Birthdays. Everyone has them. This one was mine. After the Tears, as I understand it a spinoff of the better known Borsch, Vodka and Tears on Chapel Street, is near home but not somewhere I’d ever tried. Well, it was my party and I’ll dine where I want to, so this year it was off to After the Tears, a vodka bar serving Polish style food.
Excluding the drinks – which make up a fair bit of what’s on after (after all, it is a vodka bar) – the menu basically comes in four main sections – large plates for sharing, small plates for sharing, mains and of course desserts. Given that the group of us had very different ideas about how we wanted to done, shared dishes or our own mains, it took us a ridiculous amount of time to decide on the orders. After much discussion, first up was two of the large platters for sharing – a Baltic sea zakaski and a farmer’s zakaski.
Unsurprisingly, the Baltic sea zakaski came with mainly fish related nibbles, the farmer’s with rustic meat style selections. Of the two I preferred the sea zakaski, with its rollmops, salt cod fritter, trout terrine, fried white bait and herring in sour cream, amongst other goodies. My favourite item though wasn’t even fish related, the horseradish marinated beetroot. Packing a bit more heat than I’d expected, it helped cut through some of the slightly sour tastes of the many pickled items on the plate.
The framer’s zakaski was also good, although because of the placement of the two dishes on the table I didn’t get to try as much of it. Grilled sausages, sliced ham, chicken liver and pepper parfait, duck confit and the same great horseradish marinated beetroot, it wasn’t as heartily rustic in presentation as I had expected. What you do get though is some well flavoured meats based dishes designed to help keep the farmer in the field for a hard days work. Overall, the two shared plates made a good start to our meal.
Bureaucrat and myself decided to hit the mains, she the pierogi and me a pork loin schnitzel. Pierogi are an eastern European style dumpling which Bureaucrat had never tried before. If you are looking for thin skinned Hong Kong or Shanghai style dumplings, well that’s not what you are going to get. Pierogi are more thick skinned style dumplings, designed to keep you going in a cold environment. That doesn’t mean that these dumplings should be overly thick or gluggy, but they are real stomach fillers. The pierogi here are pretty good, filling without being overly heavy, and flavoursome beef and chicken filling.
My schabowy, a crumbed pork loin schnitzel, came with braised sauerkraut, porcini mushrooms and sitting on a bed of mashed potato. The pork loin was tender, the schnitzel nicely cooked, but what gave the dish a unusual touch was the sourness from the sauerkraut. A touch above the usual pub fair and very generous and filling.
The others went for a variety of the smaller dishes for sharing. Having not noted down what was ordered and just trying a few of the dishes I can only give a general impression of some ‘smaller’ dishes sometimes larger than the main serves at a lot of other restaurants, with good but not spectacular flavours.
Where the restaurant let itself down though was in the service, which to be frank wasn’t up to scratch. I am generally pretty easy going, and even if it isn’t very efficient can be won over by a smile or at least mollified if staff appear to be trying, but that wasn’t the case here. It felt very much that our waiter was just going through the motions. Ms L and Ms Counting her Calories had been a bit restrained in their ordering to leave room for dessert. However, given that we had agreed to a strict booking time so that we could sit in the main room, we spent so long trying to get our waiter’s attention (over 15 minutes) that we eventually gave up and headed down to Elwood to get something sweet.
Respectable food, a setting which grew on me as the night went on (the music choices at first were a bit incongruous) and reasonably priced, I’d give it another go hoping the service was an aberration rather than a typical experience.
Food – 7.5
Ambience – 7
Service – 4.5
Price – 7
9b Gordon Street
Elsternwick VIC 3185
Tel: (03)9523 0969