Alto, Canberra, Australia

I'm at large again and my latest jaunt is to the city of my birth, Canberra, Australia. Despite all the embassies and the fact it is the federal capital of Australia, Canberra is not exactly the most cosmopolitan or exciting city. Nevertheless if you ever visit Australia, it's worth staying a couple of nights as there are usually good exhibitions at the National Gallery (this time it was Degas) and there is actually quite a lot to see and do.

Dining in Canberra has come a long way since what I remember when visiting as a teenager and young adult. The latest "it" establishment for Canberrans, Alto, is to be found in the Black Mountain Tower. The views from the revolving restaurant are superb and the decor is in a trendy, white retro 70s minimalist style. If you can imagine what a restaurant in Canberra that's trying very hard would be like then this is it. But I tell you, it's still good old Canberra. It's not that they know what to do and don't do it, it's that they really don't know in the first place.

I was taking my parents and little brother out for dinner and when we all arrived, nobody greeted us. Our waitress for the evening just looked straight through us and carried on her way. About two minutes later after some perfunctory name checking she sort of motioned to us and headed off and so we assumed this meant we were being led to the table. Our table, like everyone else's had a great view and we enjoyed the mist and clearing rain at twilight looking over Lake Burley Griffin, Civic and the suburbs as we whirled slowly around.

The menu was not particularly large and the prices were expensive. About $20-30 for an entree, $30-45 for the mains and $18 for dessert. You know you're in for a classy night when the waiters tell you this and that is "complimentary". Our first complimentary course was the little soups given as the "amuse". It kind of tasted like garlic bread - not unpleasant but not all that interesting either. For my entree I had the twice cooked cheese souffle. This was burned and, I'm sorry to say, had the consistency and taste of a failed year 8 home economics experiment. Bread was served, but while we were waiting the more than one hour it took to get our main course we were told that as it was "complimentary" all the tables had been given their allocation for the evening. We managed to eventually get two rolls out of them but my brother and I got nothing. What a class act! Anyway, the mains eventually came. I had ordered the whiting which came with beans and lardons, and this was passable - I mean in a good coffee lounge sort of way. Not really what you'd expect for 40 bucks though. My brother's lamb looked ok - don't you just hate it when you order the wrong dish! Dessert was a pretty damn narrow slice of grapefruit tart served with vanilla ice cream. It didn't really taste like grapefruit but it was passable in a coffee lounge sort of way.

The wines were also pretty ordinary. I started off with a glass of their house sparkling which had a musty sort of character about it (I couldn't be bothered with the debate over whether it was corked) and the NZ sauvignon blanc I ordered by the glass was nothing to write home about. It was the kind of wine you'd have at an Aussie barbeque I suppose.

To sum it up, like every single revolving restaurant I have ever been to the food is disappointing. The problem always occurs when we don't know if we're coming for the food or the view. Any restaurant that looks like it lives off a tourist trade is going to disappoint - it's one of the immutable laws of dining out. Definitely don't come for the food, and absolutely don't come for the service which is pathetic - ignorant and arrogant (which is the worst of both worlds). The view however is great, so if you can look past the profound mediocrity of the food and service, you'll still enjoy your evening.
Tel: 61 2 6247 5518


Terry said…
Dom: I fear you're right about the lack of finish in Australian restaurants. I'll be posting today about this topic. Terry
Anonymous said…
Aussies will have to work harder if they want to make up for the decline in tourists from Japan. It's a pity as Australia has lots of potential for a memorable dining experience.

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