Taxi Dining Room @ Level 1, Transport Hotel, Federation Square, Flinders Street, Melbourne
21 April 2011
Taxi Dining Room is regularly described as one of Melbourne's “destination” restaurants – a restaurant to take, and at which to impress, one’s special guests. The dining room itself provides one justification for that assertion – floor to ceiling windows surround the large, airy space and provide a view that captures the very best that Melbourne’s, admittedly limited, city skyline has to offer. The proposition is also said to be supported by the quality of Taxi's Japanese inspired cuisine – the primary driver of its consistent acclaim in the Good Food Guide which culminated in a Best Restaurant award in the 2006 edition. Having only previously visited Taxi for its express lunch – a lunch which provided a fleeting glimpse of the kitchen’s talents – we were intrigued to see what heights could be achieved on a fully fledged Taxi degustation.
We started with an entree of sashimi scallops infused with truffle oil and served with candied orange and crackling. It was an excellent starter, with the superbly fresh scallops providing a succulent canvas for the pungent truffle oil and the sweet orange. The novel addition of crackling provided a subtle savoury note and textural crunch.
However, the small scallop appetiser was unfortunately the only genuine highlight in a disappointingly dreary meal. A dish of wagyu nigiri with ginger and julienned spring onion and chilli was blessed with pleasant and well balanced flavours - with the richness of the wagyu combining well with the tartness of the ginger, the fragrance of the spring onion and the gentle heat of the chilli - but was unfortunately marred by the overly soft and sinew-riddled wagyu. A busy dish of Morton Bay bug gyoza served with pumpkin and yuzu puree and topped with crunchy shallots, coriander and julienned roasted chilli was flavoursome but a little unbalanced with the abundant use of aromatic ingredients sadly overwhelming the subtle sweetness of the bug meat. And then there was a coconut broth with enoki mushroom, coriander, chilli, wombok cabbage and a solitary slice of sashimi kingfish which was, as expected, a fragrant broth highlighted by the sweetness and richness of the coconut and the aromas of the herbs. The inclusion of the kingfish though was slightly perplexing - by the time we were able to extract the thin slice from the hot broth, it had been poached to a chalky consistency.
The main courses that followed - a dish of pan-fried John Dory fillets with celeriac remoulade, seeded mustard, crème fraiche and yabbie tail and a dish of caramelised five spice glazed duck with a Vietnamese salad of pumpkin, daikon radish and mint - were similarly middling. The John Dory fillets were relatively well cooked and went well with the remoulade and the mustard and crème fraiche mix but the yabbie tail seemed a little superfluous. The duck was well flavoured but overcooked - the flesh being relatively dry and tough.
Our "trio" of desserts commenced with a pre-dessert of crème fraiche sorbet, which was unusually included as one of the 9 official courses. While it was certainly a refreshing palate cleanser, with the crème fraiche providing an almost citrus acidity, its inclusion as a separate and individual course was decidedly disappointing. The actual dessert was a hazelnut parfait that had been rolled in hazelnut, macadamia and honeycomb and was served with milk chocolate ganache and Frangelico jelly. In keeping with the Taxi theme for the evening, it was generally enjoyable but unremarkable - the parfait was pleasantly flavoured but very dense and slightly granular in texture. The final dessert was a small tray of mediocre petit fours which also dishearteningly constituted an official course.
The poor service standards exhibited on our previous visit were repeated on this occasion. We found each of Taxi’s waiters to be, on the whole, cold, distant and pointedly unapproachable. While the basic tenets of good service were generally adhered to, there were some notable exceptions. For instance, a conspicuously junior waiter was allowed to present, rather incompetently, a couple of dishes to us. His bumbling description of each dish was unsurprising though given that he had only had the very same dishes explained to him merely moments earlier - it was particularly disconcerting to observe that education process taking place while our dishes cooled and disintegrated at the pass.
At $150 per person, Taxi’s 9 course tasting menu is relatively expensive by Melbourne’s fine dining standards. The inclusion of each of the pre-dessert sorbet and the petit fours – items that would ordinarily constitute complimentary additional courses – as independent courses only underscored that expense. At $150 for effectively 7 courses of middle of the road cuisine, Taxi's service issues are inexcusable.
Ultimately, Taxi delivered an interesting but underwhelming experience. Often considered to be a destination unto itself, Taxi is, for my money and at least as far as its unbridled degustation menu is concerned, overpriced and uninspiring. Disconcertingly brusk service staff contribute to what is an occasionally jarring dining experience. While I am likely to return to Taxi for its relatively well priced lunch menu, I am unlikely to subject myself to its degustation menu again.