I go to some restaurants with a lot of expectations and anticipation. It's either because I've heard and read really good things about it, or that I've waited a long time to go there. There are some places that exceed my expectations such that I have gone back or can't wait to go back agin, such as Horoki, Horoki 2, Horoki 3, Movida, Movida 2, Rockpool Bar and Grill and Vue de Monde.
Then at the opposite end of the spectrum, there are places where what is delivered is so far from my expectations that I'm utterly disappointed. Previously, the places that I have been disappointed at, in order of least disappointment to most disappointment are:
Shoya: I was expecting quite a lot from Shoya as Danny from Tummy Rumbles had suggested it. He said they did some of the best sashimi in Melbourne. This part turned out to be very true, but the rest of the experience was very lacking. It was nothing like I imagined from browsing their online menu.
Bar Lourinha: I had read such good things about this place, such as Serenity Later's post about it. However, the reality was that most of the food was very bland and overpriced in my opinion.
De Los Santos: This place was another one of those places where the menu reads a lot better online that the actual food. A lot of the food was bland and uninteresting.
Rumi: The biggest disappointment by far has to be Rumi. Not only did they get so many favourable reviews from the media and bloggers, I also waited a long long time to be able to get a table there. In the end though, I found a lot of the food quite awful and just didn't understand what I wasn't seeing that others were.
However, I can now knock Rumi off the list as the most disappointed place and annoint the newest toad in Verge. I had read two extremely glowing reviews by John Lethlean on Verge. Verge had also been on my list for quite some time as a place to visit. So with my impending birthday next week, what better excuse to go eat there with a friend. The fact that I could get a discount with the Entertainment Book sealed the deal.
I went on Saturday night so the only option was the Degustation menu. This was fine with me as the online degustation menu sounded so good. The fact that I could choose my 5 dishes made me even more excited.
My friend and I got there at quarter past 7. We were looking for the bright green panelling on the exterior like on the website, but couldn't find it. Finally, we saw the building number and proceeded inside. We went past a dark lit bar, to which a waiter spoke to us. I told him about our booking and we were led upstairs. The space is a very unusual space. There are tables to the side of the stair case on the middle level, with the top level dominated by a small dining room. A bench in the centre of that room broke up the area strangely. There were tables surrounding that bench, as well as a couple of tables crammed (or positioned privately, it all depends on how you look at it) behind the stairwell.
We were seated at a very cramped table, lowly lit by a candle. I've never been a fan of dark mood lighting in any restaurants. You really do need a bit more light to eat I think. It was all a bit uncomfortable, as the next tables were very close. I could even nearly bump into the gentlemen behind me when I sat back a bit. Our conversations started off very muted and we just couldn't help but feel uncomfortable. As the room filled up more in the next quarter hour, we relaxed a bit more and chatted.
The degustation menu was explained to us by our waiter and we ordered some wine whilst agreeing on the menu choices. The palette cleanser of fish on a lotus seed arrived. I forget the exact ingredients but I went ahead and popped it into my mouth. It tasted ok but didn't really elicit any reaction from me.
Bread arrived and there was a sesame bread as well as some sourdough. We were both fairly hungry so dug into the bread. The seseame bread was not to my liking so I only ate half. I then tucked into the sourdough. Boy, was it sour. It was also very firm and not to my liking.
The first course we chose was the Octopus "carpaccio" with nameko mushrooms, tomato and shiso. The dish was so small, my friend joked and said, "where's the cat". I didn't understand and asked for a clarification. He said that there was so little of it, it was only enough to feed a small cat. I laughed heartily and had to agree. I dug into the "carpaccio" and again, it did not elicit much reaction from me. The octopus was rather "fishy" in taste and a bit "slimey". I didn't feel the mushrooms or shiso added any flavour. I just got the overall flavour of sourness.
At this point, we were both hoping that it would get much better soon. I kept saying that the reviews were all really good. We told ourselves that we probably just picked a bad dish.
Next up was the dish we both had been waiting for. We love wagyu and really enjoyed our Wagyu steak at Lygon Steakhouse previously. Also, after my Jamon Sushi experience, I knew how good raw Wagyu can taste. The Tataki of Wagyu with umeshu noodle, grated egg white and onion ponzu was again tiny. The egg whites didn't really go well with the beef. The beautiful flavours of Wagyu was completely hidden and all I could taste was more sourness. I was so disappointed with this dish. How can you manage to destroy Wagyu. Apparently, you do that by adding a million other things to it that doesn't enhance its flavours at all.
