94 Seaworld Drive
Main Beach QLD 4217
+61 7 5509 8000
The other day, Marty had his birthday. We spent our daylight hours at the gym, eating ramen at Surfers Paradise (that will be my next post) and watching Nat Geo documentaries. I think I might have tried Bikram yoga for the first time too that day but I can’t remember. What we could remember, however, was the epic dinner we shared with Marty’s parents that night at Vanitas restaurant at Palazzo Versace.
The plan was for the two of us to share a nice romantic dinner at what has to be one of the nicest-looking restaurants we’ve even been to. However, Marty felt like being a nice son for once so he invited his parents along for the ride – they don’t have a lot of experience with fine dining restaurants so he wanted to treat them while he himself got treated. And this is from a guy who called me a ‘sausage roll’ over the weekend, ugh.
Driving to the world’s first fashion-branded hotel on a rainy Friday night proved to be a bit of a task, even for the three Gold Coast locals I was with. Getting to Main Beach was easy enough but finding the actual hotel in darkness was a lot harder and we ended up at Marina Mirage before realising that we were in the wrong place. We did find ourselves in hotel’s circular driveway eventually, though. We asked the concierge where the guest parking facilities were and we were told that it was ’50 metres ahead’ and that ‘there’ll be a big sign’ to tell us where it was.
So we drove out of the premises and up Seaworld Drive for approximately 50 metres before finding ourselves at a random car park that was reserved for fishermen rather than guests of a boutique hotel. We drove around and around some more but gave up so we ended up parking at Marina Mirage again and walking to Palazzo Versace in the rain.
Palazzo Versace has got to be the most opulent hotel we’ve ever set foot on. The sight of the majestic chandelier, the illuminated lagoon and the beautifully classy young folk mingling in the foyer told us one thing: Toto, we weren’t in Surfers Paradise anymore. Gold Coast’s economy might be going to shit, but you couldn’t tell at Palazzo Versace for people were partying like it was 1999.
We also loved the Medusa mosaic on the lobby’s floor.
Once we walked into Vanitas, Palazzo Versace’s top of the line fine dining restaurant, however, we realised that perhaps we were wrong about Palazzo Versace being immune from the ‘Coast’s economic downturn. It was practically empty. Okay, so three other tables did fill up during the entire time we were there – but for the most part, it was eerily dead for a Friday night.
We were led to our table, which was located right by the window so we can admire the beautiful lagoon. We were even surprised to see a lone duck swim across the pool during our dinner!
Vanitas has to take the cake for having the best crockery I’ve seen at a fine dining establishment. Every single plate we had was embellished with the Versace logo and intricate designs ranging from mythical creatures to foliage. In fact, they were almost too pretty to eat from.
But eating was what we were here for so let’s get onto the food, shall we? What sort of food does Vanitas serve? Like most Gold Coast fine dining restaurants, it goes for the mod-Oz option, with influences from France and Japan. We knew from the start that we were going to go for the five-course degustation menu designed by head chef Martin Glutz ($125 per head). There was also the option to get matching wines for an extra $65 per head but because one of us didn’t drink (Marty’s mum) and because two of us were pussies (Marty and I), only Marty’s dad agreed to it.
The birthday boy received a birthday card, signed by Vanitas’ manager, as well as a miniature bottle of Versace Pour Homme. Although nothing will tear Marty away from his signature Armani Code, he really appreciated the token (let’s be honest, how many other restaurants give diners a bottle of perfume?!).
We started off with some delicious bread. The bread was as flaky as puff pastry and as buttery as a croissant – and tasted even better with lashings of French butter. We were also offered extra bread throughout the dinner which I gratefully accepted.
Marty and his dad started proceedings with a glass of Dom Perignon each. While a glass of Dom is certainly not cheap ($75 a glass here), it was one of those ‘try anything once’ moments which both men relished.
Our first course was the sand crab sandwich, soy marinated tuna with chilled tomato consommé and wakame salad. Marty and I found both found the raw tuna to be a too ‘stringy’ and it was certainly not the freshest slab we’ve had – but then again, we’ve been spoilt by super-fresh seafood in Sydney’s restaurants and at their fish market. That aside, I didn’t think this dish tasted too bad. If Vanitas was trying for the ‘cutting edge’ approach, they weren’t achieving it by sprinkling strands of wakame all over the place – it just looked almost ‘try-hard-y.’ Having said that, Marty’s dad liked the dish and declared the tomato broth to be similar-tasting to the Vietnamese canh (sour soup). He was probably right when said that his son just ‘didn’t know how to eat’ (i.e. appreciate) dishes like this, hah.
