Thursday 26 June 2008

Giuseppe Arnaldo & Sons: Disastrous Decadent Tuesday

Giuseppe Arnaldo & Sons
Crown Casino Complex, Melbourne (map)
9694 7400

Since it first opened and the first gushing write-ups appeared on other food blogs, I was excited about Giuseppe Arnaldo & Sons, Maurice Terzini's contribution to the new generation of ├╝ber-restaurants springing up along the promenade at Crown Casino. Yes visiting GAS would mean breaking my self-imposed boycott of all businesses in the Crown Casino complex, but my conflicting desire to check out the gamberetti with aioli, the salumi and the spaghetti in a paper bag won out in the end...

I arranged to meet up there with some good friends for dinner on a Tuesday, which I dubbed Decadent Tuesday in my lengthy, excited email invitation to them. Decadent Tuesday would involve us meeting early to sip aperitifs at the bar while we put our name down for a table (as they have a no bookings policy); we would then proceed to (a) order THE most fabulous-sounding items on the menu, (b) spend far too much money and (c) drink like it was a Friday night - all in the name of decadence.

Having tiptoed out of work at a relatively early hour, I felt a surge of excitement as I crossed over the river and the first Casino flames billowed up into the cold evening air. I met CJ nursing a Negroni at the bar (she'd been the second person across the threshold at 6pm, ensuring we'd get a good table) and ordered a Spritz Aperol (the drink to have this summer in Italy, dahling - if my brother is to be believed). B-f-K also arrived and also ordered a Negroni. We received word that our other dining companion A wouldn't be able to make it, but that was okay. The shiny-domed bartender was doing a fine job and the venue looked simply fabulous.

Spritz Aperol

THEN IT ALL STARTED TO GO WRONG. Holding our drinks, we went up to the girl assigning tables and asked to be seated, informing her that there would now be only three of us dining instead of four, if that helped matters at all. She made an adjustment on her piece of paper and marched us through the mostly empty restaurant past the Wild Salumi Enclosure, past the theatrical Wall of Bread, past the tables with Turkish steam bath tiles both under and above them, to... a tiny little table right next to the kitchen's prep station. A table which would have been cramped even for two people - but for three people, it was ridiculous. The people facing each other had no elbow room as the table was jammed lengthwise hard up against the wall. And as for the person facing the wall (papered with celebrity autographs and customer testimonials, La Porchetta-style), the cramped conditions meant that her paper placemat/menu was almost entirely covered by the other two placemat/menus, making it impossible to read. Our cocktail glasses, water glasses, olive oil bowl and bread basket took up all available space in the middle of the table.

Sitting cheek by jowl to such a battery hen degree is fine if you're nursing a single bowl of teriyaki don and chopsticks at a venue like Don Too. Not if you're ordering multiple courses at a stylish pricey restaurant it isn't. Our biggest mistake of the night was failing to then and there request a different table.

After a few minutes our labcoated waiter walked up to our table and without any preamble asked what we wanted. I explained we wanted to share a bunch of items and requested the warmed mixed olives, the guanciale from the salumi cabinet, the gambaretti (sic), the spaghetti all'arrabbiata and the eggplant parmigiano. His face completely expressionless, he scribbled the items down with his stylus into his electronic gizmo and left without another word. Charming. Three tables away, I could see a poised professional waiter beginning his spiel to a smiling table of six: "Good evening ladies and gentlemen. First and foremost, can I recommend that you try the following antipasti...". Sigh. So near, yet so far! Feeling a little like second class citizens, we craned our necks and observed the rapidly filling restaurant.

Ten minutes later Captain Charming approached our table and deposited the guanciale, then quickly reappeared with ALL of the other dishes. Simultaneously. We looked at him is disbelief: "We can't fit all of those plates on this table. THIS TABLE IS TOO SMALL." He shrugged, mumbled something about how you'd be surprised how much stuff can be made to fit, and crammed it all on anyway, so that plates were protruding off the corners of our table. By this stage, we could see that there were no empty tables in the restaurant. We looked at each other with raised eyebrows and with some reluctance started eating.