The next dish was a Risotto of spring onion and ginger and a caramelised fennel cigar. By this stage, I should have started to lower my expectations, but foolishly, I was still thinking the risotto would blow my mind like the risotto at Vue de Monde. How wrong I was to be. Whilst the risotto at Vue de Monde was perfectly cooked and every spoonful was a joy, this risotto was like a congee my mum makes with spring onion, ginger and fish, excepts my mum makes it better, as I told my friend. The risotto was undercooked so there was still some hard lumpy bits. The fennel cigar tasted like an oily spring roll and again, the whole dish was just sour. What's up with making everything so sour.
By this stage, food wise I was so disappointed. At least the wine and conversations were very good. Hence I was partially distracted from the food. But my friend was really disappointed too and said he needed to go outside for a smoke. He said all the food was so underwhelming and the whole atmosphere of the restaurant was all show and no substance. By now, I had to agree. So I told the waiter that we would be downstairs for a smoke break. He told us that we could take our wines to drink outside, which we did. I laughed all the way down the stairs as I have never uttered the words "I'm just going outside for a smoke" before. We sat outside and drank our wines while my friend had a smoke to expell all his disappointment. We were already discussing about pizza and cake on Lygon street afterwards, such was our hunger.
The final savoury dish was a Chargrilled "1842" scotch fillet, tongue, sweet and sour turnips and mustard miso. So of all things, you would think that you cannot, absolutely cannot ruin a good steak. You don't even need to add anything to a well cooked steak for it to be good. Well, you can ruin it a steak, by pairing it with this awful tasting mustard miso. The steak was cooked well and the parts that had not been tainted by the miso was very nice. I liked the turnips with their sharp taste. The tongue was ok.
Between the savoury dishes and dessert, there was a huge break. So we just sat there and enjoyed the rest of the wine and talked, forgetting about the food. We had decided that once we had dessert, we would leave immediately and head somewhere else that had some atmosphere and we could just laugh without feeling uncomfortable.
The Pistachio and White Chocolate Parfait with caramelised peach and sesame meringue arrived. It too had been shrunk by the particle compression machine. The sesame meringue were so small, they could have been individual rice bubbles. I liked the caramelised peach with its sweet and slightly sour taste. The parfait was good, but nothing fantastic. When we ate dessert, we drank the last of the wine, took a sip of water and got the bill. We were out of there quick smart, ready to go to Lygon for some hearty food.
I know food is not about quantity, but if you are offering a degusation menu, one criteria is to satisfy your diners hunger. I'm not a huge eater too, so that wasn't the problem.
Service wise, it was all quite good. The waiters were all professional and did their jobs well. They were a lot colder than the wonderful staff at Vue de Monde though. The waiters/waitresses here never looked either of us once in the eye. They just stared above us and were reciting the food from memory. It was a total contrast to the service at Vue where the waiters made eye contact with each and every one of us and pointed to each item they were describing rather than rattling off the list as quickly as possible.
The atmosphere was this strange uneasy feeling. We were fairly relaxed after the start, but nowhere near what you would want. Conversations were kept at fairly low hushed tones, and even when I wanted to let out a massive hearty laugh a few times, I stopped myself. The strange layout of the room didn't help to make things more inviting. And I really don't like the ultra low lighting. Later on when we were at Lygon, we had much more insightful and philosophical discussions just sitting on an outside table with a coffee and cake. And that only cost about $10 each, not over $100.
I'm not sure what the a la carte menu would be like, but usually the degustation would be the best dishes that a chef can offer. I didn't think any of the dishes were great and some of them I didn't like even. The odds of picking that many wrong dishes is not good. There are 5 choices in each sub category, so to pick all bad dishes in all five sub category meant we had 1/3125 chance. So I believe we got a fair sample of what the chef could do. For the $80 it cost for the degustation, it may initially sound cheap for a top restaurant, but it was ultra expensive considering how little food there was and nothing was close to great. I ended up eating a whole slice of tiramisu at Lygon and then some more fruits when I got home to satisfy my hunger.
Verge is now the most disappointing restaurant. Maybe the flavours and style just doesn't sit well with me or my friend. My friends observation that it was a totally underwheling experience that saps the life out of you may sound a bit extreme, but having experienced it, I would have to agree. I was so down about the restaurant that despite the professional service, I didn't feel like giving a tip at all.
Overall Rating: 9/20, Food utterly disappointing and serving sizes so small that I was left very hungry after 5 courses. Atmosphere not inducive for good conversations.
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.