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Sunday, June 17, 2007

Alpino Restaurant - How To Lose Patrons In One Meal

I went to Lygon Street with Dennis and Patrick looking for a quick and fairly cheap meal since we had somewhere to go afterwards. We ended up settling on Alpino as a random choice since we didn't have any specific restaurant already chosen. Well, Alpino have managed to lose our patronage for a very long time with some very dirty tricks that they pulled. More about that later. Firstly, I will review their restaurant and food as fairly as I can, but having said that, their score will be serverly affected by our experience there.

To start with, the restaurant is a small cosy place with an upstairs area. The decorations are typical of many Italian restaurants on Lygon, with some fake columns and vines on the wall and a Ferrari flag. The service wasn't particularly good, with the waiters a bit rough but not in the happy jokey kind of way.

The waiter asked us what drinks we wanted and I ordered a beer while the others ordered ice chocolates. Then he asked us if we wanted to order entrees while we decided what mains we wanted. I declined and said we were ready to order mains. He said ok so I proceeded to roll off our order when he said to wait and ran off and got a pad and pen. Why don't waiters carry a pad and pen in their pockets all the time? Anyway, so then I retold him our mains orders. After I was done, again he asked me if we wanted any entrees first. Again I said, no thank you. When he brought us our drinks, he again asked us if we wanted entrees, like some Bruschetta or Garlic Bread. Again I said no. How many times does one need to upsold something one clearly does not want and has declined twice already? That's a rhetorical question by the way, as the answer would be once and once only.

The meals we got to share from left going clockwise are the Beef and Reef, Risotto Marinara, Steak Campagna and Fettucine Carbonara. The Beef and Reef was supposedly an eye fillet steak with seafood on top and a creamy sauce. The steak didn't taste like eye fillet as it was extremely chewy and definitely was not medium cooked as I had asked. Patrick was cutting it into smaller pieces when he asked me "How well did you ask for this to be cooked, overdone?". My reply was "No!, I asked for it medium as we always get it." Besides the steak being chewy, it was also flavourless. It tasted nothing like beef and the sauce flavour was non-existent. Also, the so-called seafood were prawns that had been soaked in water for way too long until they were translucent, one scrawny scallop that a supermodel would complain was too small, one equally anorexic mussel and two cockles that the chef couldn't be bothered to open.

The Risotto Marinara was my favourite dish of the night. It had nice flavours and I like the calarmari in it. The large-head prawn meat was very mushy, possibly cooked too long or prawns that aren't fresh. Prawns that are pre-cooked and left overnight in the fridge tend to have meat that becomes mushy I have found.

The Steak Campagna was the same as the other steak, chewy, flavourless and overcooked. Again the sauce was non-existent.

The Fettucine Carbonara was ok but nothing special. In fact, my local pizza place does one that is equally good, much cheaper too.


For dessert, we got the Tiramisu, as Dennis and I both love Tiramisu. However, this one was very dry and crumbly almost. It was worse than the Tiramisu I made.


The second dessert we got to share was the Strawberry Pancakes. Patrick was very hesitant as he said that no place could ever do strawberry pancakes justice as the unfortunately shut down Lazar's Charcoal Grill. I said that he wouldn't know until he tried it. Well it turned out the pancakes were quite bad, and shouldn't even be mentioned in the same breath as those from Lazar's. These pancakes used supermarket strawberry sauce from a jar, which tastes terrible and so fake. The tiny strawberries weren't exactly sweet and juicy. Compared that to the best strawberry pancakes ever from Lazar's, where the simple crepe (made by Mrs Lazar personally, each and every one), covers some of the sweetest and plump strawberries you will ever taste (freshly delivered each day from the local farms as the waiter informed us) and covered in a home made strawberry sauce and served with delicious vanilla ice cream. That pancake just screamed simplicity and freshness in each bite. I'm salivating now as I write this. Too bad Lazar's is no longer open. Alpino could also learn a thing or two about steaks from Lazar's, whose steaks didn't need any sauce but yet were so full of flavour, at exactly the same price too as Alpino's rubber steaks.