Minuscule table

So how was the food? Well... it was good but it wasn't great. The guanciale was fatty and had a flavour so delicate it left me underwhelmed (though in retrospect, I should have chosen a bolder cut of meat). The eggplant was excellent. The spaghetti with chillied tomato and crab reminded me of a risotto done upstream at Tutto Bene. The gamberetti were crunchy and tasty, but were cold by the time we got around to eating them. Because everything had arrived at once.

Argh! I lay a lot of blame at the Converse-sneakered feet of Captain Charming. I can only assume (and hope!) that he's a student/part-time waiter and not a professional. Surely a professional waiter, taking in the size of our table and our order, would have suggested "How about I bring out just the olives and the salumi to start, then I'll bring out the gamberetti, then the rest?". The GAS staff seem to be under a lot of pressure to rush customers through and ensure a high turnover (we were out in a little over an hour after sitting down), but again: this isn't Don Too. SURELY our dishes could have been staggered somewhat.

You know that sad sinking feeling when you've realised your special evening is turning into a disaster but you pretend it isn't happening, because once you acknowledge it with your friends it'll be OUT THERE and you won't be able to pretend otherwise? Well, that's how we felt: very deflated, but still valiantly trying to salvage the mood. B-f-K commented that she loved these little wild Australian olives, and launched into telling us a funny story. As CJ and I were laughing, Captain Charming whisked away our remaining plates - including the olive plate which still had about a dozen olives on it. We were too surprised to stop him, and sat for a few moments in bewildered silence. What the hell was going on?!

At no time did anyone come to enquire how our meal was going. How I wish they had! I felt like tugging our waiter's sleeve and pleading "You don't understand... there seems to have some mistake... this is supposed to be Decadent Tuesday, not Disastrous Tuesday!"

Did we want dessert? Well we had discussed in advance the possibility of ordering the Zuppa Inglese (which Lethlean had that very day fawned over in his Top 20 dishes so far for 2008). I asked Captain Charming whether we could get the Zuppa Inglese. He stared at me for a moment, then monotoned "Oh, you want the zuppa." (pronouncing it to rhyme with 'supper'). The corners of my mouth tightening, I forced a smile and nodded.

Zuppa inglese

I don't know what Mister Epicure got himself so worked up about. The almonds, pistachio and raspberries on top were nice, but the jelly layer was far too thick and more importantly the trifle contained no discernable grappa (or any other liqueur for that matter). I acknowledge that by this stage of the meal we'd all admitted what a shit time of it we were having, which no doubt clouded our judgement to an extent. I doubt that we'd have been so critical of the food if we'd had a different table and a competent waiter. What a difference good service makes, eh. As it was, we couldn't wait to get the hell out of there!

So there you have my bitterly disappointing night at Giuseppe Arnaldo & Sons. I certainly hope that this review doesn't sound petty - it has been very unenjoyable and difficult to write. Regular readers of Melbourne Gastronome will know that I very rarely write negative reviews (if I don't like a place I prefer to just omit writing anything), and am not a overly fussy, difficult customer. On the contrary, I'm pretty easy to please - with GAS my hopes were high but throughout the night I kept trying to see the upside, kept trying to justify the situation, despite the increasingly overwhelming evidence to the contrary. But put plainly, our experience sucked.

So much for Decadent Tuesday! :_(


Johanna GGG said...

ouch! nothing like a bad table and bad service to make the food taste worse - especially when you have a good pinch of hype in the mix. At least you got an entertaining blog post out of it and have no reason to return to the nasty crown complex anytime soon.

KittyMeow said...

If you guys were the first in the restaurant WHY did they put you on such a shit table? There is no excuse! That's really disappointing to hear such a bad review.
But no, I don't think you're being petty :-)

Do you think you'll go again or take this as a sign?

Anonymous said...

Not at all petty! Entirely our experience. I hope someone shows your review to whoever runs the restaurant.

And I don't think we can entirely blame the waiter - because it's management who hired him/aren't supervising him, and probably telling him to get us the hell out of there so they can seat someone else.

