Fresh fish doesn’t smell. The seafood crepe ($17) at The Spaghetti Tree smelt acrid, of ammonia. I didn’t even want to taste it and one mouthful was enough to put me off the food for the evening. It was awful in smell, taste, texture and presentation and left barely touched by the three of us.
An awkward yeast infection was mentioned and before even the garlic bread ($6.50) could arrive, halfway through our mains, the seafood crepe was renamed the “clap stack”, which was also remarkable as it took 40 minutes to arrive.
This was our second attempt to eat here, rejected a fortnight earlier at 10pm because the kitchen had closed, forcing us across the road to Pellegrini’s.
But we returned as @melbournebitter had fond memories of the place on trip to the city with an aunt and, more recently, an old school friend. Her heart was set on a mango fan and we determined – over several G&Ts – that she would have her mango fan and eat it, so to speak.
There’s nothing wrong with a bit of kitsch, whether it be food or decor. In terms of decor The Spaghetti Tree is stacked with kitsch. It’s great right from the lampshades right down to the brown table coverings, everything you’d expect.
BuI it’s clear from the menu that The Spaghetti Tree’s food is anything that good old retro kitsch. It’s just confused, mainly Italian but with such a lack of confidence in that proposition that it also serves chicken satay ($16). Moroccan lamb salad ($20.50), Peking duck risotto (22.50) and, believe it or not, Tandoori Chicken ($27.50).
And back to the mango fan. In my minds eye I imagined a bright orange mango fanned out over a chicken breast on the plate of what was billed as “Grilled chicken breast topped with a mango fan, Camembert cheese and served with a brandy/mango sauce. Served with potatoes and vegetables.”
It soon became clear what the theme to this restaurant was. It’s not Italian food, or the theatrical paraphernalia, but the colour brown. The whole place has a brown feel to it. The wipe clean table cloth was brown, the place mats were brown and so was the majority of the food.
And thus the mango which was’t fanned and was cooked, fibrous and brown, hiding under a brown sauce that was remarkably similar to the brown sauce covering the veal Saltimbocca ($29), with the addition of brandy.
As for the Saltimbocca it was as billed “Pan-fried veal, layered with panchetta and cheese served with a sage and creamy white wine sauce. Served with potatoes and vegetables”.
Presumably that’s meant to be panacetta in the Saltimbocca, and the dish was only really flirting the cured pork treat with about half a five dollar note-sized piece making itself into the dish. I’d expect to find Saltimbocca not for $28 but for under $20, as you would at Gerald’s Bar in Carlton North where it is superb.
To move to the positives, the garlic bread, when it finally arrived, was just what you’d expect. My pasta was just about okay although I’d expect a much higher standard from a place with Spaghetti in its name.
The wine, often Brown by brand, is a different story, tending to be mass market, on the sweeter side and nothing over $36. In fact, it’s the exact opposite of most good restaurants where nothing’s under $36. And with names like Brown Brothers, Katnook Estate, Tamar Ridge and Leo Buring you can’t complain.
The Spaghetti Tree is a massive space seating some 350 over two floors of prime real estate at the top end of Bourke St. On any night of the week it is pretty full, the kind of numbers than many restaurateurs would envy.
There are stacks of people having a good time, although they seem to be eating steak, which at $30 for a Porterhouse looks good value, presuming they cook it correctly to your preference.
But for the rest of us I can’t help feel The Spaghetti Tree, which is bang in the middle of Melbourne’s thriving theatre district, is taking the piss. To start with service is shoddy (although friendly). But more importantly, it’s a huge restaurant with big prices for often substandard food cooked with little skill or passion.
Next time I’m on Bourke Street I’m going to take a detour and give The Spaghetti Tree a miss.