William Angliss Student Bistro - scenes from a comic film
For the first in what I hope to be an ongoing project of review of Melbourne restaurants, I'm writing about a lunch I had at the student-run bistro at William Angliss Institute of TAFE here in Melbourne. I haven't written many restaurant reviews on this site because I don't like bringing my camera out and taking photos in restaurants (I'm a bit shy...) and I didn't think anyone would have interest in reading about some random cafe in the burbs of Melbourne. But, a few things have made me reconsider this view; I've noticed Clothilde never takes photos of her dishes in restaurants and I still enjoy her reviews, and a few people have been writing comments about Melbourne so I'm going to write more about what it's like to eat around town here in Australia's food and restaurant capital.
Anyway, A. and I are both either suffering from shortage of money, or trying to save money for the future so I've stopped going out so much to nice places, and instead been focusing my attention on finding places that serve really good food for honest, decent prices (well, apart from my 8 course $115pp lunch a few weeks ago at Ezard. That still to come...). Here in Australia we have the opportunity to dine in restaurants attached to institutions that teach cooking and hospitality; I can think of at least 4 in Melbourne. The point is for students to have real experience cooking and waiting on real customers, and the bonus for the customers is that the prices are astoundingly cheap. The downside is that you may not be presented with a dish that is really restaurant perfect or you may experience service that has some way to go before being professional; but students need to learn and I'm happy to act as learning subject when prices are so cheap! At the end of the meal you are asked to fill in a survey commenting on what was good and what could be improved; I have great fun with those ;-)
The major Melbourne cooking college is in the CBD and has 3 restaurants - from a casual bistro to a full silver-service fine dining restaurants. I went last year with some uni friends to the fine dining restaurant, where we had an incredible meal with 3 courses of posh-sounding fancy food served with white gloves for $22! A and I are planning to return in a few weeks for our anniversary, but until then I'm going to write about a really amusing lunch we tried to have at the bistro on our lunch break last week.
The William Angliss bistro is on LaTrobe St and doesn't have many tables, so bookings are required. A. works in the building next door, but I'm down the other end of the city, so I trained it down there and met him. Now, he only has an hour for lunch - strictly enforced. I'm a contractor so I can do what I like, within reason. I mean, 3 hour lunches are probably a bit excessive....but tempting! We were planning on having the 3 course meal with coffee/tea for $16, so our time was going to be tight. We ended up having a lunch that took nearly 2 hours with a collection of incidents that made us feel like we were in a French comedy film. We had a ball!- the service was so bad that we couldn't stop giggling. Those poor young students...
We came in, were welcomed by the supervisor-in-charge and assigned our waitress for the meal. She looked to be about 18 and immediately blew us away with her wondrous incompetence. We were seated, water poured, napkins unfurled and then she disappeared! Hmmmm. We were already down to 50 minutes to eat. She ambled back and explained the drink of the day, then asked A. what he would like.
"A Pineapple Juice" he replied
"Yep, ok!" she chirped...and walked off! Huh? But I was just ready to give my order! We looked at each other and burst out laughing - well, they're young, what can you expect?
A few minutes later she returned and with studied casualness muttered:
"Ummm....so you wanted a pineapple juice? And do you want anything to drink?"
"Yes! I do!" I blurted out before she could run away again.
The pineapple juice was freshly squeezed. The bread rolls were fresh from the oven from the baking students, and were marvellous on a cold rainy day. Yum! The restaurants are licensed and have extensive wine lists, but we thought it would be best to avoid wine when we had an afternoon of work ahead of us.
Our girl returned with menus, and we explained that we were on a tight schedule and could we manage 3 courses in an hour? We had to repeat this request 3 times because suddenly our girl apppeared to lose her comprehension of the English language. She ummmed and ahhhed, and went to ask the supervisor before coming back:
"Yes! Of course we can!!" Heh - I can just imagine what the supervisor said to her. Probably something along the lines of, 'of course we can you nincompoop, you just have to keep a close watch on them and collect their dishes quickly to bring out the next course'. See - we're doing out bit to set challenges for these girls (for they were all girls. And all blonde 18 year olds!).