I've been whinging about my experience to many people since Tuesday (!) and one work collegue told me he had a very similar time on the crap table in the corner, and felt like he was being rushed through his meal.

Maybe the moral of the story is that Crown is just no good.

Ed Charles said...

I've had the same experience with three on a tiny table. We had a wineglass each, then a waterglass and already the table was filling-up. We never got past the Salumi.I think those knife and fork holders on theend also take s=away space. It's a nice place but I think Lethlean needs to go back as a group like that to see the major flaw in this place.

Anonymous said...

Hi- I really love your blog, and had to comment because I had a similar experience at Sarti where I dared to ask about the pasta sauces (all written in italian) and was told bluntly that they were "brown, red and white"(The food proved to live down to that description.)

It's a fine line between being assertive, and being an "ugly" customer and ruining everyone's night...but I reckon you have to let them know somehow that it's not good enough.

I too was tempted, but won't be breaking my own crown ban now- thanks for the tip off.

neil said...

We had waiter problems at Rockpool B & G that was due to inexperience, but at least he tried hard. Pity about your food too. Sounds like hype and greed won out over substance.

Sarah said...

Hey Claire,

Such a shame you guys had a bad experience! My brother went with his gf last week, and they said they liked the food, but didn't love it, and they found the dark lighting and waiters' uniforms a bit OTT. After hearing that and reading your review, I'm not at all keen to go.

Hope your next meal out is better!

xox Sarah

thanh7580 said...

I can totally sympathise with you Claire. As food lovers, we tend to recommend the places, and hence feel responsible for the bad choices. Currently Verge hold the crown as my worse blogged dining experience. Despite the fact that I was celebrating a pay rise with my good friend, the meal was so disappointing that no matter what I told myself, I just couldn't be happy.

I have to agree with you that the Zuppa Inglese wasn't that great. It was good, but by no means great. I liked the Chocolate Pot from GAS much more than the Zuppa.

Anonymous said...

Bloody hell. A good report on an inexcusable situation, by the sounds of it. I sort of want to say 'why on earth didn't you put an end to the experience?' but it does sound like one those disasters which just ambushes you... like the proverbial frog in gradually heated water.

Ran said...

I had reservations aboout bothering with the whole no booking thing and after this, i think i have other places i would rather go to. A shame, the menu sounds really interesting

claire said...

Oooh, comments!

Johanna - glad the post was entertaining for you, it wasn't much fun for me to write! The experience certainly hasn't inspired me to go running back to Crown anytime soon...

Kittymeow - yeah, we'd arrived early specifically so that we WOULDN'T get a shit table. For now I'm interpreting it as a sign that me and Crown just aren't meant to be.

B-f-K - you're right, we can't heap all the blame on Captain Charming - who hired him??

Ed - I know what you mean about the knife and fork holder thing. Somehow I doubt that Lethlean would be seated at such a table, even if he went in a group...

Jessie - hi, glad you like the blog! That Sarti experience sounds horrible. It just goes to show how crucial good service is to ensure a happy experience, eh? When I told Mum about our night at GAS, she was incredulous that I hadn't thrown a tantrum and demanded to speak to the manager as soon as CC brought out the food!

Neil - ah well, if it's any consolation at least you can give your Rockpool waiter points for effort... :)

Sarah - hey! Actually I quite liked the dark lighting, and although I don't think the labcoats quite work at least they were something different. I think my next meal out will be something far less glam (my friend has raised the possibility of Dainty Sichuan or Malaysian Oriental Wok)...

Thanh - yes the Chocolate Pot with the pearls sounded interesting. If I ever revisit GAS I'll give that a try.
As I mentioned on your blog, I came home on Tuesday night very deflated and disappointed because of the GAS experience... but your Foux de Fa Fa clip cheered me up right away! Looking forward to watching that whole episode on TV this Sunday :)

Duncan - yes, in retrospect I've been asking myself the same question, and your frog analogy is apt... although we were having an unpleasant experience, I couldn't bring myself to spit the dummy. Maybe I need to become a more assertive customer. :)

Ran - yes, there are some interesting things on their menu which I'd love to try sometime in the future. One day down the track perhaps...

