maze Melbourne is the newest of the seemingly unending restaurants from the McRamsay conveyor belt of restaurants, gastropubs and cafes from Gordon Ramsay. Housed in the new Crown Metropol hotel on the city's swanky Southbank precinct, maze is unfortunately situated on the Clarendon St end of the jewel of Crown. Looking out the window through the earth toned curtains you can expect to see not the light reflecting off the Yarra or the glittering necklace of lights from the CBD - but a noisy cacophony of cars and a rather sad IGA.
Booking is apparently essential. It can be done online through Dimmi where upon booking you are reminded 'not to cancel or not turn up, as this could prevent you from booking again'.
Our reservation was for 8.30pm on a Friday night. We got there at 8pm and were invited to have a drink and wait for our table. We were shown to the lovely lounge area with seats to the walls, low tables and retro swivel chairs. The characters from TV's Mad Men would not have felt out of place dangling Martinis from their fingers there.
Like so many restaurants we have dined in before - we gave maze the 'LLB' test. If they can't do a decent Lemon Lime Bitters then do they really deserve to be open? Harsh but we all have our own litmus test for places and people. Our drinks arrived and they were lacking. Very very light if at all on the Bitters. Too much ice and way too many wedges of lime.
8.30pm rolled around and the reservation desk looked more harried than ever - at least 6 staff members staring at the computer screen, pointing and shaking their heads. No one came over to check on us or indicate they were running late with our table. We chuckled to ourselves and wondered if the Dimmi disclaimer could work both ways - where we could 'not book again due to restaurant running late'.
8.45pm we signalled over a flustered young lady and asked her to check on our table. She went away and conferred with the busy reception desk. Then she came back to us and said someone from the desk will come over to us. Apparently she was ill equipped to deliver the news, whatever it was.
We waited another 5 minutes and then someone did indeed come over to ask if WE were ready for our table. We said yes. She asked us to leave our drinks that they would follow us in.
The restaurant itself is done in earth tones and somewhat lacking in light. Two (could be more) over large light fixtures in dangerous spikes hung overhead and provided little if any lighting. Each table had a tiny candle. That was going to be bad for my iphone camera.
At this time it was past 9pm.
At 9.15pm our table server came over and asked if we wanted drinks. We told her our drinks from the lobby must have gotten lost, as they have not yet found us. She said she would check on them. We perused the menu whilst she rounded up the bloodhounds to search for our drinks. Ahh but at least we had tepid water in our tumblers.
The menu is interesting in its concept. Degustation is recommended and I am yet unsure as to whether a la carte is possible. The first page indicates 7 courses for $95. We were advised that the following pages contained starters and mains and we were recommended to 'choose 4-5 savoury courses' - 3 lighter courses from the starters and 2 heavier courses from the mains. I was disappointed in the menu as the dishes were all safe and predictable. Nothing jumped out at me and said 'oh you have to eat this'. Faced with the task of choosing without any recommendations from the wait staff (and the prospect of waiting another hour to eat) we made choices. Lighter courses we chose include artichoke veloute with rock lobster garlic chips and green beans ($10.91), smoked eel kipfer potato sour cream black garlic and shaved foie gras ($12.73), scallop with champagne foam ($16.36 each), quail ($13.64), rabbit ($17.27). Our drinks never did follow us to the dining room so we ended up ordering two glasses of German Riesling.
Bread arrived with Maldon sea salt and 'seaweed butter'. We loved the seaweed butter - creamy with a hint of ozone. The bread was very light and chewy. Baked in house apparently.
I was impressed with some of the food - the scallops were beautifully cooked and tasted great. No taste to the 'champagne foam' - it might as well have been 'champagne illusion'. What was off-putting was the powerful smear of parsley on the plate. Completely erased the taste of the fresh, sweet scallops. Shame really. The artichoke soup was lovely and smoky. The rock lobster still cleanly flavoured and the beans adding a little crunch to the velvet soup. This was a faultless dish to me.
I enjoyed the smoked eel as well - as nice as the foie gras sounds on this dish, it served no purpose apart than to look good on the menu. There was no taste of foie gras.
My husband complained that his rabbit was tough - which was a shame since he was very excited about having rabbit. His quail was more successful.
Our mains - poussin ($20) and beef ($20.91) for him and lamb ($21.82) and beef for me. His chicken was delicious, moist and flavourful. However the skin was not crisp therefore inedible to me or my husband. My lamb was wonderful in texture - the loin was tender and juicy but ruined by the over salting on top of the piece. When I put it in my mouth my tongue immediately became sore from the salt. I was most disappointed in that.
The beef. Well what can we say about the beef? Texture wise it was a work of art. Tender to the point of dissolving on the tongue. Taste wise? Nothing. We might as well have eaten beautifully textured wood. There was no taste at all. We were looking forward to the beef more than any other course since it was so popular with everyone around us. What a colossal disappointment. The horseradish mash was soft and pleasant tasting instead of being luxurious, silky and decadent (Bistro Guillaume).
At this time it was well past 11pm.
We ordered two desserts because we felt we had to. Chocolate fondant ($14.55) and Coconut pannacotta ($14.55) and two espressos ($3.64 each).
Desserts were delicious and faultless. Espressos were terrible - tasted of bad beans, poor roasting and inexperience coffee making.
We asked for our bill twice and were kept waiting another 15 minutes whilst table staff moved around the dining room looking lost, confused and tired. Our bill came to $293.59 ... yes... they charged us for the 2 LLBs we never even had two sips of and they forgot. This was just the icing on the huge cake of disappointment.
I was beyond angry at this point so I advised the person who brought the bill that the LLB were 'lost' on the way to the table and we should not be charged for them. He took the bill away and 15 more minutes elapsed before we got a new bill ... this time for $289.50. Yes folks, they took 1 LLB away and left the other.
Before my husband committed a crime we paid and left.
So would I recommend maze? No. Absolutely not. Overpriced food. Inexperienced staff. Melbourne has better dining experiences and you deserve better.