This is a difficult review to write. I want to like places and I rarely write negative reviews. It’s easier to simply forget bad meals. Sometimes, however, there is something to learn from in reflecting on disappointing dining experiences.
Having read reviews about restaurants in Albany prior to visiting, and having a recommendation from a friend who had eaten there previously, I chose Lime 303. It’s located in the generically mediocre looking Dog Rock motel, and features a standard contemporary restaurant interior including dark furniture, architectural light fittings and relatively dim lighting.
I had considered Wild Duck, but several strongly negative comments about the excruciating slowness of the service on commercial review aggregator sites (some of which seem to have been recently removed) made it a risk not worth taking. After a 4 hour flight and a 5 hour drive, I wanted a good meal with minimum fuss, not a rumoured 3 hour degustation.
On arrival my party of 3 announced our arrival to the staff and apologised for the non-arrival of a fourth, who decided not to come at the last minute. We were seated, and the service errors began. The setting for our absent friend was not removed. This will be important soon.
A waiter introduced himself and explained that he would not be our waiter for the evening. What? He then introduced two other staff who were to serve us, a young woman and a young man in training. These introductions were odd, like they were initiated by people making friends. More on this later.
We ordered drinks, a disappointing apple martini for one of us and a bottle of the excellent Capel Vale Whispering Hill riesling from nearby Mount Barker for the table. The wine list did not name the variety, but it was listed in a section among several other rieslings, so I asked and its variety was confirmed. The wine list appeared to have been formatted by someone not familiar with its content.
The man in training proceeded to pour a glass of wine for our absent friend. The woman swapped this glass for my empty one. The unneeded setting was then finally removed. The young man was nervous and completely inexperienced. He appeared not to know what was on the menu, or at least not how to pronounce ‘moussaka’.
He also didn’t know how to pour wine from a bottle. It may well have been his first week in the job, but surely he would have been trained to pour in the kitchen before being sent out to serve customers? Perhaps not. From then on, there was no further wine pouring offered, so I did it myself.
While entirely competent, the woman’s chatter went far beyond welcoming to be intrusive and annoying. Eaten here before? Yes and no. Been to Albany before? Yes. Was this dinner a special occasion? No. What are you doing on the weekend? Going to a wedding. Where have you come from? Melbourne and Perth. Did you drive down today? Yes.
You may note the complete lack of enthusiasm in our perfunctory responses, but this woman evidently did not. She kept at it throughout the meal. How is your meal going guys? Fine. Are you enjoying your meal? Yes.
I don’t want to make friends with the wait staff. I want to eat. I was so close to saying, politely but firmly, STOP INTERROGATING US. WE’RE TIRED AND WANT TO CHAT AMONGST OURSELVES UNDISTURBED. PLEASE LEAVE US ALONE UNLESS BRINGING US FOOD.
The food was better than the service, but did not quite meet how it was described in the menu. I was the only one who wanted an entree, and chose the calamari (above), which was delicious. Strangely, it’s listed in the ‘sides’ on the menu, not in the entrees.
I then had the ‘fish of the day’ ($36) which, according to the menu, was trevalla on a caper and potato crush with Scandinavian style gravlax, marinated cucumber and a lemon dill sauce (below). All was present except the gravlax. It was good enough, but not great.
One of my friends ordered what sounded like the most avant garde dish, a seafood moussaka of eggplant, local fish, scallops and prawns in mornay sauce with tomato and Asian pesto (top, $35). It looked impressive and the seafood was delicious, but the tomato did not belong.
My other friend had the ‘local fish’ ($31), which is basically fish and chips and salad. Today’s fish was bronze whaler (below).
What saved the meal for us was dessert. The one current trend the restaurant got right was the dessert tasting plate, which was a bargain at $9 (below). We got 2 between the 3 of us, and it featured orange creme brulee, salted chocolate tart and apple sorbet. The sorbet was a great palate cleanser and the other two richer offerings left us content and satisfied.
Compared to the more positive review from The food pornographer more than a year ago, our Lime 303 experience was disappointing. The service was attempting to be over the top formal, but was overly bad instead, and they also did the freshly ground black pepper thing. I think if the staff were not trying so hard to be something they’re not, they would have delivered better service.
The food was also trying to be too clever, with too much underripe tomato and pesto. Regional restaurants like Lime 303 would do well to modify their aspirations to suit their abilities. Doing smart food without formal service is not a crime. I don’t want a failed attempt at formal service, and I don’t need faux formal big city decor.
Good local produce served by enthusiastic casual staff in a clean and comfortable environment is all that is required. Lime 303 had a mostly locally oriented wine list, and I appreciated that. Lime 303 has potential but that was undermined by trying too hard to mimic something that just can’t be realistically achieved in a regional town, and isn’t expected.