The Panama Dining Room is located on Smith Street Fitzroy. It's actually in an apartment type thing with a small sign on the stairwell that indicated the restaurant was upstairs. Upon walking up two flights of stairs, you get to this rather bland entrance, with no indication that it was the main entrance or the fire escape as indicated on the door. We entered hoping it was the right door.
Once you step inside though, you are greeted by this very sparse high ceilinged space. Mood lighting greets you while you absorb in the rather unexpected interior. To one side of the large room is tables where guests are dining. There is a semi-circular bar on the other side, with lounges and high tables where people are drinking. A pool table sits in the middle. However, how anyone can play is a guess. As Kin noted "the lighting is way too low to even see the cue stick".
We order some Little Creatures Bright Ale and wait for Paul to arrive. The ale was quite light in flavour with a hint of honey and something else. When Paul arrives, we order our meals, with everyone opting for just mains.
Paul gets the Chicken wrapped in Prosciutto. As usual, he says his meal is quite ordinary and ok. He never seems to pick the good dish.
Kin goes for the Lamb with Beans, which he gobbles down very quickly. Hence I can only assume that it's good.
I have the Rabbit with Asparagus. It's very good. The rabbit leg had a flavour and texture was more like a slightly gamey chicken rather than the usual stronger rabbit flavour. I loved how they paired the rabbit with fried cheese and asparagus. The flavours all went together in a very interesting good way. There was also something slightly sweet in the sauce, which tasted really good.
For dessert, Kin and I both got the Creme Brulee Stack. This consisted of a couple layers of thin puff pastry, a layer of strawberries, a thin burnt sugar shell, creme brulee and a strawberry sauce. It was delicious, the creme brulee being soft and went really well with the strawberries.
Ambience here was quite good. It was a little bit dark whilst the sun was setting. But once it got later and they turned on some lights, it was much better. The noise level isn't too great, with the tables spread quite far apart. The view outside the windows of the city skyline was really good. The whole building felt a little odd, with things so open and the bar area on the other side. There wasn't as much buzz from the bar, or maybe it was just so far away that all the noise was loss when it got to us.
Service was a bit hit and miss, more miss in my opinion. They wait staff took a very casual approach, which can be great, but the service has to match. Firstly, it was really hard to tell who the wait staff were. They wore clothes that could be easily confused with patrons. The next issue was that everything was really slow. It took a good twenty minutes from getting our drinks menu to placing an order, and that was only because we waved someone down. Then we had to ask for meals menu. All this despite the fact that we had to be out of there by 9pm since the table was rebooked. I knew this when I booked so that wasn't an issue. It was just that we had only just ordered 8pm, despite being there by 7:15pm. Once the actual orders were made, it didn't take too long for the food to arrive. It all arrived at the same time too.
I liked the food and the prices are fairly cheap, all in the $21-$27 range. The serving are a bit small, but you do get full after you eat dessert. As usual, drinks really add cost to the meal and a couple of beers really brings the total up. So it didn't turn out as cheap as we thought, but still acceptable.
Overall Rating: 13/20, Food is good but service a bit too casual and slow.
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.