I don’t know if a restaurant should exhibit such a waft of self-assurance when it’s only 6 weeks old. Maybe the pedigree and reputation of ex-Taxi duo Michael Lambie (Executive Chef) and Scott Borg (Operations Manager & Front of House) is meant to precede expectation. But unfortunately I walked away from my recent lunch at The Smith feeling rather overwhelmed at the dollars we’d dropped for such an underwhelming experience, but more on that later.
The fit out, post ET’s, is all very familiar; akin to many of the newer places being opened in Melbourne – exposed ceilings, brick work, kitchen service in full view of the restaurant. Very industrial but very well thought out and executed, although I don’t know how the noise levels of a bustling bar on a Friday or Saturday night would compete with the dining room. Then there are the ‘little’ things that are not only a bit OTT, but also provide some justification as to how much lighter your wallet is at the end of your dining experience… I guess someone’s got to pay for the automatic sliding door that leads you to the bathrooms.
The menu is extensive and features a gamut of dishes ranging from zingy, fresh Asian ingredients and styles, some dishes punctuated with flavours of the Americas; namely, Cuban, Mexican (corn, chipotle, avocado) and your more typical European tastes and techniques (charcuterie, minute steak with pomme fondant).
Going in the direction of many current restaurant menus, The Smith has taken the liberty to capitalise on what it slowly becoming the preceding course before your ‘traditional’ entrée or starter – in their case it’s known as A Mouthful. Why bother offering complimentary and filling bread when you can extract another ten or twenty dollars per customer? Of course, we were more than willing to play along, sampling the freshly shucked oyster with blue swimmer crab salad and green jalapeño hit ($4.50 each), crisp pork ribs with chilli teriyaki sauce ($15) and betel leaves with crispy fish salad, chilli and salmon pearls ($6 each)… A little more than a mouthful, thanks to our injudicious ordering.
The oysters were most definitely fresh, as was the accompanying topping of crab salad laced with coriander. I’m being picky here, but the jalapeño hit would have been much better presented as a brunoise to justify the $4.50 investment, rather than plonking a straight-out-of-the-jar sliced jalapeño on top of each oyster. The betel leaves were a smack-in-the-mouth treat of mealy fried fish, spiked with fresh herbs, a decent amount of chilli and a soft, contrasting pop-in-the-mouth texture of salmon pearls. Wonderful morsels. Contrary to the first two tastes, the crisp pork ribs were a serious let down. Dry, with only a scant amount of meat, they were hardly worth the effort.
Rather than tackle one of the 10 entrée dishes on offer ($16-$20), listed as Tastes, we opted for the charcuterie Kitchen Selection ($26); a small assortment of the broader range of meats and pates that can be ordered individually ($15-$21). Several slices of San Daniele prosciutto, capicola and salami were folded in amongst a very fine quenelle of foie gras parfait, rabbit rillette and a duck terrine. Condiments included a couple of cornichons, caperberries, baby pickled onions and a small scoop of house made pear and ginger chutney. A nice, house made brown bread (Shock! It did exist!) completed the selection.
To drink (after a few obligatory cleansing glasses of Kirin, on tap), we started with a fresh 2009 Torbreck ‘The Steading Blanc’ ($85), which worked well with the cured meats and seafood. Most of the wines attract around a 250% mark up, which is still quite steep, but I’ve seen worse.
For mains, a.k.a. Fish & Meat, I couldn’t go past the 400g dry aged rib eye ($38). I’ve made a conscious effort of late to (try to) keep my red meat intake to a minimum. What better way than to make up for the absence of delicious protein than tucking into some serious beef. Alas, it was a bit of a let down. My order of medium rare was gravitating more towards the medium of medium rare. The accompanying celeriac and parsley remoulade was adequate and the quenelle of hot mustard horseradish was probably the best thing on the plate. A sauce would have been nice. My dining partner opted for the roast breast of duck with rice noodle sesame salad and 5 spices ($34), served with a crispy duck-filled spring roll. The duck itself was reported as fairly unremarkable and a little on the dry, overcooked side. The biggest let down were the noodles; tough, dry, springy – awful. The spring roll was nice, though.
Our mains were accompanied with a 2008 Greenstone Heathcote Shiraz ($80). Although we didn’t order sides, which I would recommend with the steak, at $9 a pop, there are five choices on offer, ranging from smashed chat potatoes with usual suspects of garlic and rosemary to carrots with harissa and almonds.
As with any of our long lunches, the cheese board is a must and light-heartedly seen as the yardstick of any establishment we visit. The Smith’s Local & European Calendar cheese selection ($23) was a fairly predictable arrangement of blue cheese, soft cheese and cheddar, fanned bits of apple, dried muscatels, some clumps of nuts and some fairly good fruit bread… all a bit pedestrian, really. Maybe my recent visits to Four in Hand in Sydney and Merricote have demonstrated that because we have access to so many brilliant local and imported handmade cheeses today, perhaps restaurants need to raise the bar and become a little more adventurous. Rather than trying to squeeze in another bottle of wine, we ordered a couple of glasses of the Mitolo ‘Jester’ Shiraz ($9).
We rounded out proceedings with a couple of desserts from the To End list, in particular a couple of sweet treats we’d be eyeing off on other tables earlier. My dining partner was set on the Orange & Grand Marnier soufflé with white chocolate centre and jaffa ice cream ($17) and happily, it was good. A light as a feather, perfectly cooked and well-risen soufflé had a good balance of tang from the citrus and creaminess from the white chocolate. I’d like to report on the jaffa ice cream but I didn’t get to try it. It must’ve been good. My ‘knickerbocker glory’ with green apple sorbet ($15) was tasty enough, with the crisp, clean sorbet being the highlight.
Granted, we tend not to hold back on these lunches that occur every three or so months, but in terms of value for money The Smith has either got to drop its prices by a few bucks (which it won’t) or lift it’s standard to meet it’s pricing. The execution of what appeared to be some pretty uncomplicated dishes just wasn’t good enough. Combine this with the somewhat over-confident and seemingly too-cool-for-school service we received; I’d rather go and spend my dining dollars elsewhere.
213 High St, Prahran 3181
(03) 9939 4762
Good For: Prahran / South Yarra old money, tables of lunching ladies
Not Good For: Apparent value for money