The process to book via the reservations hotline is straight-forward. A credit card number reserves your seats and for the late service and you are requested to be at the pick-up point at 8:15 PM, which is located at an enclosed shelter on where Whiteman Street, Clarendon Street and Normanby Road all converge, across from the Crown Metropol in South Melbourne. On this occasion three separate tramcars turned up to collect the hungry and thirsty passengers and the good folk that work for the Tramcar juggernaut are available before the rattlers arrive to check you in and advise which one you will be assigned to. Once you enter your assigned tramcar, you are then advised which seats are yours. It is a very professional and efficient process to herd all of the punters into the rolling restaurants actually.
I was impressed that so many people could fit into cozy booths. One row of the tram accommodates tables of four and the other side of the carriage seats tables for two. There is a bathroom on board which I would later discover is about the size of what you would find on an aeroplane. Given there was approximately 36 diners seated on board, two service staff and someone in the kitchen, which is also the size of what is used on an aeroplane, I was impressed at the good use of space. I have heard tales of ABBA being played loudly through the speakers but fortunately that never happened and for the entire 2.5 hour journey, pleasant background music which is easy to tune out over the chatter of the diners provided a relaxing score.
When you first sit, your first course is waiting for you on the table. Chicken liver pate along with a roasted red capsicum dip with some water crackers to keep you amused until service provides drinks after a quick introduction by the crew, the explanation of the menu and of course when the putter around Melbourne begins. The dips and pate are supermarket grade. Nothing too special but I really don't think the tourists primarily on this amusing mode of transport were really looking for fresh chicken livers being mashed into a pate in the small kitchen as everyone was very interested in taking photographs and admiring the classic decor. A glass of sparkling wine, a curious Lone Fig Brut Cuvee which proved to be a cheap and cheerful way to start, matched with the dips.
You are given a choice for your second course, either barramundi or kangaroo. I was keen to learn the supplier of the kangaroo, just because of morbid curiosity, so I quizzed service. He responded that it is "locally" sourced. I explained that was nice, but I was keen to know who supplied the meat just out of interest. He then oddly told me that the kangaroo was sourced from South Australia. Not exactly "local" but I decided to abandon this quest for trivia. About 15 minutes later service would return to say that the kangaroo was sourced from Queensland. Not as local as South Australia from Victoria but I still ordered it along with a glass of Tahbilk Shiraz from Nagambie, Victoria. It amused me that the wine was in fact local and the kangaroo was not however the meat, although chewy and medium rare, was good enough considering where I was actually eating which was presented on a bed of sweet potato. Some sort of "Australian Bush Chutney" accompanied the kangaroo and honestly I never deduced what that really was and didn't use much of it as the meat had already been marinated in a honey sauce.
As you roll past Crown Casino and toward St Kilda is about the time you start to appreciate the very attentive drink service. Bourbon, whiskey, gin, rum and vodka are all available with assorted mixers along with Crown Lager, Cascade Light, Tahbilk Sauvignon Blanc and the aforementioned Tahbilk Shiraz and Lone Fig sparking wine. Of course there are non-alcoholic drinks available for those that are not lushes.
For the third and main course, you once again have a choice but this time between the grilled chicken breast and the Victorian farmed Eye Fillet of beef. I opted for the beef, which once again was presented medium rare and considering the small area that the chef has to work with, I was impressed that it was prepared so well. Served with a potato rosti, a red wine reduction, vegetables and an onion marmalade, it reminded me of something that you would be served on a business class flight. It was pleasant and made all the more tasty after the sixth gin & tonic was served.
When the tram pulls into Acland Street in St Kilda, it takes a bit of a rest and you are left with a view of the shops for a short time. At points during this wanton journey, the maximum grade is 8% and the minimum grade is -13% so the tram slows to a crawl so that items do not fall off tables. The same sort of careful conducting takes place during sharp turns. Besides vibrating utensils, it was interesting to experience how cleanly the tram moves itself around Melbourne but with the average speed being a mere 9.43 km/hr (5.9 mi/hr) it really didn't shock me that in the end no glasses were broken and nobody fell down whilst staggering to the toilet. The tram also stops near the Albert Park Aquatic Centre and the patrons are allowed to disembark to stretch their legs and take photos.
The cheese course is pretty simple. Cheese, crackers and a quince paste. Mainly to match with the increasing flow of spirits, it was not disappointing and again, not unlike what you would find served in business class of an aeroplane.
For the dessert course, you once again have a choice. Either the Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta or the Sticky Date Pudding. I had the panna cotta and it was probably the highlight of the dining experience. Maybe because I was on my fifteenth gin & tonic by this point and I was in a splendid mood, but I just found it pleasantly sweet with a nice texture. Sure, it was imported en masse from some unknown source but it was good all the same.
The roughly 2.5 hour journey around the place that I call home went by very quickly despite being in the evening and not really being able to see too many sights. If you are visiting Melbourne you may find it more rewarding to take this epicurean journey during daylight hours however with the highlights of the trip being Southern Cross Station, the Queen Victoria Markets, Crown Casino, Acland Street, the Palais Theatre, Luna Park and the Aquatic Centre you are best left to explore via conventional tram or by foot. Drinks service did not disappoint and the other servers were quite enthusiastic especially when engaging with the tourists. Perhaps it was because we didn't want to get our photograph taken or because I asked where the kangaroo was from, we were not engaged in the same way that others were but that was fine. It is a quirky and amusing trip around this fine city and although I will not be rushing to do it again any time soon, I can see the appeal for tourists and those wanting to celebrate something special as it is memorable experience.
You are picked up at the pin on Clarendon Street, South Melbourne. The tram follows this route:
South Melbourne Point of Origin ->Southern Cross Station -> Queen Victoria Markets -> North Melbourne (pin) then returns the way it came -> Melbourne CBD -> Crown Casino Queens Bridge Southbank -> St Kilda Road -> Palais Theatre/Luna Park -> Acland Street -> Middle Park (tram stops) -> Albert Road -> Clarendon Street South Melbourne -> Southern Cross Station -> Bourke Street -> Spring Street -> La Trobe Street -> Southern Cross Station -> South Melbourne Point of Origin
Total distance: 23.14 km (14.4 mi)
Total time: 2:27:13
Moving time: 1:47:03
Average speed: 9.43 km/h (5.9 mi/h)
Average moving speed: 12.97 km/h (8.1 mi/h)
Max speed: 27.68 km/h (17.2 mi/h)
Average pace: 6.36 min/km (10.2 min/mi)
Average moving pace: 4.63 min/km (7.4 min/mi)
Fastest pace: 2.17 min/km (3.5 min/mi)
Max elevation: 60 m (198 ft)
Min elevation: 6 m (18 ft)
Elevation gain: 205 m (672 ft)
Max grade: 8 %
Min grade: -13 %
The Colonial Tramcar Restaurant
Corner of Normanby Rd. and Clarendon St.
South Melbourne, VIC 3205
(03) 9696 4000
South Melbourne, VIC 3205
(03) 9696 4000
My Rating: 12.5/20
Value For Money: 3/5
e-mail: epicureanofsouthbank (at) gmail (dot) com