Shades of brown at The Spaghetti Tree

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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.

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Stacks of kitsch

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.

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The seafood crepe: scratch and sniff.

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.”

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Spot the mango fan.

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.

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11 Responses to “Shades of brown at The Spaghetti Tree”

  1. Ed

    Queenothisblue, yes, just keep walking.

    Disappointed,

    I wish you had too. Interesting the beds thing. Maybe the staff get to live there too! I wonder when it was last inspected?

  2. Disappointed

    I wish I had read this review last night. I experienced all the above.

    In addition I spied beds all made up on each landing of the stairwell which makes me wonder what other health and safety regs they ignore. Is it a restaurant or a backpackers?

  3. Queenotisblue

    Your post gave me a little laugh, even though it sounds like you had a dreadful time there. The Spaghetti Tree was one of those places a couple of friends would insist on going to to celebrate their birthdays when we were teenagers, as if it were haute cuisine (nearly 20 years ago now). Ugh! How I disliked that place. The food was rubbish then and it sounds like things haven’t changed in the prevailing years. I walk past that place often and am always shocked that it seems to be full of people.

  4. Ed

    Reemski, the photoes don’t really show the true browness of it all. Next time my Digital slr.

    Steve, i’m ready to take a lot more for the team, although I will draw the line at Lygon St.

    Kat, that is toooo funny although I’m not sure if I’m game to return for the nasi goreng.

    Duncan, yes keep away. I hate to think what the risotto would be like there.

    Dan, told you so. Stick to somewhere cougarish in St Kilda.

  5. Dan Sims

    OK … maybe my idea of having The Wine Guide Xmas party there isn’t such a great idea. I’m passing as the photos of the food actually make me want to vomit. Ooops … I think I just did.

    Good work Mr Charles … as Steve says above, you took one for the team.

    Vomit

  6. Duncan | Syrup and Tang

    Oh wow, you’ve saved me a nostalgic visit, thank you! I haven’t been to Spaghetti Tree since I was a young teenager (and I don’t think there would have been risotto or nasi goreng on the menu then!). I’ve walked past it so often in the last year and thought “should I try it out one day, just for amusement?”. Clearly not. Phew.

  7. Kat (Spatula, Spoon and Saturday)

    The last time I went to Spaghetti Tree was a work lunch about 8 months ago.

    Having been there once before, ie. knowing better, the two out of six of us opted to order things that didn’t sound remotely Italian. I, the Nasi Goreng (complete with fried egg and two chicken satay sticks) and the other guy, fish and chips. Naturally, we were also the only two that enjoyed our meal.

    Surprisingly, the nasi goreng was hands down the best meal there. In fact, it really was quite good. Or was it because my expectation was just so incredibly low?

  8. Steve

    Ed is this post to settle any criticisms that you only do ‘high table’ reviews? If so, thats for taking one for the team.
    I am shocked but sadly not surprised that your picture reveals a full house of patrons. For $29 I’m sure one could eat like a Royal instead of subjecting yourself to that shite.
    Phew, I’ll bet you’re glad THAt review is outta the way!