There’s nothing like feeling ten kinds of giddy about getting to go to a stupendously-well-reviewed restaurant. And there’s nothing like being smacked down to earth with the actual experience.
Glebe Point Diner has gotten a mountain-load of good reviews: in the Herald review, critic Simon Thomsen says, “My wife is groaning and pulling faces I haven’t seen since our honeymoon” and gives it a whopping 15/20 (which makes it on par with the highly impressive Oscillate Wildly) and, in The Sydney Magazine, pronounced it one of the best new restaurants of 2007. Glebe Point Diner also scored one chef’s hat at this year’s Good Food Awards and it also nabbed Sydney Eats’ Bent Fork award. It scored a 4-star review in The Sunday Telegraph which opens with the lines, “There is a lot to love about this restaurant”. The writer also describes it as a “bistro with a touch of magic”.
Reading all that, how could you not expect some memory-burning experience? And after the time we had there, those reviews felt like a rosy-eyed version of reality, like the concept of Santa.
It’s true, the entrees were good, particularly the Stuffed Zucchini Flowers ($16), setting a tone for the night that it couldn’t quite match later on. Perhaps we should have guessed how things would turn out was when one friend innocently asked what the Spanner Crab Omelette ($26) was like, and the waiter unhelpfully said, “well, it’s an omelette… with spanner crab in it”. (This supposedly “witty” response resonates with a colleague’s visit to Glebe Point Diner, where the waiter “hilariously” pointed out how my friend’s date had only been at the restaurant for 20 minutes but had already spilt the wine.)
Now a lot of reviews had made a big congratulatory deal about (ex-Sean’s Panaroma) chef Alex Kearns’ focus on local produce – with chooks from Camden and a vegie garden at the back of the restaurant. So with that pat-on-back attitude, you’d think they would have at least one vegetarian main on the menu (particularly given its location on Glebe Point Road, which also sports a massive wholefoods joint and vegetarian/vegan eateries such as Badde Manors and Iku).
The waiter makes out that it’s no sweat, in fact I’ll get some great vegetarian meal – which turns out to be a plate full of the side vegetables scraped off all the meat mains: rainbow chard, peas, and (this is about as lucky as I get) a baked potato. Eating this mountain of supporting-cast greens makes me feel like I’m some kid in a yesteryear sitcom who’s going to be sent to their room if I don’t eat all my vegies. It is my cursed menu foe: the Salad Main In Disguise.
The organic chicken that supposedly will get you all Meg Ryan-esque doesn’t quite get anyone at our table re-enacting that famous When Harry Met Sally scene. In fact, in the post-dinner drive home, it gets an underwhelming ranking when I asked how it rated. Tamara said it was like a Red Rooster meal. Ouch.
One of the big drawcards to Glebe Point Diner for me was the panna cotta – I’d read about how it was supposedly the best in Sydney – Simon Thomsen called it the “star” of the menu in his first Herald review and later anointed it as one of his favourite dishes of the month in the Food issue of The Sydney Magazine.
“In a city where pannacotta is almost compulsory on menus, this creamy honey and rosemary-infused dome, which trembles with beautiful fragility beside poached fruit and a honey biscuit, is the bee’s knees.” Four of us ordered it, and it didn’t score very high on our impromptu panna cotta panel. It was a clever take on an overdone dish, that’s for sure, but the very subtle flavour was so faint it seemed to disappear after about four spoonfuls, and especially once you crunched down the honey biscuit it came with.
And instead of the usual cup-sized panna cotta, Glebe Point Diner serves an overgenerous blob that sprawls unattractively on your plate. It’s a big struggle to finish (and I say that as someone who can usually wipe clean my dessert plate).
The clincher to the night though, is when it comes to paying. There are seven of us, and I’m one of the few in the group who pays with cash. The rest choose to split the bill with credit cards. Now, of the many many restaurants we’ve been to, we’ve never had a problem with doing this. Neither is it signposted that the restaurant won’t do this. But not only does the waiter refuse to do it, he almost threw back the cards, and chastised us all on the grounds that such a request would be “such a waste of paper”. (An excuse we would have bought, if the size of several credit card receipts wasn’t so obviously dwarfed by the number of paper sheets covering the restaurant’s share of tables.) So one person had to put it all on his card and bear the $500 slug. A grand note to end things with!
The dinner was our 5th “Appetite for Degustation” outing and it definitely was the most lacklustre. We’d previously been to Assiette, Bodega, Forbes & Burton and Rockpool, and none of these places had both scored crosses in the food and service columns. Glebe Point Diner definitely doesn’t feel hat-worthy and it’s interesting how many reviews on Eatability remark how over-rated it is. One thumbs-down review says, “Catching a cab home the cabbie asked what I thought of the place. After I’d told him, he said he’d ‘heard it all before.’” He seems to know something the food critics don’t.
Glebe Point Diner, 407 Glebe Point Rd, Glebe, NSW 2037, (02) 9660 2646