As part of the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival, we made a booking for an Express Lunch at The Baths at Middle Brighton. I picked this place because I wanted to head out to a part of town that I normally don't traverse.
As an aside, I have many thoughts about the lack of planning and web-savvyness of Melbourne restaurants - especially those restaurants that sign up to the Express Lunch which is primarily promoted via the MFWF website but do not have friggin up-to-date information on their website to provide details on what dishes will be on offer as part of the Express Lunch. I mean, the food is what your business is. You'd figured restaurateurs would have half a brain and ensure that the information on the menu (a) exist on the website and (b) is updated on a regular basis. It's not hard. Hell, it's not like I'm asking you to set up an online booking portal.
Anyhoo, on a 35+ degree day, we scurried from the cool refuge of our air-con car into The Baths. Inside, all the semi-transparent blinds were, thankfully, all drawn down. It's simple and classy in an understated way. Lots of neutral and cream colours, and smartly dressed waiters. We were seated at the window, and you could see out to the bay. I reckon this place would be gorgeous on a nice day (i.e., not searingly and blindingly hot day) or at dusk.
For the Express Lunch, there were two options for each course. While many other places do the same thing, I do wish they try a bit more and offer at least three options. Between the four of us, we ordered every option for each course.
First up, was some flavoursome, warm bread. It's bread like this that makes it worth breaking my no-wheat diet.
For entrees, there was they (ubiquitous) gravlax of ocean trout, herb creme fraice. The feedback was it was good, nothing wrong but not memorable.
Also, beef carpaccio w slow cooked egg and caramelised cauliflower. For me, this was the stand out dish. The carpaccio was so wafer thin that I didn't get squeamish at the thought of the beef being raw. As Mr Strong said, you can hardly tell that it's even beef! The photo doesn't do this dish justice. The slow cooked egg (hidden under the leaves) was, well, like a poached egg. But it looked so beautiful when the golden yolk oozed over the beef, giving everything a rich mouthfeel. The caramelised cauliflower just tasted like cauliflower... but I liked the idea that they tried to zhoojsh up an un-sexy veg.
For mains, fish of the day (blue grenadier) w crushed potatoes, basil pesto. The fish was a generous serve. Meaty, fresh and succulent. I liked the potatoes which had a nice flavour and texture. What I didn't like was the crumbed crust and the tomato sauce that sat underneath it. The crumbed crust felt kinda amateurish and the tomato sauce was slightly burnt (you could taste the burnt flavour) which I scraped off.
The other dish was roast chicken breast w caponata and spinach. As with the gravlax, this is pretty standard restaurant fare. It was done well but nothing remarkable about it.
Onto dessert. The first was a chocolate marquise w coffee hazelnuts Our collective first impression was 'hmm....' This is not the most attractive of dishes. It looks like, well, you can you use your imagination. It was very chocolatey. But the coffee hazelnut sauce (the brown spots) was very bitter, and the sort of toffee thing on top was incredibly chewy and difficult to eat.
The mango and coconut cheesecake was much better (despite having a suspicious fingerprint smudge on the top). It was coconutty (I liked the pieces of fresh coconut) and I liked the bright orange colour. While I was a bit 'meh' about the cheesecake, everyone else quite liked it.
Although we asked for our tea and coffee to be served with the desserts, they didn't come out until a bit later. But I liked the nice touch w the Madeleines.
Food – 7
Ambience – 7.5
Service – 8
Price – 8 (for the Express Lunch)
Our waitress was very friendly and attentive. It's a minor thing, but propz goes to TB for allowing Mother Hen to substitue her glass of wine with a cup of tea. Service is pretty good here.
TB lives up to the quality you'd expect of a restaurant of this ilk, but there's nothing here that makes you think 'wow!' (aside from the view of the beach). In my view, this place is a safe bet.
The Baths at Middle Brighton
251a The Esplanade
Telephone: 9539 7000