So y’all asked for more food reviews with pics, so today I am going to do short reviews of the following places:

  1. The Ambeli
  2. The Grill at the Duxton
  3. Lagerfield as a function venue
  4. St John’s Restaurant

I hope you don’t mind that I’ve put them all in one post.

The Ambeli

If I had to use one word to describe the Ambeli, it would probably be “sublime”. And I don’t mean that in a love-is-what-I-got surfer-who-smokes-too-much-pot kind of way either. Everything about a recent birthday dinner there was exquisite, from the fantastic wait staff, to the incredibly detailed food to the expensive hand soap and moisturiser in the ladies’ room. Seriously, places should never underestimate how much more beloved they can become by putting a little thought into their toilets. One of the reasons I love Elements so much is that there are tampons, spray-on deodorant and hand cream in their bathrooms, and one reason that The Apartment Bar loses a couple of points is that they use fabric hand towels behind glass as a design feature but only have air dryers in their toilets.

But back to the Ambeli. Their bread plate contains breadsticks with squid ink kneaded in so they take on the appearence of gnarled tree branches – so pretty! Even though we were ordering probably the cheapest wine on the menu (Armantes ‘Old Bush-Vine’ Garnacha at $45, it is not a cheap night out), the waiter was still able to tell us an adorable story about how the grapes for that particular wine were grown on bushes, not vines, and so were less high maintenance and therefore more affordable. We ate haloumi and salumi to start with, and then the rest of the family opted for beef and lamb while I went for duck in a buckwheat crepe with cherry sauce. It was outstandingly delicious. When we somehow found room for cheese, a selection was brought out on a board for us to drool over and sniff (it was all French and lusciously stinky) before we selected what we wanted, and they didn’t appear to mind us demanding see “the Cheese Man!” instead of a fromagier given that my pronunciation is almost as bad as my spelling. It was an expensive dinner, but it was absolutely worth it. Oh yes indeedy.

The Chocolate Buffet at the Grill at the Duxton

Previously I have found Duxton staff to be really great. Not any more. I decided to take my sister to the Chocolate Buffet as a birthday present, so I rang up almost a week in advance to ask for a table at 7pm on a Saturday night. They said they were going to be really full then, and offered 8.30pm instead. Okay, I understand you can’t always get the times you want, that’s fine. But what I didn’t expect was that when we got there, the restaurant was less than half full and yet we were shown to the table closest to the door which wasn’t even set up properly. The smarmy guy by the door said he’d get us menus and drinks lists, and that we could help ourselves to the buffet. I wanted to order bubbly, so we waited for a drinks list. And we waited. And we waited. We grabbed the info cards that other tables had on them – and a napkin for me, and moved around so we weren’t quite so much in the draft. No sign of the menus. Meanwhile staff were clustered around the front desk gossiping and studiously avoiding our “we would like some attention please” stare. Somehow we managed to flag a waiter down to get a wine list, and of course there was a long wait before we could order. Then when he was pouring, the bubbly overbubbled and overflowed. Nice work, buddy.

But of course, we weren’t really there for the service (luckily), we were there to gorge ourselves silly on chocolate. So how was it? Well, it was okay. Wouldn’t the words “crepe station” suggest to you that they’d be cooking them in front of you, not “reaching under some gladwrap to pull out one they prepared earlier”? Yeah. Nevertheless, there was plenty of goodness to be had. I especially enjoyed the chocolate bread & butter pudding. The Mars Bar Creme Brulee bore no resemblence to Creme Brulee at all, but they should be applauded for having such a large range of gluten-free food. Also good: eating stacks of pineapple to pretend that the enzymes would dissolve the food alrady in your stomach to make room for more. We discovered that the staff were very quick in clearing away our plates, like they thought that would stop us eating or something. Ha! Didn’t they know we’re half Scottish and all cheap? But of course that level of rapid service disappeared when we went to pay the bill. When they didn’t add our bottle of wine to the bill, I was very tempted not to point out their mistake to them because they’d been so incompetent, but decided it would be better for my karma if I spoke up. Did they thank me? No. I won’t bother going back.

Lagerfield as a function venue

We’ve reviewed Lagerfield before, and were really really impressed with both the food and the service, so I was super excited that the Girl Geek Dinner was going to be held there. I was even more excited when I saw a sign out the front that said it was BYO on Wednesdays for people eating dinner, so I doublechecked and then popped up to Glengarry where they had delicious Brookfields Riesling at a ridiculous $11.90 a bottle. So far so good. And then the waiter showed up.

He was quite possibly the most odious service man I have encountered since a hair dresser in Wadestown told me 17 years ago that I was a naughty little girl for not keeping my head still when he made me stand up so he could cut my hair. The waiter yelled at us all to be quiet, calling us “ladies” in that most patronising of ways, so he could tell us that steaks would be served medium rare as would the tuna. Later on he would call people “Ma’dam” when he deigned to speak to us at all – my main was silently slammed down in front of me very distastefully. There were fifty of us Geek Girls, so we filled the entire restaurant, and Amber had arranged to use the venue soundsystem and mike for the presentations people were to give during the course of the night. The mike, however, had other ideas, and even though it was turned up as far as possible, we still could hardly hear a word. This was made much worse by the music that was turned right up in the bar. If Lagerfield pitches itself as a venue to hold functions in, then it needs to do much much better to actually cater to those functions. People all around the room asked if the music could be turned down a little in the bar. At one stage, it was turned up louder. When I pointed this out to the waiter, he gave me a look of death. My friend was like “did he just curl his lip up at you?”. Yes, yes he did. He was a total and utter fucknuckle. I haven’t experienced such a surly level of service anywhere else.

That said, our waitress Dot was amazing. When my friend’s food was cold, she took it away apologising, and brought out a hot one rapidly, apologising again. She worked the room well with a mobile eftpos machine, taking drink orders (brilliant idea at a function like ours), and apologised profusely for the sound problems. She was friendly, efficient and a perfect representation of all the things that was wrong with the waiter.

Oh, and the food itself? The mixed platters were nice, and I love that they serve a cheese gratin, because isn’t a gratin the art of cooking something with cheese and cream? Awesome. My mushroom & goats’ cheese was very flavoursome and frothy, and the apple crumble dessert was nice, but not outstanding. Mrs Cake was at the same event, and wrote much more eloquently about the food. Go to Lagerfield for dinner on a Wednesday so you can bring your own wine, but if you encounter that horrible waiter, you should definitely put in a complaint. I wish I had.

St John’s Restaurant

Having had a glass or two of wine at the Girl Geek Dinner, the next day when I saw a review of St John’s entry into Burger Wellington, I knew I needed to eat it STRAIGHT AWAY, so I enlisted my family and we went along to St John’s that night. DISASTER! BURGERGATE 2010! The burger is only on their lunch menu! Argh! Imagine my pain that I was forced to eat this instead:

That, my lovelies, beautifully photographed by Bambi, is a $36 trio of Wild Hare Wellington on a mushroom tart, Pistachio and spinach lamb cutlets on garlic mash and Wagyu tenderloin carpaccio with diced beetroot and wasabi mayo. It was pretty awesome. The hare was incredibly intense, perhaps because of the Wellington-ness of it, and the lamb was a little too blue instead of pink for my tastes, but oh, that carpaccio, oh wow. Others in the family dined on scallops, and arancini and pork belly with scallops, and so I got to get a whole lot more animals in my mouth as well. Just no burger. Dammit. But I’ll be back, because the service was lovely, and I am salivating in anticipation.