Disclosure: Alastair and I dined courtesy of Essence Restaurant.
I was invited in for a meal at Essence Restaurant at the Marriott Hotel recently – the publicist said they were inviting bloggers because they wanted to find a new photographer for two (paid) shoots for their 2011 menu. Sounded good to me, so I headed down to check it out with Alastair.
The entrance to Essence Restaurant is located to the side of the Marriott Hotel foyer. It’s a large room, with polished floor boards, and big floor to ceiling windows looking out to Exhibition and Lonsdale Streets.
To start with, we shared some oysters, one of the specials they were running that month. Half of the oysters came out with smoked salmon, feta and dill. Being a person who generally prefers oysters natural, I found the salmon and feta too overpowering for the oysters – it detracted from their natural flavour.
The other half of the oysters were better – coming with a splash of salty, vinegary dressing and a dollop of roe.
For mains, Alastair ordered steak (I think it was the grain fed scotch fillet), which was served with a roast portabello mushroom, vine ripened tomatoes, hand cut fries and red wine jus. He requested it medium rare. Unfortunately, it was cooked to past medium and strangely bland.
I ordered the lamb rump, served with potato fondant, mushroom ragout, green beans and truffle oil. The lamb was nice – the meat was tender and I enjoyed the mushroom sauce that came with it.
However, the potato was strange. It was really gluggy and tasteless. Poor potato.
On to desserts. Alastair’s dessert, a chocolate fondant with macerated strawberries and ice cream, was a special that month that the waiter recommended. A different waiter brought it to the table and tried to give it to me. I had to hold back a snicker, because I’m not surprised they thought it was mine – it was a rather girly looking dessert!
As you can see, when the fondant came to the table it was still in the silicon heart mould, which I thought looked a bit strange. And the centre of the fondant was cooked through – sadly, no flowing chocolate core for Alastair.
I had the baked cheesecake with cinnamon poached pear, sticky wine syrup and a dollop of cinnamon cream. The cheesecake tasted nice, however I found the texture was very heavy and dense – too much so for my tastes.
Overall, I thought the food was okay but not terribly exciting. While the presentation of the food was good, unfortunately most of the dishes we tried had an aspect that marred them. And with mains at around the $30 mark, I would expect more consistency if I was paying.
Alastair remarked that our meal reminded him of eating at hotel restaurants on business trips, and it does have that hotel restaurant ambiance and feel. To be fair, it could be completely different on a busier evening. We were there on a Tuesday night and it was VERY quiet. We were seated by the windows, and besides us there would have been literally three other tables. During our meal, only about four other diners came in – people who were obviously lone business travellers. Essence is quite a large restaurant and I felt that the atmosphere suffered because it was so quiet. I wonder if there is a way to screen off parts of the room on quieter nights to make it seem cozier and less like sitting in an empty restaurant.
I’ve found it very hard to write this post because I don’t want to be unduly harsh but nor do I want to gloss over the negatives. I know that running a restaurant is hard work, and I applaud people who cook night after night for others – I couldn’t do it! However, I do feel that Essence could be improved. More consistency in what comes out would be a good start. Beyond that it would be nice to see more innovation in the food, or something more to spark some interest, to elevate it past an average hotel restaurant.
For other opinions, check out these blogs:
[googleMap name="Essence Restaurant at the Marriott Hotel" width="600" height="300" directions_to="false"]Corner Exhibition and Lonsdale Street, Melbourne, VIC, Australia[/googleMap]
Essence Restaurant at the Marriott Hotel
Corner Exhibition and Lonsdale Street
Phone: (03) 9660 1183