The Palace by Luke Mangan
Jul 13 2010
SOMETIME ON A SATURDAY AFTERNOON
The Batmobile is sitting at a busy intersection, waiting for the green light to continue its assault on Melbourne’s streets. In the front passenger seat, Tubbymistress is gazing outside as the sun dances on the window and the light turns to green.
A building catches her eye on the precipice of Port Melbourne. It looks like an old pub, one that has been dipped in a giant bucket of gunmetal grey paint.
TUBBYMASTER: What is that place?
TUBBYMISTRESS (shrugs): I don’t know. Some dodgy place, probably.The Palace by Luke Mangan
505 City Road (cnr Pickles St), South Melbourne VIC
On a cool Saturday night, I peeled back that gunmetal-grey veneer and stepped inside the refurbished Palace Hotel, cheeks flushed with anticipation and cold. I had read this was the South Melbourne outpost of Sydney-based celebrity chef, Luke Mangan, but there wasn’t a dining room in sight – just a bar upon which a few punters nursed their drinks.
The bartender gestured to the left of the entrance where a dining area lay. It’s the restaurant equivalent of smart-casual: the walls white, the room flecked with wooden furniture. My eyes were drawn to the back of the angular room, the bi-fold doors opened to expose a handsome row of shrubs; a classy note overshadowed only by the grand views of the kitchen.
Tubbymaster and I were the first to arrive, and took up residence beside the window that separated the kitchen from the dining room. It wasn’t the most intimate table in the house but it was one of the most interesting for we had front-row seats to watch the chefs play. It was fun to see our order go through the kitchen, to see the mash for our main being prepared in a huge pot; the assembly of obese steaks lying in wait, ready to be ordered and cooked. Occasionally, I’d nod at Tubbymaster as a dish came up on the pass – an action correctly interpreted as ‘We have to come back for that’.
Our wine was not one of the best I’ve tasted in a while (2008 Vina Ginesa Reservas ‘Rojo’ Grenache), but the dishes that hit our table were varying shades of good. The main, the chateaubriand, was the star of the show – a dish for two that needed to be great, as its price tag was certainly up there at $42 per person. Its entrance was pure spectacle; the procession of dishes that arrived at our table, impressive. First, a sumptuous plate of thickly sliced steak, brussel sprouts and onion rings was placed on the table between us. As I picked up my fork, it quickly became a case of ‘…But wait! There’s more!’ A large bowl of mash was brought to the table, quickly followed by a rocket and parmesan salad. Then the waitress appeared with a jug of bordelaise sauce, which was drizzled on the top of the chateaubriand. ‘So that’s why this place is full,’ I thought as I happily chewed on a piece of meat slathered with mash. I could have died right then and there.
The restaurant was full, but the finer details of our night spoke as loud as the number of bums on seats. In an ill-timed attempt to clear space on our table, our bowl of mash was taken away before I could lick it clean – I mean, scoop the rest onto my plate. Every time my sparkling water was topped up, it haphazardly splashed onto the table. The service was efficient at best; impersonal, at worst. Was the chateaubriand and the kitchen’s peep show enough to make me a regular?
TUBBYMISTRESS SAYS: The Palace is not ‘some dodgy place’, but it’s not overly palatial, either. It’s exactly as described: a contemporary urban gastropub that serves modern Australian food, with a dash of style. Our main was so memorable in its generosity and wow-factor that I’d come back for this dish again … or maybe one of those wagyu burgers that sashayed in front of us on the pass. The ambience wasn’t fantastic, nor was the service on this night – these two ingredients certainly weren’t as good as the pimped-up pub food coming out of the kitchen. Whether the food is worth the price tag is arguable. In my eyes, it depends on the occasion.