Our next course was the seared John Dory fillet with carrot purée, risoni and caviar vinaigrette. While the previous course divided the table, general consensus was achieved with this dish: it was great. The John Dory fillet was beautifully cooked; its silky and plump texture soaked up the sweet purée like a sponge while the risoni bits were fun to eat. Marty’s mum was especially impressed by the presentation of the dish and in particular, the edible flowers.
We then reached the ‘land animal’ part of the dinner with the ballotine of free range chicken with truffle, foie gras and pickled mushrooms, which looked as pretty as a Versace dress.
The chicken, which was beautifully cooked, held a tiny knob of foie gras. Pickled mushrooms and little specks of truffle circled the plate, delighting Marty who loves truffles as much as he loves to hate the Collingwood Magpies. It was a well-executed meal but I did feel that they were too heavy on the vinaigrette. I reckon a more subtle level of zesty-ness would have been more appropriate.
We then enjoyed a delicious palette cleanser of lime sorbet with elderflower syrup, mint and Prosecco, which rivalled a lot of desserts I’ve sampled this year.
Our final savoury dish was the slow cooked tenderloin of beef with spinach purée, gnocchi, speck and broad beans. The steak was fantastic and as for the accompaniments, I wasn’t sure if I liked the velvety spinach purée or the pillowy gnocchi squares better. I did find the addition of the slightly undercooked broad beans a bit weird though. By this stage, I was quite full so I struggled to finish my steak, as juicy and delicious as it was. The boys, however, were fast on this one, ripping into their finely cooked cow simultaneously.
By this stage, Marty decided that he needed a glass of mojito. I wasn’t sure whether it was because he was struggling with his food or struggling with his dad’s behaviour which was getting more and more, uh, animated (for example, his dad kept saying ‘BEAAUUUUTIFUL!’ in a bad Con the Fruiterer accent and kept making disparaging remarks about two shady-looking guys sitting at a table next to us).
Our dessert was a chocolate chip meringue with berries, strawberry sorbet, coulis and Chantilly cream. It’s not exactly the type of dessert I’d order but I couldn’t help but be wowed at the presentation.
To be honest, I found this dessert to be ridiculously sweet. Less sugar, please!
Marty decided to be difficult by asking the waiter if he could have a crème brûlée for dessert. I know that a lot of restaurants aren’t cool with mixing courses when it comes to set menus, the folks at Vanitas were lovely and presented Marty with a beautiful crème brûlée with salted caramel ice cream. I knew I should have also presented it was my birthday too.
We were stuffed beyond belief but coffees and petit fours were being offered so naturally, as Asians, we stayed for that. I don’t normally have coffees this late but given that I had promised Marty that I’d stay up late to watch TV with him, I knew coffee was in order. I’m not sure how many shots of espresso went into my ‘latte’ or where the barista went for his or her training, but my latte certainly didn’t do the trick (both taste-wise and keeping-Libby-up-wise).
The petit fours tasted better (and looked prettier), though).
While we all agreed that this had been a lovely birthday dinner, I’m not quite sure whether I’d be rushing back. The service was exemplary, with proper care given by our waiter Ryan who knew his stuff but also injected a bit of casual Gold Coast humour and charm throughout the meal. Unfortunately, the same could not be said about the concierge dude who was not only wrong about the car park being 50 metres way (it was more like 10) but also the sign which was barely visible at night (we drove past this place in daylight a few days later and lo and behold, there was the car park!).
The food, on the other hand, received mixed reactions from the table. While Marty’s dad thought everything was BEAAAAAUTIFUL, his mum just said that everything the food tasted ‘average’ with all the trimmings there ‘just for show.’ Meanwhile, Marty and I thought that most of the dishes passed the mark but could do with a few modifications. At the end of the night, we all agreed that we enjoyed the setting as well as the company more than the food.
Yes, even Marty’s dear ol’ dad.