I took my mother out to dinner at the Hermitage before an evening at the Canberra Theatre. While we made the show on time, we ended up with pretty average food with clumsy service, at a fine dining price.
The first thing that strikes you is the prices, with entrees starting at $19 each, and main steaks around $35-$40. There are some cheaper mains, such as chicken and veal, but only marginally. I had the scallops and pea risotto for my starter, which was not a bad size. Despite the three scallops perched atop my mound of rice being bland and slightly overdone, the risotto was quite good. My mother’s salt and pepper calamari entrée was similarly lacking in flavour, but it was a decent portion and nicely cooked.
I had the eye fillet with blue cheese sauce for my main, ordered medium at the waitress’s recommendation. The first thing that struck me when it finally arrived was how tiny it was. So much so, that it was actually disappointing. The steak too was overdone, well past the medium I ordered. All in all though, it was… OK. The blue cheese sauce didn’t have the richness I’d experienced with some chicken wing tapas in Adelaide a few months earlier, but the potatoes were nice. And I finished off one of my mother’s veal medallions, which wasn’t bad, but also wasn’t as good as what she usually dishes up herself on a Sunday night.
When I called to make a reservation the week before, I was greeted with, "Hermitage" barked into my ear by way of announcement, rather than question. It's surprising what a difference a "hello" makes, or more so, the absence thereof. Nonetheless, I knew I got the right number, and to be fair, the manager asked about our theatre commitments before booking us in at the most appropriate time. While they were busy, they weren't full, but it was painfully clear that the staff were flustered in the pre-theatre rush. It took some time to get menus, and even longer to place our order. Drinks haphazardly arrived during the endless wait for our entrees, and even though the staff updated us twice on the progress of our garlic bread, none ever arrived, except on the bill. However, it was no problem for the manager to remove it when I settled up.
I find the atmosphere quite nice, although the lights under the bar are perhaps a bit bright and the furniture has a few miles on the clock. The busy dining room made for an energetic buzz though, rather than the usual assault to the ears at other places.
Based on our experience, I put it down to the Hermitage having a bad night, perhaps caught short by a waitress or two not showing for their shift. While the other dozen or so reviews below made me briefly reassess, you've got to keep in mind that hundreds of people go through there every week. It doesn't take a lot to knock a high end restaurant off balance. I've eaten there before, and both the service and food have been a lot better. Still short of the prices they're charging mind you, but a lot better.
For me, Ardeche remains my first choice for dinner before a show.
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