Dining is all about an experience. It’s a sum of factors, some more important than others, that equate to a perception of enjoyment. Granted, many of these are subjective in nature, and even the import of each piece of the overall package will vary from one person to another…even one day to the next.
I bring this up because it is especially important today. This evening I ate at the Fresco’s restaurant within the Grand Chancellor in Spring Hill (Brisbane).
For a start, I had a late lunch today. Couple this with a flight from Mackay, and I was just not feeling very hungry. I wasn’t even going to review this meal, given I wasn’t really “feeling it”, but here we are. And for good reason, I think.
Now, part of the overall experience, and for me a major part, is value. When you have to hand over your hard earned dollars at the end of the meal, how do you feel about it? Did you get your money’s worth? And Fresco’s sells itself as a higher end restaurant. From the hotel lobby, it has all the signs of a flash joint. Small menu with prices that don’t include cents. Fancy gourmet buzz words in the descriptions, like “champagne vinegar mignonette” and “porcini mushroom foam”. Wait staff and a maitre ‘d who wear matching uniforms and half aprons. So it was almost with trepidation that I walked into the dining room to be seated.
Now, to be fair, the waitress was teriffic. In fact, all of the staff were great. Service was spot on, no complaints, but the experience started to get a little confused when I took my seat.
Shiny white butchers paper lined the tables. Underneath was a white table cloth, to be sure, and by god it was going to stay white. Ok, you might thimk i’m being a bit persnickety, but come on. Really Grand Chancellor Hotel? If you have an entree (or appetizer for my American friends), a main course, a dessert, and 1 drink, you cannot spend less than $60 per person. It is not a paper table cloth type restaurant. I promise you there are not unruly kids squirting ketchup bottles here.
Then I noticed the shot glass candle, and the only thing tackier than a shot glass candle is…a battery powered LED shotglass candle. Which, of course, is what it was.
Placed next to the fake candle, was a small saucer separated into two halves in the shape of a ying yang. Decor by jumble sale? One half had flaked sea salt, the other coarse ground pepper. Love the salt idea, hate the pepper. Hit me with a grind or two, i love the aroma of pepper as it is ground between two ceramic wheels, but it loses that freshness in seconds, and setting it on a dish doesn’t cut it.
I wont even get started on the rest of the decor, other than to say it needed some serious updating. I love the music from the 80’s, but the decor not so much.
All that aside, let’s talk food.
Ok, first thing…great wine list. A good selection, covering a lot of styles, and a range of price points. The wine fridges sitting on the counter, not great pieces of furniture. The beer selection is OK, but they have Coopers Sparkling Ale, so I’m well pleased.
Next thing. A salad. Remember me not being hungry? All of a sudden, i’m thinking a salad is a good idea. But guess what. No salad on the menu. If you have a restaurant, please make sure you have a salad option for the main. It’s not hard to make one, and it’s a great light alternative. Plus, remove the meat and you have a vegetarian option. If you are reading this Fresco’s…GET A FRIGGIN’ SALAD.
So, i decide to order a couple of entrees (again, appetizers for my American friends).
Salmon, marinated with ginger & kaffir lime: served with shaved coconut, coriander and bean sprout salad with chilli soy dressing.
Kangaroo fillet: baby spinach, beetroot & feta salad with chilli tomato relish (except they were out of feta, so had goats cheese, and had rocket (arugula) instead of spinach).
And they were both amazing.
The chef at the Fresco’s knows his (or her) shit. All that decor crap, the tacky table settings, well they are not really the important components of the package now, are they.
The salmon was perfectly cooked. A small portion, maybe, but it was an entree only. Rare are it’s centre, still moist, and delicately seasoned, it was perfectly done. And i don’t know how he (or she) made the salmon skin cracker, but it was a knock out. Even such a simple thing as the bean sprout and coriander salad was masterfully done. Like the old game of “pick up sticks”, bean sprouts create a tangled mess of 3d architecture that adds visual interest to the plate, and the colours of the sprouts, red onion (finely sliced) and coriander really prove that one first eats with ones eyes. Of course, it tasted great too, very well dressed.
The Kangaroo was better. Rare, as roo should be, it was perfectly seasoned, still juicy, and incredibly tender. I tried to savour those 5 small slices, but they were gone too soon. Is there a better combination in the food world than beetroot and goats cheese? I don’t think so. Fresh roasted beetroot, deliciously sweet and still with a good crunch, though tender enough to run a fork through it. Contrasted against the saltiness and soft creamy texture of the cheese…it was amazing. The chilli tomato relish balanced the dish nicely, with a little piquancy and acidity. This dish will go into the memory bank for later reproduction. No greater compliment than that.
I finished a very satisfying meal off with a nice espresso…and of course it was served in a double walled bodum espresso glass, as if to make a final statement about tacky decor.
If i were to measure the meal by the meal alone, it would have been outstanding. And while the decor and accessories were truly minor issues, more comedy fodder than anything, they were still issues. Less excusable was the lack of a salad on the menu (there was a pasta).
Though the environment may have missed the mark, the food was of the highest order and i felt it was well worth the money spent. Chef, my kudos to you and your team.
Fresco’s, your dining experience, as a package, was worth 3.5 little piggies.