Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Through a glass darkly: The Victoria Room, Sydney.

The soft glow of amber lighting – I love it. Give me the pinpoint of a tea-light, the buttery warmth of an ivory-shaded table lamp, or the muted fire of a fringed standard lamp: all are a beacon for my inner romantic.
Not for my inner food blogger though. The more romantic and muted and softly-glowing the light of a restaurant or café is, the less opportunity there will be to take decent photographs unless I descend to the barbarism of using a flash and risk ending up with food ‘mug-shots’. I suppose I could take a photography course, learn to do the do with my SLR, but that is a big, clunky piece of equipment, and not the kind of thing you can subtly whip out mid-dining experience. So I use my iPhone and I make do.
Of course, when out with other bloggers, this problem is easily fixed. In a spirit of cooperation that could lead to world domination if properly harnessed, food bloggers are always there ready to light each other’s shots – to use their iPhone flashlights to light your dish from above or from the side so that the pesky shadows are eliminated without the food looking as if it has been caught in flagrante

At The Victoria Room, I was in non-blogging company so my “Aah!” of delight as I ran up the carpeted staircase with its discreet floor-lights, soon gave way to the “Oh” of regret when I realised that any food photography was pretty much out.
It’s an elegant space. High ceilings, hanging bamboo partitions, white linen on the table and everywhere the lamps. It reminded me of The Raffles Hotel in Singapore (where I have never stayed, you understand, but used to go for drinks in the Long Bar or High Tea in the Tiffin Room as a treat when I lived in Singapore in the 90s) – very Raj Quartet and 1920s colonial. If someone had put a Singapore Sling down in front of me, I would not have been surprised.

As it was, the charming manager welcomed my dining companion, F., and me and asked if we would like a drink at the bar first or if we would like to be seated directly. We’d already been for drinks at Hinky Dinks which was just a little further up the street, so we asked to be seated and he personally escorted us to our table – a linen-covered, ruby tea-light lit affair in a quiet corner of what was an unexpectedly large premises.

Above us, there was a large chandelier with a shade over it – no dazzling sparkle of crystals here, just a subdued effect with the occasional rainbow glint.

But there no dazzling food photography (not that mine ever really approached dazzling anyway) that evening either. So here we have it, the worst food blogger sin is being committed - a blog post with zero pictures of food. Judge me if you must. But you know something? For me that's just fine. Every now and then, it is nice to have a meal where the only things that you hold in your hand are knife, fork, spoon, and wine-glass. The phone/camera stays in the bag for the most part, and you focus on your friends and your food. There will be pictures of food in my next post - I promise.

Lots of photos in the official Victoria Room book though...
The food was good. Nothing out-of-this world, but a decent meal. It’s tapas-style dining, so we chose a few dishes to share. I think my favourite on the night had to be the fried Goats Cheese Balls with balsamic onion marmalade and truffle honey – cracking the breadcrumb shell, to get to the mellow, melty cheese in the middle was a real pleasure and the sweetness from the onions and the honey, with a noseful of truffle to help the flavours along, was a different experience.
We also tried the Queensland prawns pan-seared with lemon, chilli and garlic, the spicy Moroccan style meatballs, and the grilled herb bread. These were more standard tapas fare but still well done – the prawns were large and succulent, the meatballs of a good size and hidden in the tomato-based sauce. We used up all the grilled bread in soaking up the sauce, and we could have done with more.

My experiment of the evening was not in the food though, but in the drink. The Victoria Room bar is as much a study in dark wood and decadence as the rest of the restaurant is a fantasy of crystals and candles. They have an unusual cocktail menu which uses Bach Flower Remedies in the drinks. This cocktail range is called “What the Doctor Ordered.”
Quick aside – I am a sceptic through and through. I do not believe in homeopathy. If you catch me on a bad day, do NOT offer me your Rescue Remedy or things will not end well between us. If this was what a doctor actually ever ordered, there would be more than words, there would be whole lectures with the full weight of my sceptic certainty behind them. There would also be a viewing of this video...
I am all for an interesting taste sensation though and this seemed like a good opportunity to try something new.

My Seachange cocktail set me back $21 – but fair enough, it had a decent mix of the curious within: Quandong and Gentian liqueur from the Tambourine Mountain Distillery, Hendrick’s gin (always a favourite), orgeat, and lemon juice. The homeopathic magic was provided by the Bach Flower essence Wild Oat and it claimed that I would know my destiny – the advertising said ‘know thy destiny’ and the use of the word ‘thy’ should tell you everything you need to know here – and be able to choose life’s path. Of course, the menu, had the typo, 'know the destiny' - which is more overwhelming still. I waited to see what omniscience my tipple would bring to me.

The actual effect was pleasantly herbal at first, and let’s face it, with that many botanicals going on, why wouldn’t it be? After that, it was like an
Army Navy cocktail with a whole heap of extra florals and aromatics.

Did I choose life’s path? No. Did I get a sudden urge to try out The Victoria Room trapeze? Absolutely. I think if I’d had one more cocktail the whole ‘trapeze is not for public use’ caveat would not have been enough to stop me.

We asked a waiter why it was there. Apparently, The Victoria Room has fun Sunday evenings with circus and burlesque acts at their Performance Carnival. This would have been something to see indeed, and the next time I am Sydney, I will reserve a Sunday evening to watch this happen - as it was that Sunday evening saw me on a plane back to Perth.
If ambient lighting and atmosphere are your delight, then The Victoria Room is for you. You'll be romanced by the décor, warmed by the food, and entertained by the performances if you go on a Sunday. Choose your evening carefully though – that romantic dinner for two might not work so well on the same evening as the burlesque hula-hooping– and choose your cocktail carefully too: your future path may just depend on it.

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