The Unbearable Lightness of Being Hungry | A Sydney Food Blog

Glebe Point Diner, Glebe

November 7th, 2007  |  Published in Uncategorized  |  8 Comments

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

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  1. pig_93 says:

    This is a shock to hear as you said considering all the rave reviews that the restaurant has received. In the end though, it really is up to the people of a city to judge a restaurant.

    I guess its merely a diner for a reason.

    Sorry you had such a bad innings!

  2. leetranlam says:

    Thanks for all your generous comments Pig_93. No worries, there are worse things than an over-rated restaurant, that’s for sure, so it’s nothing tragic. It’ll be interesting to see how word-of-mouth goes in the next year or so, when the haze from all the hype clears.

  3. Anonymous says:

    We had a very similar experience – great food but serious attitude from the head guy on the floor

  4. Mish says:

    Hey, I’ve been twice and have had great meals and service there. I’m a fan 🙂

    And most places don’t split bills – how can you be shocked about this when you’re supposed to be a food blogger. climb down from your horse!

  5. leetranlam says:

    Hey Mish,

    Thanks for your comment.

    You seem to have taken what I’ve written totally out of context – my problem is not with the split bill (and, incidentally, “as a food blogger”, I have been to many restaurants and this is the ONLY fine dining place that did not split the bill – nor, as I pointed out in my post, did it signal it on menus or the board so people could go and find an ATM, but anyway, back to your main point …).

    My problem is with the way it was handled – the waiter was rude, almost THROWING the cards back at us. It’s hard not to see that as a bit disrespectful and contemptuous to diners.

    Also, he was a bit aggressive and tactless in his refusal to split the bill – if he had said, “sorry, we can’t split the bill, that’s our policy”, that would have been fine.

    But he had to chastise us for it (even though going out to a fine diner is not a cheap affair and not many people carry around big wads of cash in their wallets) and his refusal to split the bill because it was “such a waste of paper” seemed arbitrary and really an excuse to make us feel bad, because paper wastage was not the true issue – the entire restaurant was covered in massive paper tablecloths.

    As an earlier commenter pointed out, they had a similar experience with the service.
    And some comments on Eatability at the time seemed to reflect this – as did my friend’s experience where the waiter payed out her boyfriend for already spilling the wine. I’m pretty sure most people don’t go to restaurants for the ‘joy’ of being insulted.

    I preceded the blog post by saying Glebe Point Diner had gotten a lot of praise and I never pretend my blog posts are the definitive review of any restaurant. And that doesn’t invalidate the times you’ve enjoyed at the restaurant.

    But I can only write honestly about the actual experience I had, and it *was* disappointing – and I substantiated that verdict thoroughly with all the reasons why I came to that conclusion (especially paying around $30 for a few braised/boiled/baked vegetables as a main – not something you could classify as a ‘fine dining experience’).

    If you weigh your “high horse” comment with the points I’ve made, it’s not a very fair remark at all.

  6. Anonymous says:

    i have had great meals here…
    the front of house guy is long gone…i totally got his sense of humour. but then again i am srcastically inclined.

    sorry you had a bad experience.
    it is still very popular.

  7. DavidSydney says:

    I agree with your comments on the vegetarian lack of choice. It seems really lazy for a restaurant with pretensions to not bother with a single serious non-meat dish.
    As for the “no split bills” nonsense: I don’t even understand what the supposed problem is with this (speaking as a former restaurateur). You have a total, you divide it, you accept payment. Or you say “we won’t do that”…and you’re guaranteed of no tip. Seems like a losing strategy to me.
    That said, I have had some excellent meals there.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Myself and my partner ate at the diner on June 9th. The meal was quite good as usual however I was informed quite abruptly that I could not pay on Eftpos, that they were credit card only. I doubted this and questioned them as to why that was the case. They then took payment quite ungracefully and I was bundled out the door. A disappointing end to what was a fine afternoon. There are many fine places to eat in Sydney however so when myself and my partner feel that we have not been shown the best that can be achieved in service we share the the love with other eateries…which will do again.

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Hi, I'm Lee Tran Lam. When not blogging with my mouth full, I'm usually writing, presenting Local Fidelity on FBi radio, making zines, producing podcasts or continually breaking promises about how I really am gonna get through my book pile one day.

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