Sunday, September 21, 2008

Value For Money When Dining Out

When dining out, trying to determine if something is value for money is so hard. It's such a subject thing as one person's criteria for what is value is different to another. I will use two recent dining examples of mine to demonstrate.

The first dining experience is what I would call value for money. Before going to see Wicked, my friend and I dropped by Horoki for dinner. I love that restaurant and have written about it here, here, and here. The price for our dinner was $70, which is $35 each, although to be fair, my friend said she was quite full already and didn't eat one of the dishes. So lets say the meal for just myself would have cost $45.

So what did we get to eat for that price. Well, I got a beer while she got a juice. We then had my favourite daikon sashimi salad that contained beautiful cuts of fish combined with a tangy dressing that enveloped the finely shredded daikon with fish roe bursting at every bite while the seaweed and fried noodle crisps crunched away. We also got a Korean pancake that was cooked to perfection with no hint of floury taste and soft pieces of squid. We also got plump seared scallops with a thin gelatinous rice skin overlapping dressed with oil, capers and diced tomato. We also got a cod roe butter that smoothly covered some noodles with a sprinkling of paprika. Finally, to finish it all off, I got a velvety smooth creme brulee while my friend got an equally smooth panna cotta with berry sauce. Now to me, that meal was utterly delicious and great value for money.

Now fast forward a couple of days and let's contrast it to another meal that some may think is value for money, but for me was utter rubbish. That meal was eaten at Sofias Burwood. The meal cost $40 each when the bill was split with two other friends. Since one friend only had a salad and soup, my meal probably cost near $50. So this is what I got. Again, I got a beer. I got about 5 oysters natural that were not fresh at all and had no flavour. I also got a steak medium rare that was extremely chewy and absolutely flavourless. It was such a huge chunk of steak that I couldn't finish it. Sitting next to the steak was some vegetables that had been boiled to death and was so lifeless. To top it off, there was a mushroom sauce that tasted worse than the packet stuff from the supermarket and it drenched my plate so that everything was swimming in it. Then I got dessert, which I thought they couldn't possibly get wrong. How can you mess up crepes with bananas. Well, I got a huge huge plate (see photo below, my hand is there for aspect) of two crepes, with a tub of cream, bananas soaked in banana syrup and sprinkled with dessicated coconut and half a tub of "vanilla" ice cream. Let me start with the crepes. They tasted like they hadn't been cooked yet and was all stretchy. It tasted foul and I couldn't eat more than a couple of bites. The whipped cream from a can was also foul. The bananas, which you can't go wrong with right, were boiled to a mush and drenched in this awful synthetic flavoured banana syrup. Even the dessicated coconut taseted funny. And finally, that huge chunk of vanilla ice cream had absolutely no flavour. If you didn't tell me it was vanilla ice cream, I would have guessed it was lard.

So as you can see, some people may think the sofia's dinner was value for money. I got three courses which on paper sounded great. But in excution, was atrocious. I looked around at the other tables and the patrons looked quite happy, or at least not upset. Many were even happy to be able to take away a huge container full of pasta that was the remains of their meals. The pasta dishes were so huge I really thought all three of us could eat just one plate. If you think I'm kidding, look at the dessert plate above.

I don't think I'm a food snob, as I like eating things like Hungry Jack's burgers or at my local Chinese Vietnamese restaurants that serve $10 meals and be equally happy. But Sofia's, and other similar restaurants, are not value for money. I have been there three times, not of my choosing, and it has been equally horrendous each time. These types of restaurants should really change their style so that they serve smaller servings of better quality rather than this sloppy fare. Our meals arrived so fast (our steaks arrived in about 5 minutes, desserts in about 8 minutes) that they must all just be pre cooked and sitting there. It's worse than fast food, where even they claim they cook your burger when you order it now.