Ok, so now to why I won't eat there again. It's not even because the food wasn't that good. It was the way they tricked us. As most people who have visited Lygon Street know, the street is full of so many restaurants that choice is king. This means that owners now stand on the street and literally lure patrons into their restaurant. We happened to park right in front of Alpino, so we got out and were about to begin walking the street to see what was good. The owner, quite literally grabbed us (or Dennis anyway) and said that all meals and drinks were 10% off for us. We took a look at the displayed menu and the prices seemed very cheap already, and since we were after a quick and cheap meal, this seemed the perfect place.

Once we looked at the menu carefully when seated, this was when we discovered that the prices they displayed outside was for entrees, with mains sizes a further extra $4. This was written in black bold writing on the menu, and I clearly saw it so knew that this was the case. This wasn't a good sign, but we let that slip since we were going to get the entree size and the 10% off would make it roughly even.

When we ordered our meals, we ordered the two steaks and we wanted entree sizes for the risotto and pasta, as we thought that would be enough. So I just said to the waiter that we wanted the risotto and pasta, at no stage saying that I wanted the mains size. Halfway during the meal, as we were sitting near the counter, I overhear a lady arguing with the staff about why she was charged an extra $4 for both her pasta. She said that she hadn't indicated that she wanted the mains size. I didn't catch the rest of the conversation but made a mental note to look at our bill carefully.

Come time for our bill, we too were also charged the extra $4 for the risotto and pasta. We thought we had got the entree sizes as the servings were very small so this was a shock to us. When I went to pay, I asked the staff (who seemed to be the owner's wife) why we had been charged an extra $4. She said that it was on the menu. I said that I saw that, but I didn't ask for the mains size. Her reply was that we had eaten it already and so should pay for it. I said it wasn't a matter of not paying for the meals, but we thought we had gotten the entree sizes we wanted and since the servings were so small, we went ahead and ate it. She then said that many restaurants did this in terms of different prices for entrees and mains. My reply was that I agreed, having been to many places that do this, especially for pasta. But when you order, you always get what the base price is for, the price written in large font. Only when you explicitly ask for the larger size do you get charged extra. It's not assumed that you want the extra things and that you should pay for it without knowing. She wouldn't budge on the issue, so I stood there, clearly waiting for my change which she didn't look like giving. I was almost about to ask her for my $3 change. I wasn't going to give them one cent in tips.

How ridiculous is this situation. We were firstly tricked with the signage at the front that apparently displayed the "entree" sized prices without saying so clearly. Then it was assumed that we wanted the "mains" sized serving when we didn't explicitly ask for it. Which restaurants assumes you want the extra stuff at the higher price without you explicitly saying. So in future if I order a pasta that has the option of caviar on top of it, even if I don't say I want it, they will give it to me and charge me for it? As far as I have experienced, you always get what is priced for the meal and only get charge extra when you ask for a larger size. The waiters don't go and assume you want the larger and more expensive serving.

So my overall impressions of Alpino was already not great considering the food, but with the extra insult of the pricing (it turned out not to be that cheap, even with the discount, it still cost us $36 each, way too much considering how many other options there are on Lygon), it totally soured my experience and opinion of the place.

Overall Rating: 6/20, Points for the atmosphere and the risotto. Lots of minus points for the deception, the overall attitude of the lady owner and how expensive it turned out to be, having been lured in on the basis of cheap prices.

Scores: 1-9: Unacceptable, don't bother. 10-11: Just OK,some shortcomings. 12: Fair. 13: Getting there. 14: Recommended. 15: Good. 16: Really good. 17: Truly excellent. 18: An outstanding experience. 19-20: Approaching perfection, Victoria's best.

