Melbourne Restaurant Reviews: The Very Very Hungry Caterpillar

YES, this is yet another Melbourne food blog!

Archive of ‘Main Beach’ category

Rivers Yum Cha Cruise (Gold Coast, QLD)

Marina Mirage
Seaworld Drive
Main Beach QLD 4217
+61 7 5527 6361
http://www.rivers.net.au/gold-coast-yum-cha-cruises.html

To cap off what was a wonderful birthday weekend for Marty, his parents decided to take us out for a boat cruise along the Northern Gold Coast waters. I’m definitely not a water person and boats normally make me ill. But yum cha? Yes, please!

wp1

Rivers is the company that runs these yum cha cruises which departs from Marina Mirage at 11:30am. Operating every Sunday, the cruise costs $49 per person (drinks at bar prices) and is inclusive of a variety of yum cha dishes and live entertainment while the boat plods along the water.

Not wanting to risk being late for our 11:00am check-in time (for an 11:30am departure), Marty’s parents suggested leaving the house just after 10am. Unfortunately, he must have forgotten that the Gold Coast isn’t a very big place and that you can get from Broadbeach to Main Beach in less than 15 minutes on a quiet Sunday morning. Subsequently, we there at the pier at 10:20am – and just in time too, for it started to rain heavily.

Check-in time might have been 11:00am but we assumed that we we’d be allowed to check in before then. So we walked up the plank and waited by the entrance for someone to attend to us. A tall young-ish man appeared in a state of half-dressed-ness and told us that we weren’t able to board because we were too early. We told him that we understood we were early but could we please come inside as it’s raining like cats and dogs outside?

He was unsympathetic to our plight and simply said that they weren’t done with setting everything up and that we weren’t allowed in. While I understand that he might have wanted to keep this element of ‘surprise’, we as paying customers couldn’t care less if we saw the place in disarray or whatever. It’s not like we were going to judge them – we just wanted to get out of the bloody rain! And even if we really COULDN’T see them set tables in the main cabin, there was no reason why we weren’t allowed to wait on the top deck (which was at least covered so we could stay away from the rain).

Unfortunately, it was a no-can-do situation. The dude told us to ‘seek shelter somewhere else’ before shutting the entrance abruptly. The cruise hadn’t even departed and we were already annoyed. And where was the nearest shelter? All the way back to the Marina Mirage shopping centre. By the time we got there, we were cold, miserable and soaking wet. Birthday boy certainly wasn’t happy and wanted to go home. I don’t blame him – if I had been excited to go on a cruise before, I certainly wouldn’t have been after that experience. Despite that though, Marty’s parents insisted we wait it out. And so we did.

At 11:00am, we decided to walk back to the boat. The sky was still miserable and grey but at least it stopped raining. There was a queue waiting to get onto the boat and because we were one of the last ones in line, we had to wait a while to get checked off and eventually seated.

wp2

We were lucky to score a linen-covered table right by the window so we can check out the view.

wp3

Each table had some really soft prawn crackers, which we devoured in less than 5 minutes (hey, we were hungry).

wp4

After some safety demonstrations, we were ready to go. The cruise meanders around the Main Beach area for a bit, dipping towards Surfers Paradise before turning north to head to Sovereign Islands, home to some beautiful waterfront properties and where Gold Coast’s property tycoons retire to. Throughout our lunch, the boat sailed past the Southport Yacht Club, Australia Fair shopping centre and Sea World.

wp5

Our first dishes took a while to come so when they did finally arrive, we were kind of excited. The excitement, however, was short-lived when we saw that our vegetarian Hokkien noodles were cooked in a seemingly half-arsed manner. Sif just cook the noodles, chuck some reheated frozen vegies on top and then drizzle it with as little oyster sauce as possible! Marty and I looked at each other as if to say, ‘Ugh, why bother?’ Meanwhile, our special fried rice was also bland but at least it looked  like a somewhat legit Australian-Asian fried rice.

wp6

Taste did come in the form of MSG when our fried chicken pieces arrived. Although the chicken was an improvement on the first two dishes, they were still very salty.

wp7

The pork siu mai weren’t the best I’ve had but they were definitely much better than the first few dishes we had.

wp8

Our pork spring rolls were just okay.

