If there was ever a sign that the hospitality industry is struggling for staff, we saw it tonight. It is really unfortunate that one of the global powerhouses of restaurant service has taken a step backwards, but it is certainly not unexpected. It will get better, though it could be slow progress.
By no means did we have a terrible meal. Any opportunity for Catherine and I to enjoy a long dinner together is incredibly valuable to us. As much as we enjoy flawless, and seamless service, we are not so stuffy to truly care enough to let it impact our enjoyment of a dining experience. That doesn’t mean we don’t notice the misses, especially when they add up.
Twice the floorstaff came to our table with a bottle of wine to pour our glass, only to realise there was no glass on the table. Earlier, our glass for champagne was left unfilled for a long enough period that we got an apology. After almost being awarded someone else’s entree, our mains also took a lengthy amount of time (again, we didn’t mind) and we got an apology for that. There was no need for one of the staff to apologise for it being their first night – you need to work a first night at some stage! They actually handled it well. At one stage I asked for the pinot noir from Burgundy and they said they were new and not familiar with the wines by the glass, so could they bring the menu for me to point to it. Absolutely no problem.
While none of this is concerning in isolation, you could tell Chancery Lane was not running like a well oiled machine on this Friday night. For a Scott Pickett restaurant, where there has clearly been some impressive amounts spent on the luxurious fitout, you expect more. It has a beautiful, big-night-out feel to it, with generally well dressed clientele, and seemingly no expense spared on the surfaces, whether at the bar, or underfoot, and in-between.
Usually the food of Scott Pickett would make up for many of the oversights. We start off with some delicious Mooloolaba prawns accompanied by a “Marie Rose” sauce with a spicy accent, which is better known as cocktail sauce. Wanting to keep plenty of room for main and dessert, Catherine orders the whole flounder with Cafe de Paris, I order the Cape Grim porterhouse, and we also select the gratin dauphinoise, and red oak lettuce salad with pancetta vinaigrette, as sides.
A highlight for both of us is the warm baguette which keeps us going while our mains are delayed. Sublime bread and butter is one of life’s charms, and this has me thinking back to some of the great meals I’ve had, where the attention to detail extends all the way to the simple things in life. On the other hand, while my Cape Grim porterhouse is not bad, for such a nice piece of steak, it lacks a bit. There isn’t the heavy char I’d expect from Scott Pickett having been a regular at Matilda, and the seasoning could be stronger. The truffle jus, and the Dijon helps, but it’s not as good as I’d expect. The sides are beautiful though. The dauphinoise epitomises comfort food, and the red oak lettuce salad cuts through the other elements perfectly.
Personally I’m confused about Catherine’s whole flounder. As the sole fish dish on offer, it is always tough to navigate a whole fish in any setting. It is often delicious and the white flesh of the flounder is very nice. The roe however is not something I was overly aware of. It is not to Catherine’s taste (or texture) and I can sympathise. While I’m sure some love the roe, I think the fish offering could be more diverse here.
We had come this far in our meal, and dessert is a reason in itself to remain, so we hoped our desserts would markedly improve the meal. Catherine’s apple and rhubarb baba, and my Pedro Ximenez, saltana, and chocolate tart, were good, but didn’t elevate to the level we hoped for, and it wasn’t as if we were surprised. Perhaps part of the reason was Catherine’s baba the month prior at Carlton Wine Room was just better, and perhaps it was because the meal couldn’t be properly saved. I should mention the pastry on my tart was first class and showed some signs of the excellence that could be achieved here.
It hurts me to say this, but besides our champagne, and Catherine’s Jean Defaix Chablis, the wines were uninspiring. I was really excited and keen to try a few reds, with some higher priced French offerings by the glass tugging at me. Choosing between Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Pinot Noir, and Syrah, all with a few years of age, I thought I might be in heaven. The Clos de Gamot Cahors Malbec was better than solid, but the far more expensive Bruno Colin Bourgogne Pinot Noir was ill-found for mine. Those who think I’m critical need only look at my other couple of hundred reviews to know that if I’m paying $28 for a glass of wine I am generally going to absolutely love it. I would have preferred a local, and given the depth available, I was surprised to be let down.
There’s a lot of depth also in Melbourne’s restaurant offerings. While it is desperately difficult with staff at the moment, there are still many places that are performing terrifically, and more specifically, there are better Scott Pickett restaurants to try. From Vue de Monde, to Bistro Vue, to Chancery Lane, the fortunes of this address seem to have declined.