Alpino Restaurant on Urbanspoon

18 comments:

  1. Sounds incredibly disappointing although the standard of food on that part of Lygon often is, in my opinion. I feel your frustration on the billing situation. Whatever happened to customer service and customer retention? With a few exceptions I'm always happy to steer clear of that end of Lygon.

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  2. Truffle, can you suggest any cheap, good places to eat Italian food on Lygon? I like Thaila Thai on the other end of Lygon but felt like some Italian this time.

    As for the billing situation, they clearly falsely advertised and then did that sneaky thing with the menu. If you're going to give people the mains everytime, why not put the mains price instead of a cheaper entree price and then just assume people want mains size and charge them that.

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  3. The two places that spring to mind are Tiamo and Trotters. I haven't been to either in the past year so can't vouch for the quality. The food at both is very basic. Tiamo used to have quite a limited menu and only charge around $11 but the recent review by Preston suggests that has increased.

    http://www.theage.com.au/news/restaurant-reviews/tiamo/2007/06/04/1180809409827.html

    Trotters regularly makes the Cheap Eats guide and you can read some reviews on mietta's.

    http://miettas.com/Australia/Victoria/Carlton/Trotters.html

    They do a mix of cafe fare and pasta and risotto dishes. You can see their menu here

    http://www.trotters.com.au/menus1.htm

    My must stop Italian spot on Lygon (albeit only for dessert) is Gelobar

    http://miettas.com/Australia/Victoria/Brunswick_East/Gelobar.html

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  4. Thanks for the very thorough details Truffle. I will note down these places and give them a try next time I'm in Lygon.

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  5. How maddening to have such an experience. I dined at Tiamo earlier this year, there were 4 of us and we had a main each (standard size) and paid corkage and the whole experience only cost us $50 or so! What's more it was enjoyable and the food great.

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  6. Hi Ali-K, it was a very maddening experience. I was trying to explain to the lady owner but she kept insisting that it was written on the menu. I kept saying I knew that but every other restaurant charges what is written as the main price unless you specifically ask for a larger size.

    I guess I will be trying out Tiamo next time, that sounds very cheap and good indeed.

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  7. It's always sad to hear of this type of service, but after reading this I had the thought that you were offered entrees 3 times and so this may have caused the mix up in sizes??? I've always found it easier to elaborate on what size serving I want and not leave it up to the waiters' discretion. Better luck with the next venue.

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  8. Dean, I was offered entrees three times when the waiter asked specifically if we wanted some bread or something, to which I said no. I will definitely elaborate on the size in future. It's just that at every other restaurant I've been to, you order whats written on the menu and you get that size. They may have options for other sizes which cost more, but when you don't specifically say you want those, you don't just get given the larger size. Even at McDonalds, they ask if you want to upsize without just giving you that one and expecting you to pay for it.

    Hopefully the next Italian place will be a lot better.

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  9. How gratifying to see that it is not just me that has had an appalling dining experience at Alpino.

    The Amatriciana I ordered was totally flavourless, incredible considering the combination of ingredients. There was almost no sauce on the pasta, which was certainly not fresh.

    It should be criminal to charge $19 for a dish that poor. Nobody at our table was happy with their meal, and when we were asked by the waiter how everything was, we replied that it wasn't that good.

    Sadly, the waiter didn't take this opportunity to get valuable feedback from unsatisfied customers, but instead became rude and defensive.

    Food: 2/10 (when you can cook a much better pasta in no time at home, there's a problem)

    Service: 3/10 (no charisma and little interest shown in our dining experience at all)

    Value: 1/10 (at almost $20 a dish, with small portions relative to many of the other places on Lygon, there's little value here)

    Total: 6/30

    I am happy to say I will never return to Alpino, at least while it is owned and run by the current people. It's sad that a restaurant like this can sit on Lygon Street and continue to peddle mediocre fare to unsuspecting diners.

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  10. Scotland, I cannot agree with you more. It is a wonder how they are still able to operate in Lygon. Through bad food, rude customer service and expensive prices for small servings, they will only catch unsuspecting customers like us once and never get repeated patronage. And I make sure I let all my friends know to not go there when looking for dining options in Lygon.