wp9

I’ve never seen black pepper beef presented so strangely like this. Speaking of which, what’s with Rivers’ kitchen not mixing the sauce in with the ingredients? Perhaps it’s a time issue (i.e. doing things properly takes more time) but seriously, when you had the whole morning to prepare and with no nosy patrons on board to disturb you, there really isn’t any excuse. Not only didn’t it taste fantastic, it was also lukewarm. Bleurgh.

wp10

Our BBQ pork buns were not bad, maybe a bit too sweet – but that’s just me.

wp11

Our vegie spring rolls tasted very much like the frozen supermarket variety (hey, maybe they were?). But that said, they were better than the pork ones we had before.

wp12

The har gow (prawn dumplings) was the dish I was most looking forward to. Even if everything else was horrible, I knew I’d leave the boat happy if my har gow were better than average. But just like our spring rolls, they tasted like the frozen supermarket variety (Yum Cha at Home, anyone?) and they were small and soggy. That said, they were probably the best thing I had so far.

wp13

The same could be said about the ginger prawn dumplings; they were edible.

wp14

You don’t normally find chicken satays at your local yum cha so we were surprised to see this on the menu. The satays weren’t bad but I thought they suffered thanks to being left out for too long (they were lukewarm) and the peanut sauce was too sweet.

wp15

The garlic prawns, although not cooked in the ‘Asian’ way, were the freshest things we had this afternoon. They weren’t bad at all.

wp16

Another example of what may have been supermarket dumplings were the pork dumplings. I preferred the prawn ones though because at least they didn’t taste like cardboard like these ones did.

wp17

The salt and pepper squid suffered the same fate as the chicken – it was way too salty. What’s worse, the batter was ridiculously thick making it difficult to find where the squid actually was. Also, what’s with the strange garnishes we’ve been having? Cherry tomatoes? With squid?

wp18

Then it was time for dessert. Marty and I were actually excited about getting banana fritters and ice cream, only to be told that they ran out. We were bummed but not before realising that they were served with chocolate ice cream. Both of us think that chocolate ice cream is the worst invention ever so stopped being emo immediately. Instead, we enjoyed this mango pudding with coconut cream. Initially, the size of the pudding put me off but not before realising that it tasted pretty good – we were impressed!

wp19

Our plate of fresh fruit arrived, along with some bao (steamed buns) covered in a berry sauce. Although I prefer my dessert bao filled with sweet egg custard or taro, I have to admit that the berry pairing wasn’t too bad. I loved how that tartness of the berries diffused the sweetness of the bao.

The consensus around the table was that the yum cha spread, except for a few dishes, was terrible. And while I know that our $49 covered not just the food but the running of the cruise and what not, I thought it wasn’t worth it. Additionally, the service wasn’t fantastic either. The guy at the start telling us to shoo was one thing, but being given one bamboo steamer of food per table despite there being four of us was another. Once we realised that we were getting the same amount of food as a nearby table of two, we asked the waitress if we could have a second steamer to which she said, ‘sure, no worries.’ That was fine but I really wished she had exercised some common sense in the first instance.

Having said all that, we did have a wonderful time. As clichéd as it sounds, it’s the company and not the food that makes a meal good. Our Rivers yum cha experience was a fine example of that; Marty’s parents enjoyed themselves and us kiddos did too. In addition, the live entertainment (which was essentially one guy doing the singing, guitar-ing, keyboard-ing and DJing) was lovely. Throughout the meal, he engaged with us diners and mixed a bit of Psy and Lionel Richie to distract us from the food get us in the mood.

Gold Coast isn’t known for its great yum cha restaurants and Rivers proved that. While I do like the concept of a yum cha boat cruise, I think the yum cha needs to be somewhat decent for it to work. That said, Rivers seem to do a roaring trade on Sundays and I guess there are enough easy-to-please people on the Gold Coast for the company to remain competitive for some time yet.

Vanitas at Palazzo Versace Australia (Gold Coast, QLD)

94 Seaworld Drive
Main Beach QLD 4217
+61 7 5509 8000
http://www.palazzoversace.com.au/vanitas

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.

wp1

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.

wp2

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!

wp3

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.

wp4

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.

wp5

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?!).

wp6

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.

wp7

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.

wp8

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.

wp9

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.

wp10

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.

wp11

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.

wp12

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.

wp13

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.

wp14

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).

wp16

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.

wp17

 To be honest, I found this dessert to be ridiculously sweet. Less sugar, please!

wp15

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.

wp19

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).

wp18

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.

Vanitas on Urbanspoon