Shop 4, Ground Floor, Q1
Corner Surfers Paradise Blvd & Hamilton Ave
Surfers Paradise QLD 4217
+61 7 5504 6466
Absynthe is a restaurant that I’ve wanted to visit for a very long time. Established by Michelin-starred Meyjitte Boughenout, the dude who is said to have introduced haute dining to the Gold Coast several years, Absynthe mixes French cooking techniques with fresh Australian ingredients with the less skanky side of glitzy Surfers Paradise in the background. And he’s picked up several awards including Gourmet Traveller’s ‘Best Regional Restaurant in Queensland 2010’ award along the way. So when I saw that Absynthe offered a ‘buy one main, get one free’ Entertainment Book discount, I was making a booking before I even bothered to read blog posts.
Now just before our dinner, I had quickly skimmed through a few comments on Urbanspoon. If the 29% rating didn’t alarm me, then the number of people writing negative comments in the ‘diner reviews’ sections did. Still, I knew that crappy Urbanspoon ratings didn’t necessarily mean anything, and certainly not worth the act of picking up the phone to cancel. Unfortunately, we had to push our 6:30pm booking back to a later session because idiotic and greedy Marty thought it would be a good idea to wolf down four massive sushi rolls and a fajita for lunch that day. Subsequently, he was still full by the time the sun went down.
Thankfully the guys at Absynthe were very understanding and agreed to let us rock up later – ‘but no later than 8pm because then it would be too late’ (huh?). Anyway, we left the house at 7:30pm, allowing sufficient time for parking but it seemed like we should have allowed ourselves more time because finding a parking spot was a nightmare. Finally, we found one … about 10 minutes walk away from the restaurant. So yes, we did up 10 minutes late for our already-‘too late’ booking but the waitresses, again, didn’t seem to mind and happily showed us to our table by the window.
If the size of Little Truffle‘s dining room was akin to a glass of riesling, then Absynthe was the size of its namesake drink in a tidy shot glass. A little banquette lined the wall while only a couple of random tables were scattered wherever there was room. It was small, but intimate and cosy. While we waited for a waiter to assist us, we admired the bar that was stocked with local wines, beers, champagnes and of course, absinthe.
We also liked the artwork – I just couldn’t decide whether the funky crimson standing lamp was cooler, or the row of paintings of nude girls.
Warm bread was provided throughout the night, with French butter and vinaigrette on the side. I am proud to say that we ended up eating all the butter that was on the table though sadly, this was only one of a couple of things that we actually enjoyed eating that night.
We did like our amazingly lit-up absinthes very much though. I had the Lemercier 72 ($25) from Fougerolles, a famous absinthe-producing region. Lemercier has been around for yonks, producing good-quality absinthes and mine tonight certainly didn’t disappoint. It may have been a little light on the herbs, but the result was a sweet and sexy drop that let off a bit of a burn at the end that may be deemed too harsh by most (c’mon, it had 72% alcohol in it, mate) but certainly not for someone who isn’t versed in the art of drinking absinthe like myself. Loved it. Oufffff! Meanwhile, Marty had the Absinthe Mansinthe ($35), an absinthe that was developed by shock rocker, Marilyn Manson. After necking the stuff quickly, Marty was pretty much the only star in the dope show rather than one of the beautiful people (hah!). The absinthe’s alcohol content? Yep, you guessed it: 66.6%.
Our wines came shortly afterwards. We were both having steaks for our mains so we asked for a glass of red each: a 2010 Kangarilla Road Cul de Sac Shiraz from McLaren Vale ($17.50) for Marty and a 2010 M Chapoutier Shiraz ($16.80) from the Rhone Valley. Unfortunately, they were out of the M Chapoutier so I made do with a 2007 Chateau Juliette Shiraz Blend ($16.80) from the same region ($16.80). Both were excellent wines, though the mark-ups were beyond ridiculous.
Now, the food. Absynthe claims to produce an epic dining experience that’s as potently addictive as the drink. Furthermore, its degustation menu claims to be a ‘journey into taste.’ For some reason, these statements remind me of what French electro pop artist M83 said about his current album (he used the words ‘epic’ and ‘journey’, too). Unfortunately, this dinner was as odd and as disappointing as his much-anticipated album.
I had what Absynthe called ‘East Tasmania’ ($36), which was a dish of pan-fried scallops, parmesan and potato gnocchi, chunky slices of beetroot cooked in champagne vinegar, lettuce heart & light herb jus and dried chorizo. I actually liked that Absynthe gives cute and succinct names to each dish. While they’re not particularly descriptive, at least it saves people from having to recite the entire dish’s name. I was amazed at how tiny my dish was.
Three little scallops, as fresh and as sweet as they were, did not $36 make! And neither did the three pillow-y gnocchi pieces, which were actually beautiful. I did like that the champagne vinegar in which the scallops were cooked in, combined with the beetroots, provided a lovely piquant sauce. However, the crispy lettuce heart and the dried chorizo piece were just odd additions.
Marty fared better with his ‘Black truffles’ ($42), which came in the form of a black truffle risotto, braised mini cep mushrooms, petals of organic garlic and cheddar foam. He had issues with the portion size (understandable, at $42) but no problems with taste. The risotto was effortlessly smooth and creamy with the lovely natural earthiness of the black truffle pieces shining through. The cheddar foam also added a beautifully light salty touch, though Marty did find it too subtle. If this entire dinner was analogous to Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, then this was definitely ‘Reunion.’ This was the only really good dish of the night.
We waited quite some time for our mains to come – something like 40 minutes. At this point in time, half the patrons had since gone home so it wasn’t the case of there being too many diners. Finally, our steaks – they were both called ‘The pasture’ arrived in tandem. Marty had the one subtitled ‘Angus beef’ ($55), a grilled Angus beef striploin (grain-fed 100 days), confit Spanish onions in red wine and enoki mushrooms. It also came with a side of Parmesan potato puree. Marty thought that his steak was good, but not fantastic. In fact, it was something that he reckoned he could easily whip up at home with a bit of Worcestire sauce and for a fraction of the price. I also found the confit Spanish onions to be too sweet and the enoki mushrooms just looked (and tasted) awkward in the grand scheme of things.
I did, however, like the soft and cheesy potato puree that came with it.
My main – ‘Poached beef’ ($45) – didn’t fare much better. Although we both had Angus beef steaks, I was amused as to why Marty’s was the one that was called ‘Angus beef’ while mine was unglamorously called ‘poached beef.’ Perhaps it was because mine was grain-fed for 150 days, not 100 days like Marty’s. I don’t know. Anyway, it came with some wilted spinach, braised king brown mushrooms in diable sauce and caramelised walnuts (plural, but I only counted one piece of walnut). Although steak was cooked beautifully medium-rare as requested, I couldn’t seem to enjoy it. I’m not sure whether it was the sauce that was too sweet, or the random piece of walnut that not only didn’t belong there but was also coated in so much sugar that it would have sufficed for a single dessert.
We weren’t in the mood for dessert so we grabbed the bill, which ended up being $272.30. Although we managed to get it down to $230.30 thanks to the Entertainment Book, we did find it too expensive. Granted, the absinthe and the wines did make up a fair chunk of the bill but the dishes were just too dear for the quality and quantity of food we received. As much as I wanted to like Absynthe, we couldn’t wait to get out. We loved the concept and the service was great despite the long wait between courses, but I can certainly see why people were quick to diss it. Ridiculously high wine mark ups and overpriced foods do not impress us. While I do think that a 29% rating on Urbanspoon is a bit too harsh, I won’t be quick to come here in a hurry not recommend this place to anyone.