Monday, 26 September 2011

You get what you pay for (if you’re lucky)

I discovered voucher websites such as GrabOne and Living Social a couple of months back. In the giddy heights of excitement during my initial buying spree, I purchased what I thought was an extremely good deal – a three course meal for two people, plus a bottle of wine to share and tea/coffee each, for $49. The restaurant was Pelagic Bar and Dining - a new seafood restaurant in Canberra (where Antigo's used to be) and it came highly recommended by a colleague. A quick check of their website and it describes itself as "modern, stylish, comfortable and exudes a unique casual elegance. We are renowned for serving spectacular seafood dishes and creating exceptional food and wine menus using fresh premium produce and the finest Australian and international wine..." I was looking forward to finding out if this restaurant lived up to the hype.

However, I promptly forgot about the pre-paid voucher and when I remembered it, it had almost expired! Not to fear, my emergency foodie buddy who I can always count on, came to the rescue!

On the evening of our visit, S and I were greeted by a very friendly waitress. Our orders were taken in reasonable time and we started off with a glass each of our bottle of house white. Conversation flowed as we watched plates of food pass our table. S started looking forlornly at entrée after entrée as they were placed in front of other people. Our wine glasses were topped up again before the entrées arrived.

S ordered the rather delicious mushroom risotto, while I ordered the scallops with foam. The dish was pretty, but the scallops were not seared properly and lacked flavour. The tasteless foam added to the disappointment. By contrast, the risotto was of a good consistency and flavourful. A girl at a neighboring table had the misfortune of ordering the scallops with foam as well and let’s just say she wasn’t exactly tucking in with gusto!

It was a long wait until our mains arrived. It was such a long wait that the waitress told us the kitchen was in a bit of a meltdown and would we like some bread and olive oil and balsamic vinegar to tide us over? By now, I was ready to devour anything in sight and the entrée had been less than impressive so I quickly accepted. It appeared that the restaurant was quite busy for a Thursday evening. I hazarded a guess that the majority of patrons were also using their vouchers. As we were waiting for our mains, I told S that I always believed food that arrived late should make up for it in taste and size in proportion to how long it took to arrive. She agreed with me, so when our mains were finally placed in front of us by the now-harried waitress, the portion sizes were somewhat underwhelming. Thank goodness for the side of chips we ordered to share. 

Both dishes, hers – the Kingfish (bottom left in the photo), mine – the Snapper (top right), were bland and dry. Our accompaniments were dismal too. I had two shoots of asparagus and her mushrooms were actually cold. It was amazing to me that anyone would pay the normal price of $32 for each of our mains. S noticed that the same girl who had ordered the scallops for her entrée had, unfortunately, ordered a main with foam on it as well! The unappealing-looking foam took up about a third of the plate!

Luckily, our teas arrived fairly quickly and our desserts came not long after that. 

I had the panna cotta (pictured, right) and S couldn’t go past the chocolate pudding (bottom left). Dessert was the only saving grace to this dinner disaster. The panna cotta was smooth and rich and tasted absolutely beautiful. S said her pudding was magnificent. The only downside to the desserts was how small they were. I should have placed a fork on the plate to show that they were almost bite-sized…

It seemed to me that Pelagic had overbooked or underestimated the amount of kitchen staff needed to handle the amount of bookings they undertook that night. The quality of the food was generally poor (except for foods that were probably pre-prepared, such as the risotto and the desserts), and were given in incredibly small portion sizes. It could also have been that the restaurant was cutting corners on the meals for the deal-holders. It may make short-term financial sense; however, it’s not a smart way to encourage repeat business.

Despite the disappointing entrees and mains, the waitress was very attentive and communicative and the house wine (a chardonnay) was surprisingly good. Although for some reason, she didn’t leave the bottle of wine on the table, insisting that the table was too small for it. I looked around and noticed that despite some tables being smaller than ours, all the other patrons had their bottle of wine on the table. 

I had a very enjoyable catch up dinner with S but I’m not sure whether I’ll come back anytime soon to Pelagic Bar and Dining. The $49 voucher meant that the three course meals were very affordable. However, I certainly would not have been happy paying full price for my entree or main. In any case, if I do return, I’ll be steering clear of anything with foam in the menu description.

Have you eaten at this venue? What were your thoughts on the food, service, ambience?

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