutton, I also wanted to sample their fish tacos. As I reflected on in my Mamasita post I am very judgemental when it comes to these and Fonda definitely delivers. The chipotle aioli that is used to dress the fish works. I didn't think it would but I was proven wrong. At $6 per taco, they are great value for money and are actually served in a corn tortilla. A winner indeed.

There is an outdoor area which I intend to use during the summer months and a small list of alcoholic beverages prevails. Sadly since I was getting over the flu I choose not to sample any and after gorging on the kangaroo burrito I certainly felt like a shot of something but instead choose the horchata which paired well with what I had and gave me the needed energy to walk back to Southbank via the Yarra.

Fonda Restaurant, Richmond
Fonda Restaurant
Link to review
248 Swan Street  Richmond VIC 3121
(03)9429 0085
My Rating: 12/20
Service: 2.5/5
Ambiance: 2.5/5 (Includes beer garden)
Quality: 3/5
Value For Money: 4/5
Comment: Try the kangaroo burrito... interesting

As usual, I can be found on Twitter... follow @epicurean3006

When I published this post, 86% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon liked this place. I would be back but it would be for tacos, antojitos and quesadillas.

Fonda Mexican on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Mamasita - This is where Frank is at

When I first relocated to Melbourne a little over three months ago, everywhere I looked in both the print and digital media I saw references to Mamasita. I read horror stories about people queueing out the door for metres in the cold and long wait times, all inconveniences sacrificed for good authentic Mexican food, a funky decor and decent service. After being disappointed by Movida's Paco's Tacos which I ruminated about in an earlier post this month, I was frothing at the mouth with anticipation to experience what punters in Melbourne considered to be good Mexican food.

As usual on a Melbourne winter night it was quite cold but fortunately it was not raining. I can tolerate queueing for a while but not standing in the rain to pay to be fed. I was concerned that there would be hungry patrons spilled out onto Collins Street and had thoughts mobs of people reminiscent of King Street on a Saturday night trying to get into a club waiting to get into Mamasita. Fortunately when I arrived I did not find roving packs of emaciated humans or even starving hounds like you would in Tijuana, Mexico, but a staircase that needed to be assailed. Upon presenting myself to the affable host and announcing that I would like to secure a table for two, he stated that we were next on the waiting list and then showed us to the bar, presented us with some menus to review and claimed that the bar staff could look after us if we fancied a drink. It was Thursday at 7:30 PM and this wait seemed very reasonable but I was overwhelmed by the professional greeting.

The bar has a good range of Mexican beer and I started off with a bottle of Pacifico which gave me ample time to review the long list of tequilas. As if on cue, two people decided to leave their stools at the bar and leave the restaurant so we took their places. The host came over and said that we were welcome to eat and drink at the bar as the full menu was available and as an advantage the bar staff would always be available to attend to us. Like with my recent experience at Chin Chin, it was an offer that I could not refuse.

I was looking forward to the Tacos al Pastor, which is pork marinated in spices and pineapple, usually overnight. Many of the reviews that I had read about this place banged on about how good this offering was but alas it was no longer on the menu. Perhaps this is why people are no longer walking around like zombies outside on Collins Street. I told the bartender that we were in for the long haul and would do a fair amount of tasting and drinking and to be patient with us. Like at The Atlantic, I needed to see if the restaurant could follow my erratic eating schedule and be patient as we tasted, drank, talked and laughed. They succeeded.

At one point I expressed my disappointment to the house that Tacos Al Carbon were not available and that I would be grateful if they could make a Carne Asada Taco for me even though that was not on the menu either. This sort of taco is a staple "street food" offering in Mexico and consists of marinated steak strips and salsa. Everything else should be judged by the quality of this single tasting morsel. I was surprised that this was not on menu to begin with but the kitchen was able to accommodate and I was rewarded with a wisely balanced taco which left me wanting more. Speaking of more, this is about the time I asked for more chips, salsa and an additional jug of margarita. When I first saw the $64 price tag for a litre of margarita my eyebrow raised but like with the carne asada, I found it to be made perfectly and well worth the money.

Over the next few hours we would devour chicken, ox tongue and goat tacos and swill the great margarita down our desperate gullets. Of all of the tacos, I was most interested in the fish ones. As street food in Mexico, and expecially Baja California on the coastline between Rosarito and Ensenada, the lowly fish taco is a staple food item for living usually costing US$0.50 to US$1.00 each. What I was given at Mamasita was good but not great. They added some mysterious sauce that distracted the flavour of the fish and nearly overwhelmed it. It just did not seem right. When I return next, and believe me I am quite anxious to as I am always on the hunt for "good" Mexican food, I will be ordering the fish taco again and asking for "no sauce" and substituting it with one of the wonderful salsas that they provide. I feel as if I need to further explore their tequila menu as it would be the Australian thing to do.

