I have a fantastic new role working for a prominent north eastern Victorian winery. While the job is based in Melbourne, I will be staying in Wangaratta when visiting the head office at the vineyard. It’s not a town I’ve spent any time in before, and my first impression was that it does not have the quality of accommodation and restaurants available in towns like Beechworth or Echuca. It’s not a conspicuous destination for foodies exploring regional Victoria.

One of the challenges in trying to make the best of work or leisure travel is finding helpful information about restaurants and accommodation. The smaller the town, the less information is available. There’s almost nothing worth reading about Wangaratta online, and the official tourism information is an embarrassment. My employer booked me into the Parkview, a generic motel that was comfortable, meticulously clean and evidently better than the place across the road. With my accommodation sorted, I was free to focus on where to eat.

watermarc1 dinner at Watermarc in Wangaratta

I already knew that Rinaldo’s had relocated from Dal Zotto winery to Wangaratta some time ago, but its location in a sterile concrete and metal box building (where two previous restaurants have failed) on the wrong side of town (in the opposite direction to the central shopping and eating area) did not inspire me. It has a good reputation for food (if not for service) and I am sure I will eat there eventually. Of more interest to me was another recommendation from a colleague – a place called Watermarc, which has only been open for about 3 weeks in the premises of another failed venue.

I arrived about 8pm without a booking. A waitress invited me to choose whether to sit inside or outside on the covered rear deck overlooking the river, where several groups of people were talking, laughing and enjoying their meals. I chose the deck. The waitress said she would get me a menu and asked if I would like a drink. I replied that I’d like to see the wine list first, and she brought the menu, the wine list and a glass of water. She then went away and never returned.

After a while the maître d’ came to the next table, where the fragments of conversation I could hear suggested that they were journalists, perhaps in town for the jazz festival. There appeared to be discussion of the service, with the maître d’ criticising his own staff to his guests. He then came and took my order and dealt with all the customers on the deck proficiently for the rest of the evening. The menu is mostly modern with a few simpler options to suit less adventurous eaters.

watermarc2 dinner at Watermarc in Wangaratta

I began with a tasting of eggplant: battered deep fried slices; crisp chips and a dip (above). This is a satisfying dish, with a scattering of salt to dip the eggplant into. I was curious about the desserts and so chose not to have a large meaty main, although they sounded good. Instead, I selected a very spicy chorizo thin crust pizza (below), which was delicious. I also had a glass of a Glenrowan merlot.

watermarc4 dinner at Watermarc in Wangaratta

I asked the maître d’ about one of the desserts, a bay leaf maple breton, and decided to order it as it sounded amazing. It was an interpretation of the Eton mess. Bay leaf flavoured biscuit crumbs were combined with cream, lime icecream, slices of fresh orange and blood orange, slivers of candied orange and thin slices of hard dried lime (below).

watermarc5 dinner at Watermarc in Wangaratta

The combination of the fresh tart savoury flavour of the bay leaf biscuit crumbs and the tangy citrus and the different textures – creamy, crunchy and chewy – combined to create a magical dish. With this dessert, Watermarc has created something as wonderful to eat, and as clever and contemporary, as anything currently available in smart Fitzroy restaurants like St Jude’s Cellars, The Commoner or Hutxable. That’s the highest praise I can give.

If Watermarc was on Smith St, it would be doing well alongside popular places like Provenance. But operating in Wangaratta poses different challenges. The maître d’ and the chef, who you can follow on Twitter, are creating pleasurable food in an unexpected location. The only disappointment was the initially poor service, which was fixed by the maître d’ doing everything himself. That may work on a relatively quiet night but it is not sustainable.

It’s frustrating for customers and restaurant owners alike to suffer the combination of good food and poor service. From a diner’s point of view, you want to return, but also you question whether you will really enjoy yourself. From a business point of view, you want to ensure that nothing stops people from enjoying their meal and wanting to return.

Restaurants in regional towns can do good service, and I have experienced good service at The Crossings cafe in Deniliquin, the King River cafe in Oxley and at Oscar W’s in Echuca. With the Wangaratta Technical Education Centre and the Goulburn Ovens Institute of TAFE (GOTAFE) both offering hospitality courses in Wangaratta, I don’t understand why finding suitable staff seems to be a problem.

But this is the story I am hearing from colleagues: that service is the most common problem with local restaurants. I sincerely hope that Watermarc can find some bright young things with ambition, who can deliver the service the restaurant needs, because it deserves to succeed.

It would help Watermarc if it quickly rectifies another common problem I have written about before: restaurants that open and include a website address on their business card that does not exist, or that publish a splash page only site that contains no substantial information. Businesses like restaurants that rely on tourist as well as local trade need good marketing, and they let themselves down by not attending to what should be marketing basics. Many people would enjoy eating at Watermarc, but first they need to know that it exists.

The less a business can rely on random discovery by people walking past, the more it relies on word of mouth, advertising and marketing. Using the web is the cheapest and most effective and efficient way to do this. A good restaurant site doesn’t need to be filled with flash visual animations or interactive features – it simply needs to contain opening times and contact details, menus and wine lists, background information on the chef(s) and the owner(s) and some photos of the food.

At $48 for three courses and a glass of wine, this meal represented excellent value for money. It will be a pleasure to return to Watermarc and, depending on how often I am required at the vineyard, I may even become a regular.

