Saturday, March 24, 2007

EQ Cafe Bar

Melbourne Concert Hall
100 St Kilda Road
Southbank VIC 3000
Owner - Dur-é Dara
When you have tickets for a show at the Arts Centre for an 8pm start time and you are seated at your table, no, make that bar in front of the ginormous coffee machine at 6.10pm, you don’t want to wait an hour between your entrée and your main. This causes anxiousness in diners and more than a few murmurings on walking out, complaining to the diminutive, elegantly dressed, harried round figure of Dur-é and of course, writing a review on how wronged you were by the dining experience.

We had tickets to Weird Al at Hamer Hall so we decided to forgo the temptations of Fed Square and give EQ a chance. I had gone a long time ago, when it first opened to positive reviews and great expectations, after all, an enviable location and an Australian culinary entrepreneur with stellar experience under her … caftan? Yes, I think it was a caftan, very flowy, much like a round coffee bean nestled in a truffle – but I digress.

We were told at the door by a wait staff (I am not going to mention how wrong it is for wait staff to be allowed to work with huge cold sores on their lips, ew!) that the only table available was at the bar. Okay, we were happy to take that, after all, I had already mentioned how good the fish cakes were … so we sat and perused the wine list, then the menu – the wine list is quite good, a wide range of local and international reds, whites and all the other drinkables in between. Recommended is the Wairau River Estate Riesling as its quite light and fresh with passionfruit and pepper notes. Great with fish.

After twenty minutes the barista conjuring out coffees ten a minute in front of us took pity on us and took our drink order, we didn’t want to take a risk of being ignored again so when he brought the drinks we asked if he could take our food order, I pretended not to notice the fleeting look of annoyance that flitted across his face before he said ‘sure’. We ordered fishcakes ($8) to share and these came about 7 minutes after orders, great.
They were as good as I remembered – crisp and crunchy on the outside, fluffy and tasting of baccalà and potato – served with a gorgeous red pepper dip and a few fresh rocket leaves. We were almost ready to forgive the wait for our order with the quality of the food. But it was not to be. Over an hour later with no one even so much as batting an eyelid our way to replenish our tepid water, empty drink glass or thunderous expressions. We were about to give up and just walk out when as if reading our minds, our mains arrived.
I had a sexy little salad of smoked chicken, Loganiza sausage, potato and grapes in a light mayonnaise sauce ($18) and my partner had spaghettini with a ragu of pork and beef ($23). Great flavours in both dishes, clearly chef Stephanie Maier and her crew are doing good things in the kitchen. The wait-staff who delivered our mains grudgingly brought over the basket of presliced bread and offered us a piece each - no bread plates, no butter. The rule of bread is, great bread no butter, average bread - don't serve it!

Sadly, like so many eating establishments out there, EQ sufferes from excellent food let down by shoddy service. Considering where they are located and the crowd they cater for, timing should be the strong point at EQ but it is severely lacking. As my dining partner commented, even if the food wasn’t as great, if the service was wonderful, you’d be more likely to come back because you would feel looked after. I would recommend booking ahead and not making plans for after if you want to experience good food in a vibrant atmosphere … that or just walk across to Fed Square.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Yeah Maan, South Yarra, Caribbean

[Yay!!! Our first solicited review. Many thanks Mairead. Check out her website. Pretty cool. Uses flash and everything. - Chai]

Yeah Maan
Address: 340 Punt Road South Yarra 3141
Phone Number: (03) 9820 2707

Price Range: $20-40 for a meal

Total price: $221 for seven, not including wine
$31 per person

There is only one Caribbean restaurant in Melbourne (well there is a cafe called Babble On Babylon but it is only open in the daytime). It happens to be that our local bus takes us straight there, through the city centre and out the other side, right to the nearest corner. Some friends had warned us that the food was good but the portions were tiny, but we needed to see for ourselves.

And so it was that we took seven mates along there one Saturday night to see if it was anything worth talking about.

Yeah Maan is a tiny terraced building, converted from a house, with enough seating for about forty downstairs and another small dining room upstairs. Instead of the expected reggae blasting out, we were delighted to hear some classic soca tunes. We had a reservation but they didn't seem to know anything about that. We were shown to the upstairs room, and although we had explained that it was a reservation for seven people, we were asked to sit at a smaller table until we insisted we needed more room.

Once everybody had arrived we were pretty desperate for a drink - or at least some glasses for our BYO wine. In the end Orlando obliged by going downstairs himself. We thought that might shake up the waitresses, but we waited quite a long time for anybody to come and see if we were OK. It was the girl's first night so she didn't know much, but she was sweet.

Apart from myself and Orlando, we had three people who had only eaten Caribbean food in our house (Mena, Eileen and Kelvin), and two people who had no idea what they were in for (Australian Ida and Italian Viviana). The Trinidadian doubles served up were generous and talked about for days; Mena's Stamp 'n' Go was a huge portion and absolutely divine. Orlando and I both had the Pick Up Salt Fish, which was saltfish mixed with onions, tomato and peppers served on a dumpling. It reminded both of us how much we love saltfish, and I promised to go get some and start cooking it again. Pity we can't get ackee anywhere though...

The chilly janga roti (chilli prawns) were not too hot and spicy, which was probably just as well for the virgins. You could probably ask for them to be made a bit hotter. Kelvin chose the aloo pies, a huge portion of spicy potato balls which were tasty enough but nothing exciting.

The mains were even better. Eileen was served an enormous portion of jerk chicken and cassava fries, which she struggled manfully to consume, but ended up pleading with everybody to finish for her. She said it was lovely, but not as nice as Orlando's (well, you can't get Walkerswood here either).

The curried goat was really lovely, but I forgot to ask for mine to be made hot, so although it was tasty there was no kick to it. Orlando had asked for his hot, but it wasn't much better than mine. The rice and peas were made with small kidney beans (guess what? No gunga peas in Aus...) but it worked fine. Mena scored again with the ginger tamarind chicken which was beautifully seasoned, a good strong kick. The calypso chicken looked good, but even for the virgins it seemed very mildly-flavoured.

The service didn't get any better. We helped ourselves to more napkins, water and fresh glasses from behind our personal minibar in the corner, and raided the other tables for new candles for the table. Even when we wanted the bill, it warranted another trip downstairs. Maybe if we had been seated down with everybody else it might have been better.

Nonetheless, we were not in any hurry and the relaxed vibe certainly didn't ruin the evening. We put the world to rights without fear of annoying other diners with our noise, we finished a few bottles of wine and enjoyed some fine West Indian food. The rumours of small portions were well and truly scotched, and we will definitely come back again for more.

Review written by Mairead.