Even our means of entering the restaurant should have hinted that the evening was going to be less of a fine dining experience, and more of a lengthy piece of performance art.
We follow a wooden pathway down a darkened corridor towards a half-scale projected image – a video, or perhaps a live feed? – of the Fat Duck Melbourne’s kitchen. Once we reach the image, the video finishes abruptly with a wooden door slamming, and we are plunged into darkness.
Over the past month or two we’ve persevered at the Lakehouse only for each visit to disappoint in some way. We’ve had a few problems with delayed food – caused, they said, by the kitchen struggling to handle large tables – but forgave each time on the basis that it was handled very well by the servers.
Next time we visited our lovely waiter recognised us and delivered Orlando’s breakfast with an extra complimentary egg to make up for the delays we had before. We were then charged for that “free” egg and another to boot. It took us three visits to the counter to get them taken off the bill.
Last weekend was the worst yet. We arrived to see a pretty big family lunch in progress – in retrospect we should have walked away at that point. We were immediately recognised and the lovely waitress, poor Natalia, told us in advance they were going a little slow, but they knew we’d had problems before so they would work hard to serve us quickly.
After almost an hour the apologetic Natalia came back and said our breakfast was on the house as we had been delayed so much. Fifteen minutes later she came back and gave us a voucher for yet another free meal as a gesture of goodwill. At that point I was fascinated to see how long it would take, so we stayed and chatted.
It took just over two hours to serve us two pretty simple breakfasts (portions a little larger than usual, presumably another gesture).
My main point is this: if the Lakehouse’s kitchen grinds to a halt with a table for forty, then they need to consider very carefully whether they should take such large bookings. If our eggs and bacon were delayed by two hours, I doubt that large table was served all of their meals at roughly the same time.
The Lakehouse has the option of limiting numbers for a single booking or offering a set menu for large tables, as many other restaurants do. Or I guess they could increase the staffing in the kitchen when they have large bookings, although that of course will eat into their profits. I am not sure if it’s greed or a simple lack of management on their part, but something needs to change.
I’ve read other reviews that compare the Lakehouse to Lazy Moe’s, and I’d have to agree. After just a couple of months and a fair amount of perseverence, the Lakehouse has become for me yet another disappointing suburban den of mediocrity. My advice to others is that if you see a table for ten or more when you arrive, turn around and go somewhere else. The food just won’t be worth the wait.
Down by the riverside in Maribyrnong a beautiful glass-fronted restaurant was built and then sat empty for a few years. We cycled and strolled past there from time to time, and wondered when it would ever open. Well, now it has.
The Degani cafe empire have taken over this place, and it opened just a few days ago. We noticed the open door on our way to Cafe Boutique, and diverted there for a late breakfast.
The restaurant is light and airy, with a full glass front overlooking the Maribyrnong River. This is going to be a great haunt for a cheeky afternoon drink in the summer, or a cosy coffee and cake on cooler days. The space is not overloaded with tables which is nice for a change. There is a stunning outside space with high stools and cafe tables – guaranteed to become a favourite spot on sunny days.
In the centre of the restaurant are a couple of banquettes and larger tables seating up to 12 or so people, but I’m sure they would configure some of the smaller tables to accommodate larger groups right by the panoramic windows.
The only decor points lost were for the two large TV screens, one showing the football and the other MTV. I’m not a fan of TVs in restaurants, and although I understand they will be handy to attract punters for the occasional big game I’d prefer if they were kept switched off the rest of the time.
To the food: the menu is a decent bistro mix of steak sandwiches, parmas, fish and chips, lamb shanks. You know the drill. They also have a pizza menu but I shall reserve judgement on those until I taste them. Actually, the whole menu reminded me very much of the newly-renovated Plough Hotel, another great new local eatery.
Breakfast was (mostly) generously-proportioned, tasty and good value at $41 for two. My side of mushrooms consisted of just two mushrooms which I thought rather miserly, however O’s bacon and smoked salmon more than made up for this slip.
Tea is served in large mugs (good) made with decent tea in bags (good) however no teapots are to be had (bad). Given the fancy-schmancy coffee machine behind the counter, I fear this cafe focuses on coffee heads and forget the tea drinkers, like so many places in Melbourne. If you are reading this, Degani’s, please buy a few decent-sized teapots for your regulars – we will thank you!
Service was friendly without being over-familiar, and the occasional hesitation was forgiven in place open only two or three days. The neighbouring Cafe Boutique is fine, and will remain on our standby list, but in just one visit I think the Lakehouse has just become our regular Sunday destination. I am looking forward to coming back of an evening to try out their dinner menu.
Another Sunday breakfast, another foray into the unknown. What has happened to us? We have become intrepid.
This weekend saw us staying close to home and to the water, with a visit to Cafe Boutique down in Edgewater. It’s a hidden-away little gem of a place with lovely views across the Maribyrnong River: lovely in winter but sure to be a hit in summer too, with a nice big verandah offering front-row river views.
One gripe of mine that applies to many Melbourne restaurants and cafes: Cafe Boutique seems to ignore the fact that Melbourne has a moderate oceanic climate, not a sub-tropical one. This involves cool winters, people. It is staggering to me to find myself so frequently in eateries with no heating and doors or windows wide open in winter, creating icy wind-tunnels that chill both the diners and the food in no time flat. Sadly, Cafe Boutique is one such place, with a front door wedged open on one of the coldest days of the year, and the verandah door being used as a thoroughfare. I kept my overcoat on for the whole visit.
That said, the food was pretty good. We ordered our usual breakfasts: poached eggs with mushrooms and roasted tomato for me, poached eggs with smoked salmon and bacon for him. The food arrived in record time (indeed, before my tea could be cobbled together) and the portions were plentiful if a tiny bit greasy. I could have done with a second slice of sourdough but Orlando was happy not to be tempted. Next time I shall ask for a second slice.
The other tiny thing that marred our visit was the interaction of the staff with each other. We felt we had stumbled upon a bit of a toxic work environment. Staff members tended to speak to each other in raised voices, and many of the conversations were less than friendly. It was as if they hadn’t realised the customers could see and hear them bickering. We weren’t sure if it was just a pretty bad day for whatever reason, but both of us were left with the impression that this was business as usual for the cafe. Not a completely relaxing vibe.
The rest of the menu looked interesting enough, and a handful of specials on the blackboard also suggested a second visit might be warranted. Not to mention the counter full of lovely cakes and pastries, from macarons to tiny bite-sized friands, from chocolate cheesecake to generously sized individual lemon meringue pies.
Total price $41 for two substantial breakfasts and two pots of tea. I could see this place becoming a regular haunt when working from home, if they can manage to sort out the ambient temperature and the general air of staff irritation.