So to summarise, for me, value for money is eating well food that uses good (doesn't have to be experience) quality ingredients and excuted well. I would rather have the Horoki experience where I ate some exciting dishes and was full enough rather than have so much food at Sofias that I couldn't walk (if I ate it all, which I didn't) for the next three days but was terribly slopped together that even an ingredient like a banana could be ruined. Even if they did nothing with the banana and just sliced it and placed it next the "crepe", it would have tasted good.


  1. Wow Thanh, it seems your article plant is fruiting! How many posts today?! LOL

    Your second meal is such a fine example of suburban crapaurant eating. They get away with cos their clientele doesn't want to travel too far, but still wants to believe they've gone a little 'special' for dinner. Quantity over quality. Tacky overkill to express 'luxury'. It's such a depressing suburban cliché, but needn't be that way.

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  3. i have to agree with duncan on this one - i have friends that absolutely love restaurant's like that, but would turn their noses at anything adventurous - think "french" for example and they would be terrified of going to horoki. sofia's, however, they love.

    whenever i go to a sofia's (i get dragged there a bit), i consider it to be the same as a country pub, so i only order safe dishes - entre sized pasta for mains (or fisherman's basket if i have a hankering). otherwise you are bound for disappointment!

  4. Fat Do is just upset because he wasted his free meal on this fantastic place.

    You just can't please tubby. It's not like you taste the food when you vacumn the whole table anyway.

  5. Duncan, well I finally got motivated and didn't get distracted. It only took about 3 hours to write all the posts. I had written most of them in my head already during each occasion.

    Sofias was definitely crap. It is really quantity over quality for sure. The servings were huge, but nothing looked appetising at all. The same vegetables was slopped on every single meat dish.

    James, it's fine if others like it. But for me, it's such a waste of food. Because with the ingredients they have, they could really do something simple and good rather than just opt for quantity to entice people.

    If I do ever go back, I will order something safe too, like fish and chips. They couldn't possibly mess that up could they?

    Oblivion, I do feel a little ripped off since I could have got so much more with my free meal. Thanks for the meal, I appreciate that anyway. It's not your fault they serve crap food.

    You can please me. As I said, the meal at Horoki cost about the same and it was fantastic.

  6. Hi Thanh!

    Ew Sofia's. Like EWWWWWWWW. I've only been to the one in Camberwell, and it is fucking filthy disgusting feral gross and nasty! Who on earth needs such big portions? And it's just so crappily put together. Last time, I seriously remember seriously half-onions in the pasta sauce. What's up with that?

    Duncan - I don't know what the word "crapaurant" means, but I like it! And I'm going to start using it in sentences. Crapaurantly!

    xox Sarah

  7. Sarah, isn't Sofia's awful. I haven't been to the Camberwell one, but from what you say, I don't think I ever need to go. I don't know why they need such large portions. Who is their target demographics. Most people can't eat that much food in one sitting.

    The food looks so generic don't you think? They all look similar and equally unappealing. How can the colours look so muted and everything just look so deflated. Even something as basic as a crepe with bananas can be made to taste like plastic with some rotting thing drenched in some other synthetic thing. Amazing how they can achieve that.

  8. Thanh - I always cringe when my friends suggest Sofia's. Luckily they've stopped doing that lately. There are better suburban Italian restaurants out there, so I don't get why people choose Sofia's.

    Oh Duncan, I just got it. Crap + Restaurant. Oops.

    xox Sarah

  9. I'd never heard of Sofia's, but now I know what to stay away from!

  10. Sofia's is an AWFUL place. Simply awful. May years ago I went to the one in Camberwell adn was served a pizza burnt to charcoal. Literally. The base was charcoal for a good inch in around the edges. I complained and was told it was the "traditional" way to serve pizza. Big fight to get my money back because I was not eating that crap.
    Fast forward many years in a dinner emergency om the way to Point Lonsdale via the airport, I figured I'd give the Preston one a try as I couldn't find anywhere else to grab food for myself and kids (I do not do golden arches EVER). We ordered pizza. Ate pizza. It was awful but edible. Or so we thought. Son vomited it up most of the way from Tullamarine to Point Lonsdale. Not good. Fortunately daughter and I just wanted to vomit.

