Amid all the excitement – Agenda writing a post advising readers on how to ‘cope with the awesomeness’, for example – we headed to Virginia Plain on Friday night to find out what the deal is. We are still fairly (ish) new to Melbourne, but would we be right in thinking this is a fairly big venture for former Carlisle Street Wine Bar owner Marco Santucci to be taking on? Sharing street space with Chin Chin, Cumulus Inc. and Coda, this place is going to have to deliver. Really deliver.
So, first comes the disclaimers: we dined here once and appreciate that for a truly fair appraisal it would be wise to visit a number of times; of course every diner’s experience is difference and what we might find delicious, annoying or impressive, others might not; and we understand that everyone (wait staff included) have off nights. Please have all this in mind when you read the following – we are not out to discourage, merely share our opinion.
We walk in at 8:30pm and easily secure a spot sans booking, as the place is only half (if that) full, it is one of the biggest dining rooms I can think of, in the CBD at least, and although the muted tones and mood lighting promote a ‘cosy’ ambiance – it is big. The open kitchen sits at one end of the room, a glaring beacon of light, which lends the place the only real hustle and bustle. When we visited, the whole place was a little flat. However, we are presented with menus and have a list of dishes ‘that have been popular so far’ recited at us as we ponder our selection. A $35 bottle of wine is pretty much a no-brainer, and the selection and range of prices on the drinks list at least take some of the sting out of the wandering-into-exy territory food.
It’s not all that easy to decide on what to order – having been well and truly indoctrinated into the current Melbourne trend for sharing plates, this menu suggests that there is the potential for group grazing, but then kind of negates it with its price point (mains are $26-65, unless you select from the one-pot/plate comfort menu called Heart + Home, where you’ll find a $19 venison and chocolate pie) and seemingly starter / main / dessert layout (The Thrill of it All / The Main Thing / Sweet Serenade ). The set menu (4 courses for $49 / 7 courses $89) seems to scream value-for-money in retrospect.
Really not knowing where to head we ordered two starters to share – ham hock terrine sandwiching a wedge of foie gras with a generous amount of piccalilli and warm spring salad of peas, asparagus (green and white), baby cos hearts and herb dressing (also contained broad beans and was a refreshing taste of spring). The latter we were advised would also work as a side so we figured we would make it last for our main, a single serve of wagyu Wellington ($48).
Were we being tight to share? I don’t think so – we’d eaten some nibbles earlier at Kodiak Club so weren’t starving and wanted to leave room for dessert. Plus $96 for Wellington to share is just out of the question in my mind – however amazing and Wagyu-ish it is. This said – it was a great dish – served with fondant potatoes (we also ordered Dauphinoise potatoes, which were ok, home-cooked at best) and spring beans, the tender beef being wrapped in a deliciously savoury ‘cep duxel’ (excuse the menu’s typo) and crispy not flaky pastry. But really, just as good as Fitzrovia’s offering, without the hefty price tag.
So the problem? Things went astray post-starters (tasty but no X-factor). Plates were cleared, although we requested to keep the salad to finish off with our main, and we then waited 30 minutes until our waitress finally noticed we were sitting there looking a bit lost. She cleared the wooded board that the long-finished terrine had sat on, then announced she would call our mains away. Call them away? Had we missed something?
When the Wellington finally turned up we were without cutlery, and after a few attempts to catch someone’s eye, we had to go and hunt down our waitress who, even when alerted to a $50 main going cold before our very eyes, seemed too taken with wine tasting, instead sending someone else to furnish us with a knife and fork. Not great. Oh, and did I mention this is after I asked if the veggies could be reheated (due to the significant ‘coolage’ that had occurred during our wait) and were met with a shrug of the shoulders and an explanation that dishes termed starters should be eaten as starters. From the same person who recommended we have the dish as a side. It was patronising and not the kind of place I expect to go to for attitude. If we want to be really petty, the comment: ‘Was the Wellington ok even though you only ordered a single portion?’ at the end of the meal was not appreciated either.
The Wellington by the way was delicious, and I regret wolfing it down in a moment of anger-fuelled hunger – but that is what happened. Dessert came around but the whole experience was getting downright awkward, however, undeterred I went for a modern mandarin cheesecake. Why modern? Was it a stay-at-home dad, did it split the bill at the end of a date? Oh right, yeah, it was ‘deconstructed’. Hasn’t this been done to death already? Apparently not. Ok, we play ball – but in our experience, when you reduce something to its individual elements, each and every one of them have to absolutely shine. Despite being told the mandarins had been poached, they were tough and pithy. The cheese element was just that – piped mounds of cream cheese – and then a scattering of broken biscuit crumbs to resemble the base. Really? Snoresville.
As an ‘apology for the confusion’ (who’s confused?) we were given a glass of sticky wine each – not needed seeing as one of us was driving and we had already shared a bottle. Now all we need after an experience that fell short of expectations is a headache. Hey-ho. So there you have it – will absolutely try out the tasting menu, and wish the place all the best – it has got some tough competition.
Were we impressed? Not particularly. But there’s no accounting for taste.
31 Flinders Lane
Melbourne, VIC 3000
Ph. (03) 9290 0400