Disclosure: because I was traveling for work, this meal was paid for by my employer. In the restaurant I behaved like an ordinary consumer and did not inform the restaurant who my employer is.

dinner at Watermarc in Wangaratta

20 thoughts on “dinner at Watermarc in Wangaratta

  • 1 November 2010 at 9:34 am
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    I moved from Northcote to Wang for 9 months and found the only decent place to eat was Tread. It had a tapas style menu and great location right on the river. Worth a shot if it’s still there

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    • 1 November 2010 at 10:22 am
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      Thanks David. Unfortunately Tread failed and Watermarc is located where Tread used to be!

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  • 1 November 2010 at 11:05 am
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    I’m from Benalla and although I haven’t been to Watermarc yet, I am a regular at Rinaldo’s and think your description is a bit harsh! It’s warm and inviting, the food delicious and unpretentious and the service second to none – definately the best service you’ll find in Wangaratta – you should give it a go!

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    • 1 November 2010 at 12:15 pm
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      Hi Sarah, if you read what I wrote correctly you would see that I was referring to another review of the service at Rinaldo’s and that regardless of that I am still planning to eat there.

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  • 1 November 2010 at 3:48 pm
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    Unfortunately, what students are being taught at TAFE hospitality courses doesn’t give them enough grounding to be of much help to any restaurateur looking for decent FOH staff.

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  • 1 November 2010 at 7:13 pm
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    I have to say though, the maître d’ criticising his own staff to customers within earshot of still other customers turns me off.

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  • 6 November 2010 at 5:19 pm
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    You need to understand that as frustrating as it is, and considering the amazing restaurants in our region, Wangaratta is essentially a “chicken parmy” town. My wife and I are stoked that a place like Watermarc is having a go here.

    As for Rinaldos; you have to go!! It deserves to be set away from all the other rubbish we have here.

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  • 14 November 2010 at 2:38 pm
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    I recently ate at Watermarc, and whilst the food was fantastic the service was terrible, this included the maitre d’.

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  • 16 November 2010 at 2:57 pm
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    I wonder: how would a teenager from Wang who’s been to the local tafe know what is expected from a really good restaurant, in terms of service? They need exposure to great service to emulate it (starting with their manager not humiliating them publicly) and a sense of a career out there beyond waiting tables in Wang. Melbourne has great staff because people pride themselves on doing it well. But otherwise thanks for the review, will check it out next time we’re in the sunny northeast.

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    • 16 November 2010 at 6:07 pm
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      I would expect them to be trained well by the TAFE and by the restaurant, so if a restaurant is critical of its own staff then perhaps its training processes need improvement.

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  • 20 December 2010 at 7:49 pm
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    We are interested in trying out Watermarc as we loved Tread and had wanted to hold our wedding reception cocktail style there and were devastated when Tread closed its doors. What name does the chef use on Twitter?

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  • 18 February 2011 at 2:52 pm
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    Recently ate at Watermarc for the second time (since changing from Tread). What is going on with the menu? It is now probably too much for a Wangaratta restaurant, overpriced, small meals. It seems with every visit to Tread/Watermarc, the quality of the food and service gets worse, perhaps they are trying too hard??

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  • 25 February 2011 at 8:21 pm
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    Anne your comment is interesting as the prices have actually come down at Watermarc and I think the quality is a lot better. They have a new chef who is highly respected in the region and your comment in regards to every visit to “tread/watermarc” the quality gets worse leads me to believe that you may have a personal vandetta towards the owner who was once the manager of the former establishment. MAYBE you are trying too hard to put your two bobs worth in and realise that you are one of those people Scott de besser describes…. why don’t you stick to dining at one of the pubs around town. I think Watermarc is a great addition to Wangaratta and believe that the locals should embrass it as they have Rinaldo’s which also offers great dining.

    What do you mean by too much for Wangaratta?

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  • 1 March 2011 at 9:16 am
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    Well said Richard, it is great to have quality rather than quantity. With Watermarc, Rinaldo’s, King River Cafe, Provence, Warden’s and the Green shed all within 20 minutes of each other it a blessing for the region.

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  • 13 March 2011 at 2:35 am
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    Sometimes the best places are the ones in discrete locations. (And Wang is only small; you’re talking a 5 min, less then $10.00 taxi drive around the CBD from our motels.) Rinaldo’s is a modern style restaurant with a hint of Italian cuisine, D’Amico’s has your warm, wholesome tasty Italian food and Watermarc is trying to offer a modern menu for those who are sick of dining out for the Chicken Parmy! These three restaurants also do a very good job of displaying our regions fine wines with extensive wine list choices (and have yummy food to go with them). I have dinned at all three, more then once and would recommend these three restaurants are high on the list of places to dine if your visiting the township of Wangaratta. (if you’re a visitor coming to wang – these are also great restaurants for those on business or the professional/mature couple looking for a nice atmosphere for a meal)

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  • 10 April 2011 at 9:20 pm
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    Watermarc was spot on for us on all levels. The coffee was some of the best I’ve had. A big call from a coffee addict of inner city Melbourne. Staff had that perfect balance of friendliness and competency.
    I’ll be back..sans leather and harley

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    • 10 April 2011 at 10:22 pm
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      I’ve just been back and it was even better this time! Another review will come out soon.

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  • 23 September 2011 at 10:10 am
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    Living in the NE, we regulary eat at Watermarc and continue to be satisfied and inspired. The selection of food and wine is excellent and diverse, with a high proportion of local produce available. Service is friendly and efficient and the outside area which overlooks the Ovens river, has the right mix of shelter and space. Watermarc continues to offer quality and I would highly recommend it next time you are in ‘Wang’.

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