In Spanish, the word "Paco" is literally translated into English as the name Frank. When I previously blogged about Movida's Paco's Tacos I inferred that Frank is at Mamasita. After you visit, and provided that you are fortunate enough not to have to wait as I was, you will really enjoy the experience and understand why I think Frank is languishing at Mamasita, most likely on a bar stool. The place can get loud but it is meant to be a social experience. Just do yourself a favour and do not eat tacos with a knife and fork as I noticed some people doing. Pick it up, shove it in your mouth and make a mess. It is all part of the fun.

Mamasita, Collins Street Melbourne

Link to review
1/11 Collins Street  Melbourne VIC 3001
(03) 9650 3821
My Rating: 13.5/20
Service: 4/5
Ambiance: 3/5
Quality: 3.5/5
Value For Money: 3/5
Comment: Great list of tequilas

As of this writing, 82% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon like this place. I agree with them and it has been a stand out find for me so far this year. (edit on 08/09/12 - I like Senoritas better)

Follow me on Twitter... @epicurean3006

Mamasita on Urbanspoon

Monday, 30 July 2012

Enter Bohemian, Exit Common Man

For most the South Wharf dining precinct resembles the island from Lost. Many do not know there are a group of restaurants hidden on the wharf next to the Hilton and the ANL building just south of the convention centre. Like with the survivors of Oceanic Flight 815 who left Sydney expecting to land safely in Los Angeles, I walked to South Wharf and ended up at Common Man not knowing what fate had in store for me.

The Common Man is a relaxed venue. Perhaps too relaxed when it comes to service. Upon arrival we were greeted with a smile by the hostess and we took a seat at a table near a window. The hostess said that she would be back with menus and to clean the dirty table. At this moment the classic Oasis ballad "Champagne Supernova" commenced playing. Over the next seven minutes and twenty-seven seconds, which is the total playing time for this track, I watched the clouds and rain part in the Melbourne sky and sun shine down on the wharf. Seeing the light, I looked over at the hostess who was visiting a table near me for the third time as the patron was making a fuss about his hamburger or something. It had been eight minutes and she did not return with menus or to clean the table so we decided to express our displeasure by leaving. This is not the first time something queer has taken place at the Common Man as it was my third visit. On Sunday's they have a Bloody Mary special that is advertised on their blackboard. Whilst dining on an average pizza on my last visit they went out of the way to change the price of the Bloody Mary on that board from $8 to $9 but never communicated the price change to me. I was the only one in the venue enjoying one at the time. When the bill came, they charged me $10. Bizarre.

After walking out of Common Man, we went next door to Bohemian. We were promptly seated at a table near a window and provided with menus and a wine list. In my possession I had a voucher for a free drink. This voucher was a few months old and were originally given out by hired hands outside of the convention centre with the hope of drawing some foot traffic to South Wharf. The host happily honoured the voucher and instead of bringing one pot of James Squire Amber Ale which is what the voucher entitled me to, he brought two which was very kind of him and the restaurant. Tapas and wine were then ordered.

Much like how fate brought me to this restaurant, the host returned at one point to advise that the bottle of wine that I ordered was not in stock and he recommended a bottle of Paco Garcia "Seis" as a replacement. It was also cheaper as an aside. This 100% Tempranillo is one of the best wines that I have had in months and at around $35 from this restaurant is an awesome bargain. Despite having a stuffed up nose, I noticed a strong aroma of strawberries and it subsequently went down my gullet easily. I later did some research on this wine. The "Seis" means "six" as a literal translation but as far as this wine goes, it means six months' aging in oak which is something the winemaker is not allowed to put on the back label as per the Regulatory Council.

The flavour was just not limited to the wine. After I was done raving about the smell and taste of the Tempranillo, the first round of tapas that we ordered was delivered. Although I enjoyed every dish, the stand-out was the morsels of quail which you eat off of a single rib bone. Other highlights for me was the chorizo and the patatas bravas which are $6 per dish and definitely worth adding to the tapas experience.

I am grateful to the lazy service at Common Man which ultimately led me to have a great dining experience at Bohemian where I not only found very tasty tapas and attentive service but the fact that I found a bottle of spectacular wine that I now want to source and add to my personal collection. I now must wonder what other secrets will be discovered in the South Wharf precinct in the future.

