Vlado’s @ 61 Bridge Road, Richmond
The Vlado’s name is synonymous with high quality meat. According to some, Vlado’s is the purveyor of Melbourne’s finest steak. Certainly the Good Food Guide recognises the credentials of Vlado’s in this regard and has included Vlado’s in its list of best steak restaurants year after year. After almost 50 years of service, Vlado’s has certainly earned the “institution” tag – the stereotypical wall of autographed celebrity photos in the dining room pays homage to that status.
Vlado’s provides a dining experience that is a throwback to an earlier age and, in the Melbourne fine dining scene of today, relatively unique. The meal does not consist of many small shared dishes, as is the norm, but rather it is made up of a solitary set menu with the only decisions being which cut of steak to have, whether to option up to the Wagyu and/or include grilled red peppers and which of the two desserts to choose. At $88 per head, with additional cost for Wagyu and the peppers, Vlado’s certainly is not an inexpensive proposition.
Our meal commenced with homemade sausages – one per person – made from lean beef and pork neck. Although the sausage was pleasantly flavoured, with a faint whiff of charcoal aroma from the grill, it suffered texturally from being slightly dense and dry. Nevertheless, it was a relatively good introduction to, what would hopefully be, substantive and satisfying courses to follow.
The second course consisted of a tasting plate of eye fillet medallions, calves livers, small hamburger patties and thin slices of pork neck. Dishearteningly, the tiny eye fillet medallions had disintegrated on the grill, having been cooked to a medium to well done consistency, and the calves livers were rubbery and dry. The hamburger patties were similarly heavy and dehydrated while the pork neck slices ate like fibrous shreds of jerky. It was an unfortunate assortment of overcooked and relatively flavourless meat.
The third course was the main feature of the evening, the much anticipated steak. After finishing our meat tasting plate, we were presented with a platter of raw steaks and were asked to select between eye fillet, porterhouse and rump. After we made our selections – we both ordered the porterhouse cooked medium-rare – we waited for what seemed like an eternity for our steaks to arrive. The two entree courses had arrived with somewhat alarming efficiency – the first course, for instance, arrived within minutes of our drinks orders being taken. In contrast, the steaks took some 40 minutes to arrive. When they did, it appeared that they could have benefited from more time on the grill. Instead of our stipulated medium-rare, the steaks were exceedingly rare indeed – each slice that we cut from the steak resembled tuna tataki rather than properly cooked beef. We sent the steaks back for further cooking – while that brought my steak to a perfect medium-rare, it only managed to elevate PiCi’s to a slightly undercooked rare. Given Vlado’s reputation as a preeminent steakhouse, such ineptitude in cooking is staggering. Further, even though my steak was properly cooked the second time around, it was hardly a great steak, consisting of coarse, tough fibres and lacking flavour – it was an utmost chore to finish.
The final course was dessert and Vlado’s offered a choice between strawberries with crepes and ice cream and whipped cream, or strawberries and ice cream. Neither dessert was really befitting of a restaurant with white table cloths and a cover charge of $88 per head. The crepe was filled with small strawberries that were not particularly ripe and served with average vanilla ice cream, whipped cream and, what tasted like, somewhat embarrassingly, Cottee’s strawberry topping. The ice cream with strawberries was simply the dish of crepes without the crepes or the whipped cream.
The venerable Vlado’s was hugely disappointing. Where we expected a high quality meat fest, Vlado’s delivered a severely underwhelming array of poorly cooked and under flavoured items. In the midst of that dreariness, the refreshing cabbage and lettuce salad – placed in the middle of the table at the beginning of the evening – was the surprising highlight. Vlado’s is an establishment that is known, almost wholly and solely, for its steak. After this experience, I really question the basis for that reputation.
- BC -