    Please excuse lengthy comment. I feel strongly about the hideousness of Sofias. Never again

  11. Agnes, please for your own sake, don't go to Sofias. Save your money for some local place that does good pasta.

    Dani, your comment is extremely welcome. It just backs up my three experiences at Sofias (none of which were my choosing) that were all awful as well. Your food poisoning experience doesn't surprise me. The food that I got served all three times looked really unfresh. Everything looked like they had been pre-prepared much earlier and just sitting there waiting for someone to order it. I really don't believe you can cook a steak in under 5 minutes, especially if you have to rest it in between cooking.

    Also, I have only been to Maccas twice in about 8 years, only because that was all that was available on the way to the snow and a country trip.

  12. Sofia's makes me shudder.

    I had to go there earlier this year with my partner's family for dinner (I don't know why we ever leave the decision up to my partners brother - he has no sense of quality eats) anyhoo they LOVED it because you pay like $6 and get two kilo's of overcooked, bland, watery (and always finished off with a bloody 'touch of cream' which is code for drowned) pasta. And don't get me started on the parmesan which smells like crumbed vomit - it's offensive to Italian people that that KRAFT jar war crime is called parmesan.

    Anyway I was reduced to eating the entree pasta marinara as the only dish that wasn't 'finished' with a 'touch of cream', the only way to distinguish the 'prawns' from the 'scallops' was that the prawns had the texture of a two dollar coin and the scallops were like eating pieces of disintegrating eraser.

    However, I guess the important thing to remember about places like Sofia's is that it is 'I'-talian as opposed to Italian.

    PS. Love Horoki too. When I worked nearby I would go there for lunch. For $14 you can select 3 appetizer sized dishes to have with either a small rice or baguette. It's the perfect size for lunch and particularly satisfying for being able to pick 3 small dishes.

  13. Irisav, it looks like a lot of people have had bad experiences at Sofias.

    You do get a lot of food for your money, but it is all awful. I too have noticed the parmesan there smells so badly that it wafts through the whole restaurant. Real parmesan tastes good, whereas that stuff I can't stand the smell of.

    My friends says that you're playing russian roulette with your stomach if you order the Marinara there. You're lucky you didn't get food poisoning.

    Isn't Horoki just fantastic. I wished I worked close to there so can go for there for lunches.

  14. I don't think I'd ever heard of Sofia's before reading this (not surprising as I'm a westy, and before I moved here I only ever visited people living in the western 'burbs). But it seems the results are in, and the stomachs have spoken. I'm going to steer VERY clear of this place.

    It's a shame such places continue to exist and flourish, when there are so many brilliant alternatives around.

  15. Maffy, yep if you ever come across a Sofia's, don't go in.

  16. There you go again slagging a franchise just because you've only had bad experiences with it.

    It's just like Dragon Boat. There are great ones and horrible ones. Just because the one in Chinatown is infamous of it's bad food and service, the one next to the Yarra has had decades of great success and constantly busy.

    I just hope the Sofia owners see your slagging and bagging of them and sue to your candy ass back to Noble Park.

  17. I agree - Sofia's Camberwell is just awful. Why should you have to choose off the menu based on what is least likely to give you food poisoning!
    It was probably the worst restaurant that I have been to in Melbourne.

  18. Oblivion, you're so funny. I did mention my three meals were all at the Ferntree Gully Road Sofia's, but I think the consensus from others is that all Sofia's are bad.

    Hi Jules, you are now on the long list of people who can't stand Sofia's. I like your line about choosing the least likely to give you food poisoning.

    Sofia's would be close to the worst place I've been to in Melbourne. Smorgy's pops up in my mind ahead of Sofia's.

  19. Fat and Stupid Do,

    So should everyone slag every single Blue Oyster Bar in all of Victoria just because the general 'consesus' points to mediocre standards at the Bentleigh East branch?