Saturday, January 12, 2013

Bistro Guillaume, Southbank by Bureaucrat

Okay.  Get comfy, cos this is going to be a long post.

For some time now, I've been wanting to go to Bistro Guillaume - the Melbourne outpost of Sydney chef, Guillaume Brahimi.  I've seen him cook on tv with Maeve O'Mara and I liked what I sees.  So for a family celebration, I made a booking for lunch at BG.  I had made the reservation six weeks in advance and confirmed with the staff that, yes, the prix fixe lunch menu was valid on Saturdays.

Skip forward six weeks, I called BG up to shift our booking to the Sunday.  In doing so, I forgot that the prix fixe lunch is not available then.

Anyhoo, on the appointed day and appointed hour, we rocked up.  First impression was a bit 'hmm'.  We had got there at 11.50am - 10 minutes before the doors opened.  We weren't the only ones there.  We watched as each party tried to see if the door was open for us to go in.

A pet peeve of mine is that if you're a quality establishment and you can see that your diners are milling about waiting for you to open the door, then you should open the damn door and at least let them sit at the table while your finalise everything.  As this already left me in a picky state of mind, when a staff came out (at 12.05pm) to put out the sign, she didn't even bother letting us know that BG was open for business (there was about 12 of us that were waiting to go inside).

When we were finally in, we were showed our table.  Inside, it's light and bright with high ceiling.  It's decorated in a understated, classy way with lots of mirrors, dark wooden panneling, those wooden chairs that always remind me of Liza Minelli in Caberet, and these statement lamps that look like laundry being left out in the sun to dry (or nanna's gigantic support underwear).  The staff were all dressed in Lacoste, which I couldn't but help roll my eyes at.

Our initial waitress was friendly, albeit a tad confused and/or unknowledgeable on many things.  But she was polite and did her best to find out.  As we perused the menu, we asked whether certain dishes (eg the specials and the oysters) were included in the 2 course lunch deal.  Long story short, we were told that those dishes were not part of the 2 course deal and no word was said that the 2 course deal was not available.  On that basis, we assumed that the 2 course deal was on offer.

As our friendly but confused waitress started to take our orders, another waitress (who was more senior, and had a very stern countenance) took over.  This is probably petty, but I would have thought that the new waitress could have simply continued to take the rest of our orders, given that the first waitress had already written them down.  But no.  We had to give our orders again.

It was then there was a bit of disagreement as it was at this point that we realised we were talking at cross purposes.  The new waitress said that (rightly) the 2 course deal isn't available on Sundays.  However, I told her that when I booked this lunch six weeks ago that the staff said that it was.  The waitress said that she'd check with her manager.  She came back and said that they will let us have the lunch deal - which was very gracious of them.  It wasn't until this matter  was settled, I remembered that that was the reason why I had originally made the lunch booking for Saturday.  Obviously, I kept schtum about this at the time!

So to the food now.  Freshly baked bread.  A negative was that they did not bring out our plates to eat the bread.  So pretty soon, our table was littered with crumbs.  We were a little surprised that they (a) forgot to bring them out, and surely, (b) they could see us buttering the bread and not having anywhere to put our bread and knives down.  This was obviously a mistake because the table next to us had plates while they ate their bread.

For entrees, I got the French onion soup.  I chose this because I'd never make it myself...I'll leave the onion tears for someone else.  It was piping hot, unctuous and very oniony, although Mr Strong and I (and also the Lawyer who helped finish my soup) felt it was a tad over-salted (however, Mr P didn't think it was too salty). I really did like the cheese croutons on top... so incredibly, cheesy and stringy.  Aside from the saltiness, this was pretty good and a very generous serve.

Other entrees included the smoked salmon w dill cream and toasted brioche...

...the Lawyer got the chicken liver parfait w pear chutney.  Now, the Lawyer and I like to think we're experts when it comes to pate and this one didn't disappoint.  It was definitely one of the best liver parfait that we ever have had.  Smooth, rich and buttery.  It was served with very crunchy sourdough toast and peppery watercress and sweetly-tartish chutney went well with it...

