Saturday, October 17, 2009

Fabulous Fresco service

Fresco Bar and Grill at Amora Hotel Riverwalk
649 Bridge Rd
Richmond 3121
Ph: 03 9246 1200‎

There's always a risk with hotel restaurants. Sometimes the food is fabulous and the service flawless; other times it seems as though the restaurant was an after thought once the hotel was completed, an extra place within the hotel to make a bit of money rather than providing an excellent hospitality experience. The bf and I decided to check out Fresco, a tiny dining room on the edge of the Yarra whose ambiance loses points with cheap bistro-style chairs and candle holders from the local $2 shop, but whose staff make up for it with almost faultless service.

Grilled bruschetta, pesto, Roma tomato, red onion and cheese ($12)

A fairly small serving size for $12, but nonetheless strong, fresh flavours and great with the accompanying rocket and balsamic.

Turkish bread with a trio of dips - shown clockwise from top is carrot and curry; avocado; and hummus ($12).

In Matt Preston's new book, Cravat-A-Licious (Random House), Preston warns against ordering "a trio of" anything, in particular the trio of dips, suggesting that "their presence can be a sign that the role of the chef in that establishment has been reduced to peeling the foil off tubs and waiting for the microwave to go 'ping'." Indeed, the dips were nice enough but the carrot and curry tasted and looked more like eggplant, and the avocado reminded me of those pale, bland processed dips from the supermarket.

Katsu king prawns with sesame salad and sweet chili ($15.50).

Bf asked if this entree dish could be ordered in a main size; the waitress told us it could. When it arrived we thought it was a rather small main - "Imagine how small the entree must be", quipped Bf. When the bill came and we saw we'd only been charged for the entree size we were informed that the other waitress was new, and didn't yet know that the size of the dishes could not be changed. To apologise for the mistake, we were given the more expensive meal for free when we presented our entertainment card.

"Fresco char-grill" - choose from sirloin or eye fillet beef, chicken breast or salmon fillet. All char-grills are served with crushed chat potato, spring onion and parmesan cake, and a choice of wild mushroom ragu and porchini powder, or peppercorn cream sauce with rock salted roasted Roma tomato.

Shown here is the black Angus sirloin of beef with peppercorn cream sauce ($31.95)

The sirloin was nice, but a little more medium than medium rare - it seems to be the case that at a lot of restaurants you have to ask for your meat to be more rare than you actually want it. The tomatoes were fine but hardly rock salted, and reminded me of the kind of tomatoes you'd quickly whip up in the fry pan for breakfast. Probably the highlight was the potato, spring onion and parmesan cake: light and fluffy with a slightly crispy outer, great for soaking up the rich jus from the sirloin.

The value here is good, but not great - what makes it worth visiting is the service. On the night, there were about four waitresses on the floor, but it was one young girl in particular who was exceptional and was clearly holding the whole team up. She was attentive but never annoying, and when she saw my camera she asked if she could take a photo of Bf and I with it. We left the restaurant feeling happy and relaxed and a lot of that came down to this waitress who was bubbly and always smiling, and for her, nothing was too much trouble.

You won't be blown away by your meal, but if you're looking for a contemporary restaurant that's reasonably priced - especially if you have an Entertainment card - expect to enjoy good food and near flawless service.

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