16 18 N Concourse Beaumaris, VIC 3193
|Prices||Expensive (mains over $40)|
|Payments||eftpos, AMEX, Cash, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||03 9589 6329|
An important thing happened this week. Opposition leader Matthew Guy was caught having a "lobster with an alleged mobster" in Beaumaris, and Melbourne collectively remembered that Bill Ferg's 30-year-old seafood extravaganza, the Lobster Cave, still exists.
So this week we interrupt our regular broadcast to ask: what is the Lobster Cave, and should you go there?
I should start by saying, I'm really rooting for this crustacean oasis in the burbs. The website promises "An Extraordinary 'Dining Experience' Like No Other", with mysterious emphasis on dining experience.
John Lethlean reviewed Lobster Cave for The Age in 2005. It scored 9/20 for such things as a Yellow Tail wine heavy list, and the Ferg Burger, one of Bill Ferg's many self-titled signatures involving bugs, steak, lobster and "sour dough infused bread". Then, it cost $99.90. Lest you think those were just headier times, you can still get it today – for $165.
I invite a friend by promising him a Fergasm. The signature cocktail involves Malibu and ice-cream and comes with a free cocktail shaker. He's thrilled. Part of me wants to tell them it's his birthday. If you are part of the cave club, you eat for free.
The restaurant signage outside glows radioactive red, Inside, the fitout seems to have followed a single design note: Aladdin, with fish. You cross blue swirled carpets past central aquariums of tropical marine life. Every table is furnished with an ice bucket, warm sparkling water and high-backed chairs. There is plastic ivy and a ceiling of pinprick stars. It is, on first impression, exactly the place I imagine going with mates to order pitchers of cocktails and the restaurant's original surf and turf offerings. Truly, you can order lamb with scallops, clam linguine with pulled pork and gnocchi carbonara with wagyu bresaola, parsley and cream.
Yep, it's all fun and Ferg-jokes except, Lobster Cave is rigorously expensive. Single oysters (Kilpatrick! Mornay!) are $7.50, regular mains are $50 plus.
Everyone in the room – and it is packed on a Wednesday – either does not consider money, or does, or has a Groupon. The first question asked to us is not if we're using a voucher, but which one.
It makes for a wild mix of big dudes in sports jackets being towered over by seafood and silent couples wading through the creamy pastas that are allowed on their deals.
Credit where due, a night at Lobster Cave has highlights. The Fergasm is everything I imagined with bonus icing on top. It's a litre of boozed-up slushie, served in what appears to be a vase. The real night's surprise though, is the wine list. You expect the Grange, Veuve and Crownies. But there are proper Ruinart vintages, a Santorini assyrtiko, Dr Loosen riesling and a Pigato vermentino. Sure, it takes them 40 minutes to locate it, but it's there and for $59.
Then, dinner arrives. We've gone all out with the Ferginator: a tomahawk steak, two lobster tails, grilled prawns, fried crabs and sauces. What arrives is various shades of fried, brown and grey. The heaving mass of protein could be one of those apocalypse illustrations in a Jehovah's Witness Watchtower: proof that we're heading for doom, and deserve it.
The mash has more truffle oil than a teenager wears Lynx. The mushrooms in our sauce are flavourless with rubbery bounce. There is a white sauce beside it that we can't determine between bechamel or brandy cream. The centrepiece tomahawk, which they worryingly say they don't have but alter to "we found one!", is medium rare but we still find it tough and it's cut off the bone in ungraceful chunks.
I pick up a giant prawn and it is soft. There are fried nuggets of moreton bay bugs - so we guess - in a batter that we find still tacky and pale blonde. What's in this ramekin? We ask the waiter. "Some mashed potato thing," he shrugs. The lobster tails, thank god, are acceptable, split and grilled and tasting mildly of garlic. The onion rings are nice.
At $269 the joke is on you. I hoped to feel transported to the '80s when cholesterol and sustainability and ordering your colleague a Fergasm with a wink was Not a Big Deal. I planned to eat like a jerk with impunity, to put it on my work card and tell my date he could make it up to me later. Maybe with another Fergasm.
But Lobster Cave, sadly, doesn't pass the good bad restaurant test. I wanted '80s sci-fi hilarity and got '90s J-Lo rom com. To make matters worse, they forgot my cocktail shaker.
Pro Tip: Join the club and eat for free on your birthday
Go-to Dish: The Fergasm