Anonymous said...

Nice report Claire, shame about your experience.
Restaurants fall into two categories for me. One's that 'restore' you & ones that 'process' you.
Clearly GAS falls into the latter but you'd believe after the hype of the place that customer service is a benchmark of Terzini's that sadly didn't live up to his reputation.

Anonymous said...

We went on saturday night and had the worst dinner experience we have ever had. The service was at best cold, apart form the screeming child at the next table, the 1 hour table wait, the cramped tables, the cold tiles to lean against, the bland entree salt cod balls, the inedible mains of veal shanks, and when i say inedable, we actually could not eat them and had them taken off the bill,the salad with NO dressing, it just went on and on. We shouted some friends with the idea of it being a swish dreamy night out, eat far too much, drink far too much, whip over to the supper club for another wine or two and be driven home to dream the night away. It just didn't happen. Don't go, just don't go. I have never written anything like this.we were all just so dissapointed.

claire said...

Hi Gobbler, you've hit the nail on the head, we DID feel like we'd been "processed". It's such a shame, I've really loved some of Terzini's other restaurants (Dutton especially).

Hi Anonymous - YIKES! My night at GAS was a picnic compared to yours. I'm not wholly opposed to the "no reservations" policy, but unfortunately a one hour wait on a Saturday night is probably a given, particularly while GAS is still flavour of the month. In all fairness the screaming child wasn't the staff's fault (argh, screaming children - either take them outside until then quieten down or don't bring them in the first place!!)... but foodwise it sounds like it was a real letdown.

Unknown said...

Remember how we noticed that if a group of 3 contained at least one male, they got a 4-seater table? Meanwhile all-females groups of 3 got squashed against the back wall!

Anonymous said...

Hi its anonymous again, Just to be clear we arived at 6.15 to get an early table, i really don't mind the wait, and i agree re the kid. I guess my main point was the combination of everything made it a dud night. The food was really dissapointing and i can't see what all the fuss is about. I am so tired of people going on and on about these sorts of places,We will not go to crown again. Nobu or No Booze, no reason. hi ho, hi ho its back to vue we cafe we go, or 50 other great places.thanks for your comments

Anonymous said...

Sorry to hear about the disaster but 4 of us went to GAS last Saturday and it was one of the best dining experiences I have ever had. We were all a bit frazzled as we had had a really busy and exhausting day but the surrounds and the food and the service just completely soothed us all. Great table, great food and our waiter was amazing. He was warm and friendly but not familiar. He made great recommendations and answered every question we had. There were tables around us that were being turned over quite quickly but as soon as he realised we were there for a relaxed dinner out he slowed the pace of the ordering down perfectly. For the past few days I have been praising the place to anyone who will listen! Hope you give it a second chance.

claire said...

Hey squid, thanks for sharing your GAS experience with us! It sounds like you had exactly the sort of night I'd been hoping for. One of the big disappointments for me was that I could see that other waiters in the restaurant were giving excellent attentive (but not too obsequious) service at other (bigger) tables - our night COULD have been so great!

Part of me wants to give GAS a second chance, but I'm reluctant to fork out a whole lot for okay food and rushed shitty service again - I'm trying to talk Dad into shouting me dinner there... ;)

Anonymous said...

We went to GAS last night and has an awesome experience. The atmosphere is terrific, the food was really good value for money (not expensive at all considering the profile of this restaurant) and the staff were attentive without being try-hard. The zuppa inglese was amazing. I think you should certainly give this place another go.

Messalina said...

Boo hoo - that's terrible that you got such a small table. I went there last night (Tuesday) and had a different experience. We got there at 7pm and there was no waiting time. Three of us were escorted to a large table and offered drinks straight away. Despite a great table, however, I completely agree with your description of the service. Our waiter had little knowledge of the food he was serving, and even when we asked him questions, he seemed completely disinterested. The food was inconsistent - a few dishes were fantastic and a few were average. I'll probably give it another go, but it was nothing like the experience we had at Maha the week beforehand!

Anonymous said...

You won, the place went bust not that long after.....