Saturday, 21 July 2012

Restaurant Review: Panama Dining Room and Bar

Location: 3/231 Smith St, Fitzroy
Phone: 03 9417 7663
Cuisine: European, French
Overall Impression: 6.5/10

Of late, the trendier the restaurant, the more obscure its location. Going by this logic, Panama Dining is certainly on the right track to becoming an extremely trendy restaurant – the entrance is a door with a small sign and when you enter, you are greeted by a dimly lit staircase that goes on for a while before you reach the restaurant itself at the very top. 
Mt Zero manzanilla olives marinated with garlic, bay and orange
Crispy fried spiced chickpeas
We had a booking for 6.45pm but most of us arrived at 6.30pm. We were greeted with slight hostility as 2 of our dining companions had yet to arrive. Our waitress made it clear to us that she was not impressed. We were promptly reminded rather rudely that the table would have to be vacated within 2 hours. When the other 2 arrived (at 6.50pm), we quickly put our orders in. Given our unfavourable first impression of the place, both J and I wondered if this “standard” would correspondingly be reflected in the offerings. 

As we received our entrees, we were pleased to see that the level of service had no correlation to the food delivered. 
Zucchini flowers stuffed with two cheeses, roasted red peppers, tomato, chilli and capers
Grilled goats cheese with candied walnuts, beetroot, apple and honey

We were particularly pleased with our entrée of grilled goat’s cheese with candied walnuts, beetroot, apple and honey as it had perfectly balanced flavours. The grilling had increased the intensity of the luxurious goat’s cheese and each element of the dish matched the other. The slight acidity from the beetroot and apple brought a lovely tanginess that cut through the creaminess of the cheese. It all came together beautifully. 
Chargrilled quail on a grape and hazelnut salad with a coriander and sumac yoghurt 
Ranger Valley flank steak (med rare) with slow cooked beef, white onion puree and shimeji mushrooms
Morrocan spiced slow cooked organic lamb with date and purple carrot puree, eggplant, mint, preserved lemon and pistachio 

The mains were equally as impressive. The dish of the night was the Moroccan spiced slow cooked organic lamb. It was far from what we had expected (even visually). The description of the dish made it sound like it would appear in the form of a Moroccan stew. However, what we received was perfectly seasoned lamb meat that had been pulled from the bone and pressed together to form a cylindrical shape. The lamb meat was incredibly tender and full of flavour. The purple carrot puree, eggplant, mint, preserved lemon and pistachio brought the dish to another level when eaten together. The flavours were complex and interesting.  
Potato and porcini gnocchi with Gorgonzola dolce and radicchio
Western Plains pork belly with butter poached Morton Bay Bug, celeriac & caramelised fennel
Romate ‘Iberia’ Cream Sherry Jerez, Spain 

We had ordered a few bottles of wine and levels of intoxication were rising. As those levels reached their peak during the evening, M accidentally spilt her glass over. We quickly wiped down the mess with our napkins. I stood up and asked for assistance from our waitress and again, her facial expression showed that she was not impressed. She did not hide her irritation. As she came over to our table to wipe the very negligible amount of mess that was left, M joked, “I promise, the glass toppled by itself!” to which our waitress responded, “Yup, I bet it did.” with a vivid glare.
Sheep’s milk yoghurt pannacotta with poached rhubarb, raspberry consommé and pistachio praline 
Banana semifreddo with poached mandarin, dulce de leche, a malt biscuit mousse and brandy snap 
Steamed ginger and treacle pudding with ricotta ice cream and pears roasted in brown butter 
A selection of cheese served with quince and muscatels

When we had finished our mains, we were pleasantly surprised when that same waitress asked us if we wanted dessert. By this stage, we were well past the 2 hour mark that she had warned us not to cross. Since she asked, we couldn’t resist and our dessert orders were promptly put in. Like our previous courses, the desserts were of a good standard. 

What would have been an incredibly pleasant dining experience was unfortunately undone by a level of care that could only be described as “service with contempt”. Our score of 6.5/10 reflects this. Ignoring the service we had, the dining experience would have been a memorable one. While the good food is certainly persuasive in relation to gaining our patronage in the future, the fact of the matter is this: Melbourne has too many brilliant restaurants that will likely take precedence over a re-visit to Panama Dining where the service leaves much to be desired.

Panama Dining Room and Bar on Urbanspoon

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