...Beaker got the mussels marinieres.  A very big bowl of fresh mussels.  Our stern waitress started to appear more friendly and even taught Beaker how to eat the mussels the French way - use a discarded mussel shell like a pair of tongs to pinch a new mussel out of the shell.

On reflection, I think we all felt that the entrees were better than the mains.  Thank god that the entrees didn't take too long to come out and that they were all very big serves, because the main meals took 40 minutes to arrive.  Again, because I was feeling picky, I thought it was a tad poor service that it took so long for the mains to come out - especially since the restaurant was only a third full.

I got the leg of duck confit w peas, spring onion and speck.  This was a good but not great.  I've definitely have had better (Mr Tulk cafe... yum!).  Both Mother Hen and I thought the duck was a tad overcooked and dry in parts.  I know that this is French food, but boy, that butter sauce was incredibly nice but I didn't want to know how much butter there was in this dish.

The Lawyer got the steak frites w Bearnaise sauce.  He really liked this.  The steak was flavoursome and the chips were handcut (which always taste better).  The Bearnaise sauce was a thick emulsion of butter and olive oil, which I didn't think added much to the dish - the steak, frites and watercress were good on its own.

Mr P got the half a roasted chicken w Paris mash (more butter!) and chicken jus.

Mr Strong got the rack of lamb w ratatouille, tapanade and zuchinni flower.  Points for the big serve.  Mr Strong quite liked his dish.

Beaker got the char-grilled king salmon w roasted Jerusalem artichoke and shallot confit.

And last but not least, Bubba Chuck got the kids' fish and chips.  The fish was very fresh and perfectly grilled (wasn't greasy at all), so were the chips.

I would have liked to have tried more of people's dishes, but I was struggling to finish my own dish the same sentiment was shared by us all).

So now comes the really long winded bit of the post - settling the bill.  Originally, we had planned to use the Entertainment Book gold card.  Given that they had graciously let us have the 2 course deal, we decided not to use it.

However, when the bill arrived, they didn't apply the 2 course deal and charged each dish.

Thinking that that was a bit rude of them, we decided to use the EB gold card and decided not to give them a tip.  We then signed the bill and left it on the table and proceeded to leave.  Not a single staff member farewelled us - not even a perfunctory 'goodbye'.

Fifteen minutes later, I get a call on my mobile.  It was the restaurant.  The waitress was explaining that they had forgotten to apply the 2 course deal to our bill and that they've recalculated the bill (which included deducting the amount from the EB gold card).  The waitress made clear what would be charged for the meal (a very big price difference from the original bill!) and asked for us to return so that we could get a copy of the revised bill.

I went back to BG to get a copy of bill.  Once again, the service was perplexing.  The waitress said that she'll print me out the new bill.  She went away and disappeared for about 10 minutes.  She then came back to say that she was looking after some VIP diners... clearly, I wasn't a V or an I.

She gave me a copy of the new bill, stepped me through the charges.  While she was doing that, I could see that they had made an error in our favour.  With all the discounts that had been applied, we should have paid for 5 adults.  Instead, they had only charged us for 4 adults.  As with the kerfuffle at the start of the lunch, I decided, once again, to keep schtum.  I thanked her and left through the green doors.

This was a real mixed experience.  For us, the service ranged from crap/rude to exemplary and gracious.  It was a bit like Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.

Foodwise, the entrees were above average but the mains were good but there was nothing about it that made us think 'OMG this is fantastic'.  However, the serving size was very generous.  You'd definitely leave feeling full.

My advice is that it's good enough to try, but don't go out of your way to dine at this place.

Food - 7.5
Ambience - 7
Service - 7
Price - 7

Bistro Guillaume
8 Whiteman St
Crown Casino
Melbourne 3006
Telephone: 9292 4751

Bistro Guillaume on Urbanspoon

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