After dining at the Crown Casino's Conservatory a few months ago, I was excited in a bizarre way to compare and contrast that experience with what Melba had in store. The Conservatory is a beautiful space and when you enjoy the buffet, there is a semblance of service however all of the food in general was not very exciting although they should be crowned the King of desserts. To refresh your memory with my thoughts on Conservatory, here is the review.
You are given a professional and enthusiastic greeting when you present yourself at the kiosk of the restaurant. After verifying that I had a booking, I was asked if this was my first visit to Melbourne. I would have thought petty conversation would have included a query as to whether or not I am staying in the hotel so I was a bit amused. The dining room is accessed by walking a phalanx of seafood, including a small sushi bar and is bordered by glass so that the views of the beautiful (sic) Yarra River and CBD are on display. The hungry patrons seem to be herded all near the window as they assume that everyone wants a view but also to effectively make it a bit easier on the service staff to provide you some courtesy however the close proximity of so many people just makes the environment a bit loud.
When you are seated, drink orders are taken and a little too much attention is given by the staff to sell wine. "No" means NO and asking the customer "are you sure?" if you really do not want wine was a bit pushy and rude. Not long after disappointing the restaurant because you don't order wine, a large empty ceramic bowl is placed on your table along with a small finger bowl with water and lemon as the restaurant presumes that you will be making a beeline for the alter of prawns, yabbies and swimmer crab and require the use of, in our case, a chipped bowl, to hold the discarded exoskeletons. I know I wasn't going to work for my food and de-shell prawns at a $84.90/head buffet and my amused mate certainly had no interest either. Given the prices of fresh seafood at the Prahran and Queen Victoria Markets, it seemed silly to pick apart swimmer crab in an inauspicious way with so many other items on offer. After toddling up to the buffet tables for the first time the sparkling water and beer did arrive though.
One of the highlights of this buffet that differentiated it from others is that there is a small sushi bar with a chef ready to cut various slabs of fish into sashimi for you. I found the chef extremely bored and the kingfish, salmon and tuna sashimi that I tried over two separate trips to be as exciting as the chef and previously frozen. This is when I noticed a couple of flies circling the area. The chef didn't seem to care. There is a vat of miso available and I must of looked like a performer in Cirque du Soleil as I attempted to fill a bowl with a ladle and also swat at flies at the same time as I did not one to actually get into the vat.
A further trip to the food area yielded some Indian-inspired fare. This was the highlight of my experience. The Chicken Tikka which was prepared on skewers actually had some spice, were both soft and moist and were generally just awesome. When added to the handmade cheese and garlic naan bread that is made to order, the two matched were simply divine.
Returning to the flies and the heavily worn chairs in the dining room, one of the plates placated my desire to sample each of the cuts of meat on offer. Five-spice duck was the highlight however it was presented very lazily. The cartilage and meat were both cut up in chunks together, obviously quickly plated up so the hungry masses would be satisfied. I did learn that you could have the duck served in pancakes which encouraged the server to take more care and not serve you cartilage. The pork belly, beef and chicken were all rather dry. There were two beautiful roast chickens on display however like with the duck, the one that was being served was sloppily cut so that a chunk of white meat from the breast also included the breastbone. There was a bowl of steamed vegetables on display but no potatoes (mashed or otherwise) so I added some cherry tomatoes and mayonnaise-style dressing along with some small pork buns, which despite being small were full of flavour fortunately to accompany my dry and boring meat.
I gave up hoping that the server would come and ask if I wanted to order another beer when the original one was vacated. Thinking proactively, it was one of the reasons why I ordered the large bottle of sparkling water for the table figuring that service might be challenged to provide as they scramble about removing dirty plates from the tables. Perhaps this was the restaurant's revenge for not ordering a bottle of wine.
The refrigerated dessert case is not impressive at all. It also includes some fruit and is next to a cheese table. After making five trips to the buffet tables (including two to the sushi bar) I did not reserve much room for dessert and I was feeling rather lethargic however I did find the chilled chocolate cake and a shot glass filled with some orange concoction to cleanse my palate along with some watermelon in anticipation of paying the bill satisfying.
The lack of service and the tired surrounds combined with the volume of flies both near the food and the dining area of a five-star hotel was disappointing. The restaurant is not close to the entrance of the hotel, which itself is protected by two doors, so in my humble opinion there is no excuse for the place to be home to so many flies. The dining room needs a good renovation. Paint is peeling from the walls, the wooden chairs are excessively scratched and in general the ambiance is a bit tired. The positive is that there are selections of the buffet that taste pretty good - most notably the Indian section but then again at $84.90/head you can go to some high-end Indian restaurants in Melbourne and eat like President Pranab Mukherjee and have plenty of money left over even after buying the wine that is on offer.
The ARIA lounge bar is only a few steps away from the buffet and serves as a good outpost to relax and reflect on all things epicurean. Although I found a few tasty items at Melba, I would return to Conservatory the next time I need to host and placate the dietary ambiguity of a fair amount of people or there is a need to be a glutton. It is as simple as that.
Melba Restaurant at the Langham Hotel
1 Southbank Ave., Southbank VIC 3006
(800) 641 107
My Rating: 10/20
Value For Money: 2.5/5
e-mail: epicureanofsouthbank (at) gmail (dot) com
At the time of this post, 90% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon like Melba.