Almost the last person I expected to bump into at The Press Club was George Calombaris. I’m a little bit cynical about celebrity chefs especially if they have multiple restaurants and presumed Calombaris would not be spending his Saturday night working the pass at The Press Club. But as I was waiting for my table (more on that later) it was Calombaris himself who tapped me on the back and said “Please tell me someone is looking after you”. He really worked the room, chatting to all the diners and happily posing for photos with people as well as putting in time in the kitchen.
|Sword fish at The Press Club|
Calombaris’ presence wasn’t the only thing that impressed me at The Press Club. The room itself is beautiful at night – all dark and sexy with the light and action focused on the open kitchen. The food at The Press Club draws on Calombaris’ Greek background but offers a very contemporary take on the nation’s cuisine. This is a Greek restaurant with no saganaki as a starter or lamb as a main. The dishes we tried had more in common with Calombaris’ cooking at his first restaurant Reserve than the robust Greek food The Press Club served when it first opened.
|The sleek interior of The Press Club|
To start MTV and I shared an entrée of lightly seared medallions of sword fish ($30.90) with sea weeds and vegetables along with a creamy ouzo flavoured mayonnaise. The fish was only just done to a blush pink state proving to be a light and delicate starter. Continuing on the seafood theme the John Dory ($49.90) was served crispy skinned with cubes of “jowl” which was like bacon and a scattering of pearl barley soaked in rich flavours. It was the sort of dish that was studded with morsels which made picking through it like a treasure hunt.
|John Dory at The Press Club|
The wagyu steak ($60) was a flank of oyster blade, cooked to medium rare and served with mash and heirloom carrots. While the steak was perfectly cooked it was a bit of a busy dish and the flavours were at times too crowded. We also ordered a side of chips ($11) which were really superfluous as the serving sizes at The Press Club are generous.
|Chips Press Club Style|
To finish, the dessert menu is strong and in particular the passionfruit soufflé ($21.90) was so light and ethereal that it was still rising when it arrived at our table. Although I hadn’t mentioned when booking that our meal was in celebration of MTV’s birthday our clever waitress overheard us talking about his birthday and so had organised for the soufflé to have a happy birthday message.
|Wagyu steak at The Press Club|
Her initiative was a bit atypical of the service we received all night. While the guidance provided by the sommelier who talked us through the (lengthy) wine list before recommending an excellent bottle of wine was excellent other staff did not impress. The wine in question was the Rusden ‘Full Circle’ Mataro ($88) which was medium bodied and fruity while not being too tannin heavy – delicious.
|Passionfruit soufflé for MTV’s birthday|
The thing that really irked me was that when we arrived for our 9pm booking and had to spend almost 10 minutes standing at the kitchen pass waiting for our table to be turned. If a wait is required then at a restaurant of this quality I would expect there to be a bar area to wait in. Unprompted, the maitre d’ presented me with a glass of sparkling wine (not asking me if I wanted one) which I presumed was to apologise for the wait. The gesture was lovely and would have made up for any inconvenience but I was surprised to get home and find the drink had been included on my bill.
The food at The Press Club is clever and elaborate but at times over-wrought. The place has a great buzz to it and makes the most of the George Calombaris celebrity factor but service was erratic, alternating from brilliant to non-existent. For a special occasion I think there are better places in Melbourne.
Details: The Press Club, 72 Flinders Street Melbourne 3000 (Ph: 03 9677 9677) Lunch Mon – Sun: 12pm–3pm, Dinner Mon-Sun: 6pm–10pm.
Damage: Over $300 for two with one bottle of wine.