Bohemian, South Wharf
Link to review
35 Dukes Walk  South Wharf VIC 3006
(03) 9682 0566
My Rating: 13.5/20
Service: 4/5
Ambiance: 3/5
Quality: 3.5/5
Value For Money: 3/5
Comment: Excellent tapas and wine list

Twitter: @epicurean3006
e-mail: epicureanofsouthbank (at) gmail (dot) com

At the time of this writing, 86% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon like this restaurant and I wholeheartedly agree with them.

Bohemian Bar & Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 29 July 2012

The Atlantic - A Polarising Restaurant

It was one of the rare winter sunny days in Melbourne where you really just want to dine outside so I beckoned the epicurean emo and decided that we should have a long relaxing lunch at The Atlantic. Whenever I have mentioned this place to punters in conversation it would always illicit a very strong reaction and I really wanted to find out why.

As I had walked past The Atlantic multiple times as I would frequently use the Crown Casino as a thoroughfare to avoid inclimate weather, I would frequently stop outside of the restaurant and view the fish that they have on offer in the window. They advertise an oyster and champagne bar that is open late and of course "The Den" where one can drink if you feel obliged. Of all of the restaurants in The Crown that can suck you in just by looking pleasant and attractive, this one is it.

When I presented myself to the hostess, I stated that we did not have a reservation sadly and I hoped that she would accommodate us and assign us to the best table in the house. We were promptly seated in what I thought was one of the best places to sit outside. Service was quick to bring us some water (this is the first time I have ordered tap water on purpose at a restaurant as after buying a large supply of San Pelligrino at Costco the previous day, I decided that it is time to be a bit smarter with my spending) and also provide us with a hefty wine list.

I started off with an oyster from each of the regions that they had on the menu. It didn't matter if the oyster was from Cloudy or Cowell Bay, it was plump and delectable. My favourite was what was on offer from Franklin Harbour though. The oysters that I had at The Atlantic are some of best that I have had in Melbourne since relocating here with the ones at Cumulus being a runner up. The Atlantic being primarily a seafood restaurant thus succeeded in providing a great seafood product.

The sense of bliss did not end with the oysters. I moved on to the "Trio of Crudo" and then followed it up with the Moreton Bay Bug Spaghettini. Both the cold and hot starters were delicious and being a seafood enthusiast, I wanted to keep hammering the options on both of these menus but I was also equally intrigued by the mains. One way that I judge service is by the way they handle my erratic dining. After I sit down and review the menu, I tend to order something like oysters and then annouce that I will order additional items later after some wine is consumed. This same routine is followed after every course. The one little thing that I detest is when service continually follows up and asks if you are ready to order something else especially when you haven't received your outstanding dish, have a full mouth or are engaged in pleasant conversation. This faux-pas never happened at The Atlantic. They honoured my instructions and never followed up or quizzed me about additional food that we wanted to order until the lovely server came over after our eyes met in passing. It was a very professional experience.

I ordered the Baby Barramundi for my main and began to pick the flesh off the bone. As this is quite a time consuming task, another bottle of wine was ordered and an afternoon was made eating, picking, drinking, laughing and telling tale tales. The service remained professional and attended to our minor needs like filling up water glasses and pouring wine. I wondered what the champagne and oyster bar would be like late at night and pondered if "The Den" would be worth a visit. Two additional things to do which are on a list that seemingly only gets longer in this great city.

Thinking about what polarises people about this restaurant is both the cost and seemingly what is on offer that is not considered seafood. When I paid the bill, I did not think that the experience was expensive or not good value for money. It did cost a fair amount but the quality of the seafood, service and even location if it matters to you, makes it worth it. I was easily able to enjoy myself for four hours at this restaurant and when time can manage to get away from me, I know it is a successful time out. I would return to The Atlantic for either lunch or dinner with no prodding and I also look forward to checking out the Oyster Bar and The Den on one of my next wanders through the Crown complex.

Update on 05/08/12 - A further post has been made about the Atlantic Oyster Bar and The Den, which can be found here.

The Atlantic, Crown Casino, Southbank
The Atlantic
Link to review
Crown Towers, Southbank VIC 3006
(03) 9698 8888
My Rating: 15.5/20
Service: 4.5/5
Ambiance: 3.5/5
Quality: 4.5/5
Value For Money: 3/5
Comment: Freshest seafood around

Twitter: @epicurean3006
e-mail: epicureanofsouthbank (at) southbank (dot) com

At the time of this post, only 63% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon liked this polarising restaurant. I hope the ones that did not will give it another chance.

The Atlantic on Urbanspoon