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.