Early March means three things to me, the end of summer, (my) birthday and the chance to try a few places outside our normal price range, compliments of the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival's express lunch deals. The winner by acclaim for this year's Express Lunch choice, Gingerboy.
Unfortunately though, despite the high hopes and expectations we all had prior to our visit, our lunch was very disappointing. If the purpose of the express lunch is to give diners a tantalising taste of what the restaurant is about so as to entice them to return, Gingerboy failed to do so quite dramatically. The main issue, service that fell far below what I expect from such a high profile Melbourne restaurant.
That’s not to say there were no positives. The mix of black bamboo with fairy lights gave the restaurant a very modern funky feel which suited the style of food very well. And we all thought the food was good if not as good as Gingerboy's reputation had us anticipating.
With the express lunch you have a choice of 2 courses out of entrée, main or dessert, with two choices for each course. The entrée choices were prawn and garlic chive sui mai with a red vinegar dressing and grilled wagyu in la lot leaves with a coriander and mint relish. While I opted for a dessert I can say that both entrees looked good and I'm reliably informed by Ruby Grapefruit that both were good. The sui mai was tasty with beautifully tender prawns, and the coriander and mint relish was excellent and really lifted the wagyu dish.
Neither of the mains though really hit the mark with any of us. Feedback on the green curry with sea bream, garlic shoots and baby corn was that it was good but not outstanding, lacking a little punch in its flavours and little bream in the curry. My choice of the sweet and sour chicken, with chilli peanuts, cherry tomato and Thai basil had the same issue. The contrasting textures with the chicken, salad and peanuts were nice, and the flavours were well balanced. However, there was nothing about it which really made me sit up and notice, nothing to make me go wow.
Needless to say, I enjoyed my caramelized banana and tapioca with pandan ice cream dessert. A dessert right up my alley, I thought the banana could have been a little more caramelised but loved the contrast between the cool ice cream and the warm tapioca. And with pandan one of my three favourite dessert flavours, my favourite dish of the day.
But what spoiled what would have been a good if not outstanding lunch was the service. Firstly, even after five minutes I noticed that Snooze was looking very unhappy about something. With the tables quite close together every second or third time one of the staff passed by her chair to serve either someone further down our table or at the next they kicked the leg of her chair. Once or twice is annoying but not enough to make a good experience bad, but this continued for the full 1 1/4 hours we were there.
Secondly, when pouring the complimentary glass of wine Ms Kezza only received around 1/3 as much as everyone else with the waitress promising to return with another bottle to top her up. After 15 minutes it was clear she’d forgotten and we needed to remind her so that Kezza could drink her wine.
Finally, the thing which annoyed me most, bringing the bill to our table before asking if we wanted our complimentary coffees, or even before my dessert was served. I understand that with express lunches there are two sittings and we need to be out on time, but starting to rush us out at 12.55 when the next service isn't till 1.30, and delivering the bill in the middle of the meal rather than the beginning or the end with the coffee (preferable) made the whole experience feel like express lunch diners were unwelcome.
And to just to ensure we left on a poor note, the end of meal coffee was very poor with Ruby Grapefruit declaring it 'undrinkable'.
Over the past three years we've had a mix of average to very good experiences with express lunches, but Gingerboy's was the only one which has put me off returning to a restaurant.
Food - 7.5
Ambience - 8
Service - 4
Price - 6
27-29 Crossley Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
Tel: (03) 9662 4200