Unfortuntately, she forgot to tell us the specials for the day, (oops) so I don't know what they were. But you can check out their Autumn/Winter menu here. Doesn't it look good? - especially at those crazy prices! What's on their site wasn't quite what we ate though:
Entree: I had a goats cheese and blue cheese tart on mizuna greens. This was really excellent. In fact all the food we had in the lunch was superb; the young cooks are to be commended. It's just the service that's dodgy. The pastry was particularly excellent on this tart. It was quite filling too, and could have done as a light lunch in itself.
A. had an Asian inspired salad of calamari and prawns on frisee lettuce, with an Asian style dressing. He said it was very light and tasty with great flavours.
Sadly, our plates remained uncleared on our table for far too long. I started looking at my watch in concern....yes, I'm sure we can eat another 2 courses and coffee in 25 minutes. I'm sure of it! Finally our girl noticed us shifting around trying to catch somebodies eye and took our plates. Our next course arrived soon after though, so that was a bonus point for them.
For our main we both ordered the same dish, which is something we never do. We both hate it when people on the same table order the same thing, but the day outside was pouring down with rain and howling with wind, so the Slow Braised Pork Belly on Sweet Potato Mash with Asian Mushrooms and Bok Choy was the perfect choice. This dish was just fabulous; I would love to eat it again at a more leisurely pace. The sweet potato mash was rich and buttery and the pieces of belly pork was meltingly tender, sticky and unctious. Cutting throug the richness was a reduction of pan juices with vinegar and a serving of steamed bok choy, and sauteed mushrooms were scattered over the top. This was the dish that I was tasting all afternoon, wishing I could eat it again. It was really excellent.
We had run out of water by this point, but neither our girl nor the girl apparently in charge of refilling water glasses (and not doing much else) were engaged in a long and intense conversation by the bar. Occasionally they'd look up, scan the room, see nothing very interesting, and continue their chat. The other girls seemed to be very busy dashing around doing....well...not very much, but looking very busy and officious. It was such entertainment to watch! I calculate that they were 1st year students, having only started the course in March. But, most people nowdays have enough awareness of cafe/restaurant procedures that they would know how to behave and perform if serving in a cafe, wouldn't they? That's my opinion anyway, but maybe these girls were unfamiliar with eating out?
The main course was very filling, but we still had dessert to come. In the middle of our main, however, our girl ran up to our table. We looked up in expectation...
"Oh!!!" she yelped. And ran away to the bar!
"What the f***?!" What just happened then?! Is it safe to continue eating?
She returned a few minutes later to tell us that there were 3 icecream flavours on offer that day. Would it not have been better to tell us this when we ordered at the start?? A. had chosen a trio of home-made icecreams in a chocolate lined brandy snap basket, whereas I opted for the lighter sounding wattleseed meringue roulade with cream and fresh berries. Initially the idea was for A and I to order different dessert and share. Well, you can imagine what the real outcome of that was! A. loved his icecreams so much that I was lucky to get a taste of each, although I noticed while the taste was excellent, the texture was a little grainy on the spoon.
His dessert seemed to be much larger than my portion, and I wouldn't have been able to finish it, especially after my large entree, so I was happy with my roulade. It was fine; nothing very special, but nice and light. I can't say I discerned any extra taste from the wattle seeds. A received 3 large scoops in a brandy snap basket, and he was as happy as a pig in mud snuffling his way through that.
By this stage we were so far over an hour that it had started not to matter. But we decided anyway to give coffees a miss and try to escape as soon as we could, but asking for the bill proved more difficult than expected as every girl wandering past didn't want to catch our eye (or give us any more water!). Eventually I bodily tacked one girl to the floor and demanded our bill - the grand total for 3 courses of really excellent bistro food and 2 freshly squeezed pineapple juices for 2 people was $34. Isn't that marvellous?; it's definitely worth the less-than-stellar service. But you see, I'm actually a fan of the poor service as it makes the dining experience so much fun! You can sit there thinking of all the wonderful comments you will write on your survey sheets at the end on how they can improve. I like to think that I put enough effort into such things that I can offer some valuable advice to these young students. Sadly, we were running so late that I didn't get to write down everything I planned, so it's a perfect excuse for a return visit.
If you've ever considered going to the William Angliss restaurants, or visiting a similar student restaurant in your home town I really encourage you to do it. You'll experience great food cooked by the next generation of top chefs at very cheap prices, and possibly experience some highly amusing waitressing antics along the way!
William Angliss Bistro
555 La Trobe Street
Bookings: 9606 2111
Open for lunch during teaching semesters
3 course plus tea/coffee is $16.