    It's amazing how badly they could do pasta. I've had pasta sauces from a jar that taste better.

    As for the customer service, they are very rude. When I told the lady owner our gripe with the extra $4, she just became angry and rude. It must happen often as another customer before me had exactly the same problem with the extra $4.

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  11. Fully agree - we had what should have been a wonderful experience ruined by that horrid "woman owner" - whoever she is - and a night filled with poor service and disgusting attitude.

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  12. Anonymous, you are yet another person to have experienced terrible service at Alpino. I wonder what type of restaurant they actually run. It seems like they don't think customer service is a requirement at their restaurant.

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  13. Absolutely terrible. Disgusting. We went with a large group of people for a very special occasion - the imminent wedding of a close family member. First it started with one of our group bringing BYO wine and beer. Not friendly, "sorry, we're licenced" but a short, sharp "Your table won't be getting any bruschetta if you open that".

    Next, we were left waiting for about two hours for our meal. When our meal finally did arrive, three of our group were not given anything. Those three meals arrived when everyone else had finished.

    Finally, the staff appeared totally dismissive of any wrong doing, were happy to be argumentative, and demanded the entire bill including the three meals that were served when others had finished.

    Add to that a kitsch, dirty environment (air conditioners with sticky tape all over them, kitsch murals, etc) and it made for extreme disappointment on what should have been a very special occasion. Shame, shame, shame.

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  14. Absolutely terrible. Disgusting. We went with a large group of people for a very special occasion - the imminent wedding of a close family member. First it started with one of our group bringing BYO wine and beer. Not friendly, "sorry, we're licenced" but a short, sharp "Your table won't be getting any bruschetta if you open that".

    Next, we were left waiting for about two hours for our meal. When our meal finally did arrive, three of our group were not given anything. Those three meals arrived when everyone else had finished.

    Finally, the staff appeared totally dismissive of any wrong doing, were happy to be argumentative, and demanded the entire bill including the three meals that were served when others had finished.

    Add to that a kitsch, dirty environment (air conditioners with sticky tape all over them, kitsch murals, etc) and it made for extreme disappointment on what should have been a very special occasion. Shame, shame, shame.

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  15. Xanthia, I'm sorry to hear you also had a terrible time there. In your case, it's even worse since it was a special occasion.

    I know I will never go back to that place, and always tell anyone that goes to Lygon Street to eat never to eat at Alpino's. They way they run their restaurant, they will never get repeat patronage.

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  16. The guy at the front says he's the owner but he's not as admitted by the waiting staff. I had great service by beautiful girls but the higher echelons where just creepy and more interested in having Their own coffee. I got the most expensive And unimpressive Greek salad and my risotto was grainy and undercooked. The garlic bread was good but was but one little slice and the whole thing cost me 35 bucks. The management was creepy.repeat

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  17. Had a shocking experience there, thought its worth putting up here. We went with some friends (so 2 couples in all) and of course they're very friendly when they're trying to drag you in, once you're in they ignore you and you already feel jibbed.

    We ordered a porterhouse steak, cannelloni, pesto chicken & a parma.

    Porterhouse was mostly veins and chewy stuff you Don't put in a steak.
    Cannelloni was frozen inside.
    Parma had no flavour, unsalted (evil owner lady said "well there was salt on the table"...)
    Person who ate the pesto chicken ended up in hospital that night.

    After much arguing they agreed not to charge us for the Canelloni and the Steak, both of which were hardly touched. The guy who ate the Parma was hungry and finished it so they refused to refund, and of course we didn't yet know about the pesto hospitalization because she only developed the stomach ache in the hour after we left.

    Bastards! This restaurant should've been shut down years ago, I've heard others have bad experiences there too.

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  18. Upon hearing of your experience, we, the RMIT newintstudents team will not dine here

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