169 Domain Rd, South Yarra
Phone: 9820 7888
I was interviewed on Joy FM last weekend, along with @thatjessho and @melbgastronome. One of the questions which @dillonpete asked us was what our worst dining experience of 2010 was. Whether it was out of politeness or we genuinely couldn’t remember anything truly woeful, we all answered that there wasn’t any standout failure in our memories. Little did I know that mine was still yet to be had, this late into the year.
Now I know there are ethical issues about writing a negative review about a restaurant, especially based on only one visit, but I have always believed that this blog is a reflection of my own personal dining (and sometimes cooking) experiences, so please take what I’m about to write below as such. I’m not professing to be giving an expert opinion here, I’m merely sharing my recent experience at the Botanical with you all.
The Botanical has recently re-opened after a few months of being closed for renovations. It had been open for about two weeks by the time we visited. It was already pretty busy at 7pm when I arrived, though I managed to score a table large enough to seat the five of us (they don’t take bookings for the casual dining section). The others arrived just before 7:30 and we fairly promptly ordered. We’d all ordered an entree each, and a main, and a bottle of wine for the table. Here’s where things started to go wrong.
About ten minutes later, the wine still hadn’t arrived, so Ms D mentioned it to one of the many waitstaff hovering around the bar area. She replied, “Oh, so you’re the table that ordered that wine! Sorry, but we’re all out of that wine.” A little perturbed by the fact the bar wasn’t informed which table the wine was supposed to be going to, we nonetheless ordered another bottle of wine. Which arrived quite promptly. A minor hiccough, right? Completely forgiveable, especially seeing as the waitress who took our order had professed that it was her first day working there.
Then the entrees came. Ms D had the quail, and the others ordered oysters (I didn’t manage to get a decent shot of the oysters, but they looked pretty good). Everyone was pretty happy with their entrees. Except yours truly. Why? Because it didn’t arrive.
After waiting more than five minutes – surely it’s coming, right? I was presented with two sets of cutlery, so the order mus have gone in, right? – we enquired about the missing entree. It was about another ten minutes later that it arrived. I may be jumping to conclusions here, but I’m fairly sure someone forgot about it.
Anyway, I ordered the Beggar’s Pork. Which is basically code for pieces of fried pork loin and belly. Which was four types of awesome, but really could have done with some sort of dipping sauce – an aioli? something with a touch of acid or sweetness? – because the pork was seasoned to be pretty salty. Ironically, the opposite of Ms D’s quail.
I ate quite quickly, because I was aware that the others had finished their entrees long before mine had arrived. I needn’t have bothered, because we were in for a long wait for our mains. It was quite a while after I had finished before a waitress stopped by our table to ask if we’d like another bottle of wine. We said, “Yes, and could you also take these empty plates away?”
Jump forward half an hour. We were getting hungry again, and so we asked a waitress how much longer our mains would be. She went to check with the kitchen and never came back.
Cut to another ten minutes later. The waitress who originally took our order comes across to apologetically tell us that our meal would be another fifteen minutes or so, and that they hadn’t expected to be so busy. Really? You have a function for ANZ on, and you’re not expecting to be busy? Anyway, that might have been the reason for the delay, but reading other responses on urbanspoon recently, I’m not so sure. There seems to be a trend since the re-opening for slow service. Which is a little odd, because there was no shortage of front of house staff, they just seemed to be buzzing around a little aimlessly.
Mr I had suspected something was up when he saw her looking rather anxiously at our table, while discussing something in front of the register with another waitress. Suspicions were further heightened when he overheard other customers complaining about a long wait for food on the way to the bathroom.
In any case, to assuage our hunger, we were presented with some bread ‘to nibble on’. Which is all you could really do to the bread with which we were presented, because it was quite clearly stale.
A little later, we mentioned the wait to the maitre’d. He acknowledged the fault and apologised for the delay, and assured us that the food was on its way, and that the kitchen was organising some sides and dessert for us to make it up to us. At this point, we were hopeful that this experience might be turned around. Responsive service and the promise of free desserts? Not so bad. But then it was another fifteen minutes after that before our mains arrived. By this stage, it was around 9:30pm.
Ms D and Mr C had ordered the Roast of the Day – a scotch fillet with roast vegetables and a carrot puree. Both said it was quite good, especially the carrot puree.
Mr A had the veal schnitzel, which was sadly a little on the lukewarm side of warm. He wasn’t very impressed, but having waited so long, he made do because who knows how long a replacement would take? Mr A is also a fan of anchovies, but he said the slaw with anchovies on top of the schnitzel just really didn’t work.
Mr I ordered the wagyu burger. Unlike Mr A, he did send his burger back, because it was completely raw
on the inside.
When the replacement came, it was remarkably underwhelming, and Mr I commented that it wasn’t really much of a burger, and felt like it had been poorly hand-minced. There were visible chunks of beef in the burger, and he said it was rather gristly. At least the fries were good!
I ordered the Angus sirloin, rare. I like my meat bloody. I had the sinking feeling, even before it arrived – again, a good couple of minutes after everyone else’s mains – that this wasn’t going to end well.
The steak, while a decent piece of beef, was well beyond rare, and somewhere between medium-rare and medium, by my estimation. Like Mr A, however, I wasn’t going to send it back, because the potential wait was too much of a deterrent.
The other thing which was a little disappointing about my steak was how much of it was purely fat. I’m not averse to fat on my meat – in fact, I relish it – but trying to eat this much fat in a single chunk was too much, even for me.
Once we had received our mains, the waitress who had originally served us – who had quite noticeably been avoiding our table since she delivered the bad news – returned to check how everything was. I think she was expecting us to be appreciative and happy with the food, because she was a bit surprised when we told her of the raw burger, and the cold schnitzel. She completely misread the situation I think, because her response should have been to apologise humbly, and vanish to tell management or the kitchen. Instead, she tried to laugh off the situation, by saying, “Oh well, I guess it happens to everyone at least once in their lifetime!” Probably not a good idea to reinforce the fact this experience was so bad that it might only happen to someone once in their lifetime. Also probably not a good idea to link that notion to the establishment at which you work.
I should also note that the only sides which we received were the beans which we had ordered, which Mr A proclaimed just about the only thing the Botanical had gotten right that night. I thought this was a little harsh, but overall we had been having a pretty woeful experience.
When we finished our mains, we asked for the bill. The maitre’d seemed a little shocked that we weren’t going to stay for some free dessert, but quite frankly, who knows how long that would have taken to arrive, and based on the food which we’d just eaten, it wasn’t such an exciting prospect. I was tempted to ask him to just deduct the price of whatever desserts they were going to give us from the bill, but I thought that might be a little too impertinent.
The last drama of the night came when we were presented with a bill with two $130 bottles of wine on it. We had ordered two $55 bottles of wine. In fact, there were no $130 bottles of wine even on the casual dining wine list! It seems someone behind the bar had messed that up, too. The wine, which is available in the fine dining section, was from the same winery, so not looking closely, we had simply trusted that it was the correct bottle. An error which, for once, worked out in our favour! Again, when the maitre’d rectified this error, his jovial comment, “well, you’re in luck, because you’ve had some pretty great wine tonight!” seemed to ignore the fact that we’d also endured some pretty woeful service to eat some rather average food.
To return to my original caveat, this was a singular experience. The Botanical has been open in this incarnation for two weeks, so it’s not completely unexpected that they would still be experiencing some teething problems. It takes time to train up staff, and get a kitchen running smoothly. With that in mind, I don’t think I’d rule out returning, but I won’t be back anytime soon. Hopefully a lot will have changed by then.