Wednesday, August 04, 2010


Gary Mehigan, Masterchef's seemingly cuddly, father-like figure has two restaurants to his name. Initially there was Fenix, which he part owned with Molecular Gastronomy wizard - Raymond Capaldi. Then came The Boat-House in Maribyrnong. A very family orientated restaurant, down by the river. Unfortunately, Gary and Raymond decided to part ways, which left Fenix at a bit of a loss, since Capaldi was a crucial element of what Fenix was famous for. After Capaldi's departure, for a number of years Fenix only ran as a functions centre. But then this year on Masterchef, we saw Gary wearing his chef whites, with the Fenix logo on the chest. Did this mean the re-opening of Fenix as a restaurant? Indeed it did!
Fenix in it's original form was loved as a cafe, just as much as it was as a restaurant. Locals would head to Fenix on a Saturday and Sunday morning and sit outside by the yarra, amongst the trees and enjoy some english style brunch.
I decided to surprise Em with a visit to Fenix, as she was a big Gary Mehigan fan whilst Masterchef was on television. She had never been to Fenix before and she definately didn't know that it had been re-opened.
We arrived at 9.30am on a wintery Melbourne Saturday morning to discover the only place to park in the vicinity is the Fenix carpark, which is part of the Victoria Gardens complex. This costs $5 for the whole day. This wasn't ideal.
At the restaurant, all of the table were free, except one. I asked the Barista behind the counter if we could just sit anywhere. He asked if we had a reservation. "umm, no, do we need one?" considering almost every single table was free, I would hope not. Someone came out from a back room and seated us at a lovely table near the window. The table cloths are crisp and white, the napkins are a natural brown and the chairs are Hans Wegner Wishbone style. The waitress is friendly, yet, like our surroundings, very, very formal. Not what I'm used to at a Saturday morning breakfast. When one of the waiters came by to top up our water (I think he was the manager) he spotted a group of people turning up at the restaurant. The people had prams and a couple of dogs. The (possible) manager muttered to us "great, my two favourite things dogs and babies!" Ok, I get the humour - but not very professional - especially considering that now I'm sitting here typing exactly what he said.

I ordered the Homemade Baked Beans, with smoked chorizo, farmhouse cheddar and baked free range egg ($16). I've eaten lots of baked beans around town and these by far were my standout favourites! Everything about them was perfect. The tomato sauce has a slight sweetness to it, which was perfect with the absolute best chorizo I have ever eaten. The chorizo was spicy and smokey. I tried to find out from the waitress where they source their chorizo, but she wasn't giving away any secrets. Served with the beans were two perfectly poached eggs and two pieces of toast. Pay attention now, because this matters later.

Em ordered the Eggs Flornetine. A simple breakfast, but she said it was some of the best eggs she's had in ages. Considering that we go out most weekends for breakfast, that's definately a compliment. The hollandaise sauce also appeared to be perfect and Em said that it didn't leave her tummy with that sickly feeling that Hollandaise sauce can sometimes give you.

So good was our breakfast at Fenix, that we recommended it to some good friends of ours. They were keen to try and we were keen to go back, so we went back the very next Sunday.
The next week, the atmosphere was the same - a little too highbrow for a Sunday morning if you ask me. It seems however, that not everything was the same in the kitchen at Fenix.

I again ordered those fantastic Baked Beans. Only this time it was like they spilt the sugar into the sauce. It was sweet, sickly sweet. It was almost so sweet that you could call it a dessert! Not cool. Also, it seems that despite the price remaining the same as last week ($16), this week, I only got one poached egg and one piece of toast! Now, forgive me if I'm wrong, but I do recall the judges on Masterchef rabbiting on about consistency in the kitchen.

One of our friends ordered the Fenix Breakfast (Grilled bacon, oven baked roma tomato, homemade hash brown, gourmet sausage choice of scrambled or poached eggs - $20). The sausage was cut open only to discover it was very undercooked on the inside. We had to send the sausage back to the kitchen to be cooked further.

The most shocking part of breakfast was yet to come. Em wasn't feeling too good, so she chose to only order toast with Jam, which wasn't on the menu. The kitchen was only too happy to accommodate. However, when it came time for us to pay the bill, we checked the cost of the 2 pieces of toast with jam. It came to $10! Yes, you heard correctly, $10!! I can buy 3 loaves of amazing Babka bread for that price.

So, the first week we visited we had one of the best breakfasts we've had in ages - perfectly executed. And then, the next week, the complete opposite. Undercooked, over sweetened and overpriced food! It's amazing how a bad experience can completely outweigh even the best of experiences - like the one we had the previous week. So much so, that I won't be hurrying back to Fenix again for breakfast any time soon. And given that dinners are not cheap either, I'll probably avoid those in fear of inconsistent food.

Oh, and if you don't want to pay $5, we discovered that you can park across victoria st in one of the office building car parks for free. They are closed on the weekend, so there's nobody around to get upset that you're parking in their spot.


Nina said...

What a disappointing outcome.. When I read about your great first experience, and saw those fantastic looking breakfasts you had, I really wanted to go try.. but now.. :( It's such a shame.

Kirstine Vergara said...

I'm definitely trying the baked beans! And thanks for the parking tip; I'll be able to save 5 dollars. =)

penny aka jeroxie said...

OMG OMG!! Must book in now... delicious!

Adski said...

I actually received a very honest upfront email from the GM of Fenix after they read this review.
I respect that he took the time to address the issues that I raised above and has taken them up with the relevant staff to iron out some of the teething problems that I mentioned above.
He did point out to me that the restaurant had only re-opened recently and they were just getting into the swing of things.
I'm very appreciative to receive such an email and believe other restaurants should follow Fenix's lead in engaging with customers and bloggers, by listening to constructive feedback. Fenix took the feedback on board and I once again look forward to returning to check out those amazing baked beans.

Nina said...

That's really professional and honest of them. I will go there soon, I really want to eat those beans!