Melbourne, VIC 3000
Ph: 9659 1000
Website: Harry's Restaurant at Stamford Plaza Hotel
A good hotel restaurant? Oxymoron? That's what I used to think, but I have been categorically proven wrong. I'm really happy about that as there's no reason why hotel restaurants cannot be quality establishments. My reversal of opinion came when I was invited to visit Harry's Restaurant at Stamford Plaza Hotel. I've walked past the Stamdford Plaza Hotel quite a few times and always dreamed of staying there one day. I never noticed that there was a restaurant, which is a great shame, as I have been missing out on some good food.
Harry's Restaurant is a weird space. It sits in the lobby area of the Stamford Plaza Hotel, with one wall consisting of windows that look into the foyer area. The lighting at night is very dark in the restaurant (one of my pet hates) and with the sparse setting, feels kind of strange. It sort of sits between a cafe style setting and a restaurant. According to the staff, the space is multi use so you can see why there is such a setup. On this particular night, I got to meet Harry's Restaurant's new head chef, Jacky Poon. Jacky comes from Singapore and brings with him a wealth of experience. He is full of enthusiasm and happily chatted with me all night. His passion to cook good food is mixed with the reality that it's not an easy profession. It's good to hear such honesty. It made Jacky's words about how he wants to improve the standards at the restaurant really ring true in my ears. Jacky is introducing a new Singaporean/Malaysian style menu that will compliment the usual menu. I only tasted one element of that new menu, but it was fantastic.
For entrees, my friend Hien and I shared Seared Scallops with Cauliflower Foam and Appleslaw, Curry Puffs and Pea Soup with Coconut Cream. The scallops were cooked perfectly and tasted sensational with the cauliflower foam. The appleslaw was tart and acidic, exactly what was needed. The Curry Puffs, which are actually the restaurant's signature dish, was superb. The puffs are made according to the Chairman's wife's recipe. The Chairman used to own shipping companies before starting a chain of hotels. His wife made these puffs originally and they are still served to dignitaries, but you can taste them for the cost of an entree. Finally, I was surprised how great the pea soup was by the addition of the coconut cream. I don't think I've tasted this flavour combination before but it works a treat.
For mains, one of the dishes we got was the Lamb Rump, with pea puree, Asian greens and Chrysanthemum foam. I exaggerate not when I say the lamb was perfect. It was tender and full of flavour. Again, the simple addition of the Chrysanthemum foam made this dish just that bit special and something I haven't eaten before. This was an inspired addition by chef Jacky. The mash and puree were creamy smooth, and even the greens I didn't mind.
The Seafood Risotto with Char Grilled Morton Bay Bugs was also delicious. The bug was cooked very well and the meat still nice and firm, unlike at some hotel restaurants and pubs where the bug meat is literally breaking apart in front of your eyes from being cooked earlier and sitting in the kitchen all day waiting to be reheated. Risotto, and steaks, are my litmus test of how well a restaurant can cook food. Again, I was pleasantly surprised at how good the risotto was. The rice was cooked to the required consistency, still firm but yet soft. Simple additions of salmon flakes and prawns, plus a fantastic stock, made it so moreish I couldn't stop eating it. I love, and applaud, simple food done so well.
By this point, I was already super impressed with the food. I was hoping that dessert would live up to the same standards. When Jacky suggested their house special of the Chocolate Explosion, my heart sank a little. I was expecting some awful chocolate concoction that would taste of bland cheap chocolate. Instead, I was greeted with this stunning beauty. A ball of chocolate mousse is surrounded by stewed pears, which is then housed in a chocolate ball which is blinged up with a massive piece of gold leaf. A small cup of melted chocolate is then poured over the whole thing. The best couverture chocolate is used in this dessert and it shows. With a dessert like this, you can't hide and the best ingredients must be used. It is worth every cent of the $25 it costs to taste the contrast of the cold soft mousse centre, the cold sweet soft pear, the cold crunchy chocolate shell and finally the oozing warm chocolate river. It was Pear-fection. Seriously, an amazing dessert.
The service is serviceable and the staff are efficient and friendly. The ambiance in the restaurant is quiet and soft. It's not dead quite but this is probably the type of restaurant you want to go with a smaller group, rather than say a group of 10 people. It has an intimate feel and I like the strange layout where you stare out into the bright foyer while sitting in the dark restaurant. It feels a bit exclusive.
It's not often that a restaurant exceeds my expectations by so much. I know that I don't think highly of hotel restaurants in general, but I think I'll have to make exceptions. Harry's Restaurant does excellent food that I would definitely go back to as a dining location. The restaurant is open to the general public, but it's hard to get people to go due to that stigma of the "bad hotel restaurant" reputation. I would encourage you to set aside those prejudices and to give Harry's a go. I think you will be extremely surprised at how good the food is, with slight Asian touches mixed in with traditional Western dishes done extremely well. You can also sample the Singaporean/Malaysian menu which chef Jacky says I have to go back and try. I think I'll have to take up that offer and pop back to try this other menu.
Thanks to Tyrrell Publicity & Promotions for the invite and my guest and I dine courtesy of Stamford Plaza Hotel.