Dining Date: March 2009
2009 Rating: 59st
2009 Star rating: 2
Chef: Steve Szabo
Location: Palazzo Versace, Sea World Drive, Main Beach, Queensland
When you think of Palazzo Versace you think of decadence, style and refinement. Vanitas embodies every aspect of the Versace style, from the Versace crockery/cutlery to the marble clad floor. Usually I'm not intimidated by restaurants, regardless of their location or reputation, and to tell you the truth I feel comfortable in places from formal fine dining to Ugg boots establishments. But as soon as I stepped through the doors at Vanitas I felt like I was out of my element. I can't tell you exactly why I felt uncomfortable, but it just didn't feel welcoming. Regardless, food conquers all and I'm sure I'd feel comfortable as soon as I took the first bite.
We had the tastiest little bread rolls, they tasted almost like croissants. Daz accidentally threw his on the floor before he even got to take a bite, something to do with a slippery knife. We didn't even need to alert the waiter as to what happened, he arrived shortly after the incident with a fresh roll and said not to worry about it, which gave me the feeling that we were being watched.
We had decided to go with the degustation menu, that was a huge mistake. Not that the degustation menu was bad, it's just that we were tossing up between the rib eye for two, at $120 which represents great value, or the 8 course degustation menu. Which consisted of a rib eye craved at your table with fries and other sides to boot. It seemed like everyone else in the restaurant ordered this dish and it was constantly being wheeled out in front of us, followed by the accompanying moaning from happy costumers. Word of advice for future customers of Vanitas, order the Rib eye!
First course, Foie gras mousse with brandy, Madeira jelly broiche and lobster sandwich. The foie gras was salty and a bit too rich but tasty. The madiera jelly ontop was sweet without being over powering, which added a nice dimension to the saltiness of the mousse. It would have been nice if it had been more mousse like in texture rather than a thick pate. Not sure what happened to this batch of foie gras mousse. It became very difficult to eat towards to end, considering it's richness. The lobster was soft and flavoursome and the scattered salmon pearl caviar was a dream contrasted with the broiche, in my mind this dish seemed like two separate dishes presented on the same plate.
Second course, Chilled rock melon soup with wasabi cream, marinated Atlantic salmon and grilled scallops. The scallops were perfectly cooked, not over done or under done - which is so easy to do. And the marinade that was used on the salmon made it tender while still keeping the oily/fleshy integrity of the salmon intact. It was so good that although matched with rock melon, the marinade still managed to be front of stage on my palate. I thought the melon soup was too overpowering for the delicate flavour of the salmon and scallops. The concept was very interesting and well thought out, but the execution was well off. In my opinion, the melon soup should have been more subtle, like a melon consume or even a broth, that way the flavours in the seafood had more chance to sing. I suppose this was one of those dishes where opinion is truly parted. I HATED it with a passion and didn't finish it, in fact I ate the seafood and maybe two spoon fulls of the soup, whereas Daz LOVED it and devoured every last morsel!
Third course, Quail, salad with coriander, mint, basil and honey soy dressing. The Quail was very tasty and tender, just the way I like my little quail, the honey and soy dressing was in the foreground of this dish, which was a pleasant change from the acidity of the salad. The salad consisted of Vietnamese mint, basil, lime segments, coriander, cucumber, spring onion, chilli and a Thai vinaigrette. My only complaint about this dish was that it was too acidic. It could have done without the lime segments and they could have played up the sweetness in the vinaigrette to compliment the honey on the quail. But besides that, I really enjoyed the dish.
Fourth course, Roasted loin of venison with sausage and grilled polenta, caramelized apple and shitake mushrooms. Perfect dish! - The polenta was crispy on the outside but soft in the centre. It tasted like it had Parmesan cheese incorporated into it, making it both tastier and creamy, but I'm not entirely sure. There was surely something in it to reduce the blandness of polenta alone. The mushrooms were soft and pungent. The venison was perfectly cooked. The addition of the apple played up the gamy taste in the vension.
Roasted loin of venison with sausage and grilled polenta, caramelized apple and shitake mushrooms
Fifth course was the cheese. Before the meal had started I had decided that I didnt want to try the cheese that night. Considering there were 7 dishes in the degustation menu, I feared that I would not have enough room for the cheese and all the other food. But after the vension, the waiter wheeled all the cheese out on a massive trolley. It was a huge spectacle, all heads in the restaurant turned to watch this poor waiter wheel out a marble trolley covered in SOO many cheeses. As soon as the cheese was presented to me, I couldn't say no.
Forgive me as I can't remember ALL the cheeses that night, but I'll try my best to describe whats on the plate. Starting from the fron/center and working around anti-clockwise - Morbier, dried apricot, triple cream cheese from Traralgon in Victoria, figs soaked in port, Pecorino cheese, dried nashi pear and dried apricot, a hard cheese made from a combination of sheep's and cow's milk, more nashi pear and dried apricot, Shadows of blue from the Gippsland region in Victoria, and in the center some fresh quince paste, served with warm walnut bread.
Sixth course, Vanilla bean ice cream with Pedro Ximenez sherry. This was described to us as a palate cleanser in order to have a subtle transition from the savoury to the dessert section of the meal. I loved this even thought it was just a palate cleanser. The ice cream was creamy, but not too sweet with the sherry adding an adult element.
Seventh course, Mango souffle with raspberry sauce and lychee sorbet. The lyche sorbet - 100% perfect! The lyche flavour was dead on fantastic. The consistency was so perfect that it remained frozen in its dish and only melted when it was placed in your mouth...a bit like m&m's. It was great, I love well made sorbets and this was one of the better ones I've had. The souffle on the other hand was a little disappointing. The "V" tattooed onto the top made it attractive and enticing, but the flavour of the mango completely failed to exist and some how the raspberry sauce managed to be the tartest thing I have ever experienced. I'm no sugar fiend but this dish deserved a bit more sugar.
In the end I was glad the last course was a light one, I couldn't fit another thing in.....
Coffee and petit fours!!
Overall, I was a little disappointed, somehow I expected a little more from Vanitas, especially considering the total of our bill! There were certainly many elements in the dishes that I really loved, and I might try to recreate them at home , good luck to me...I'll need it! Now where can I get me some of those crazy plates? At 135 Euro for 1 cup and saucer, I think I might have to save up for a full dining set!