Yesteryear glam: Radii's multi-level, multi-textured dining room. Photo: Wayne Taylor
Why Radii, why now? It was the suggestion the wheel was turning full circle, that a place that beat the odds stacked against hotel restaurants and won plaudits during the late nineties and early noughties had reclaimed old ground. A hotel restaurant that also manages to be a great place to eat whether a local or a blow-in - yes, now that's a story.
And I wanted to like it. I swear. Without expecting it to be a Lazarus-like resurrection of the days of Paul Wilson or Anthony Musarra, the eager representations from the Park Hyatt's people were glowingly positive. They acknowledged the lost years, promised a new dawn. A fairy tale, alas. Radii remains among the ranks of big hotel restaurants where soul is just about the only thing you can't buy.
Under the Wilson regime it was praised to the heavens for its produce-driven, back-to-basics approach; rustic food with heart and priced well, according to critics at the time. The 2014 iteration makes similar noises, bar the pricing. The menu is big on provenance and peppered with buzzwords such as rare breed and line-caught. It even mentions the fish is all dispatched with the ike jime technique (brain-spiked), which is a very fashionable way to die, piscatorially speaking.
Stupendously naked: Wood-roasted bonito. Photo: Wayne Taylor
It's a good softening-up process, but then you hit the ''tastes'' (''bite-sized extravagant morsels'' the menu say-eth with no shortfall of pomp) and it's like a series of glorified party canapes have escaped from a nearby function room. Lamb souvlaki made me hope for a bite of Little Lonsdale, but it's a charry slice of baguette oddly bisected with a pile of lamb on one side and cracked wheat on the other. You have to dump the toppings and start again for it to make any sense. Same with the scallops: smooshed avocado on one side and the raw bivalves with a gently acidic dressing and herbs on the other. It's $22.
There's a heading on the menu of ''farinaceous''. Seriously. Starches - pasta and rice - although it's used quite loosely on a dish primarily of seafood (clams, prawn meat, mussels) with ravioli quite possibly filled with fish paste. I didn't investigate properly before letting rip with the beaker of soup - bouillabaisse-red, chilli-peppery and so heavy-handed on the cumin it pummels everything in its path.
Mains are stupendously naked. Partly it's a by-product of Radii's Mediterranean focus, which frees it of the French-driven pretentiousness that plagues hotel cooking. But mostly, I'm cynically inclined to think, it's the kind of simplicity that chases the margins with side dishes. A bonito fillet the size of my palm, nicely cooked on the wood fire so the inside is still a blushing pink and the skin a tasty crust, comes with a wedge of lemon and a few millilitres of warm olive oil in a jug. It's $42.
Those sides, both $13, include an aligot that deserves to be marched down to Brooks to see what a cheesy mash should really be, and a pile of green beans with herbs and peas and cold pasta shells, which I guess are designed to be a carb stand-in for those minimalist proteins but instead scream ''hotel restaurant'' with a loudspeaker. So does a plate dotted with forgettable dibs and dobs of forgettable creme caramel and pandan jelly that tastes of absolutely nothing.
All the while waiters come and go; a new one each course, distinguished by name tag but more or less interchangeable with their polite lack of interest. I'd be politely uninterested too, if I had to listen to one more saxophone solo. Actually, I might hurl myself over the chrome balustrade into the cocktail lounge below.
As I've said before, I'd gladly eat inside a shipping container if the food was any good, and Radii offers greater comfort than a shipping container although not quite as good feng shui. It's an interior designer's textural brain snap of chrome and glass, glossy wood and internally lit pillars with a Flintstonian crazy paving effect. It remains unchanged from the days Radii was the place to be, which goes to show the way a great chef can make diners put on their happy-goggles. Radii left me sad the other diners, all guests of the hotel as far as I could tell, were meekly acquiescing to something far lesser than dozens of restaurants in walking distance.
At least the valet parking was free.
The best bit Free valet parking
The worst bit Needs soul
Go-to dish Wood-roasted bonito, $42
- 03 9224 1211
- Cuisine - Mediterranean, European
- Prices - Typical entree $22; main $48; dessert $17
- Features - Licensed, Gluten-free options, Accepts bookings, Wheelchair access, Outdoor seating
- Chef(s) - Dane Clouston
- Owners - Park Hyatt Melbourne
- Cards accepted - AMEX, Mastercard, Diners Club, Visa, EFTPOS
- Opening Hours - Mon-Sat 6pm-late (breakfast and afternoon tea also available)
- Author - Larissa Dubecki