The day Melbourne's circuit-breaker lockdown was announced, restaurants entered panic mode. Amidst the carnage of cancelled bookings and produce being repurposed into meal boxes, Mr Miyagi in Windsor sent an email to everyone due in on Valentine's Day, rescheduling for the Thursday evening when restrictions were set to lift.
"We took a punt on moving everything over. We just picked the next possible day; we were conscious of trying to push it away too far from when it actually was because these things tend to lose their sparkle pretty quickly," says Mr Miyagi co-owner, Kristian Klein.
Guests were able to opt in for the same seven-course meal with bottomless bubbles, but they also received a certificate to prove to their dates that it wasn't just an afterthought. It paid off – Mr Miyagi was booked out.
Operators have been blown away by the support and sympathy of diners. Hemingway's Wine Room co-owner, Ashleigh Smith, says that only 10 per cent of customers chose to be refunded following the lockdown announcement.
"We spoke to our customers and offered an alternate date for our four-course special, and to my honest surprise, 70 per cent of them said yes to dinner on Sunday February 28," she says. "And 20 per cent said yes to gift vouchers instead of refunds."
Stokehouse executive chef Jason Staudt saw the delay as an opportunity. If he couldn't hold Valentine's Day on February 14, then he'd choose a day that suited him: Wednesday February 24.
"It makes more sense to push a Wednesday when Sundays are already pretty busy.
The idea is to drive a mid-week day in bookings. Normally lunch on Wednesday isn't very strong. We're doing the whole day and night," he says.
Most restaurants have moved Valentine's Day to this Sunday 21. The Lucas Group was one of the first to reschedule. At Chin Chin and Kisume, set menus will start with complimentary champagne and finish in heart-shaped desserts, while Baby Pizza is throwing in a Mecca Maxima lip gloss. Tetto from the Carolina Group (also Bar Carolina, Marameo and Il Bacaro) has added live music between 2pm and 8.30pm along with the original set menu. Embla is bringing back Sunday lunches this week only; three-courses, seven-dishes and just $60 per person.
All four 400 Gradi venues will pour a glass of prosecco for everyone on the house and serve a new dessert for the V-Day do-over – a white chocolate mousse with a passionfruit and mango centre – after its 10-piece dessert sharing platter sold out to takeaway customers last weekend. Little Black Pig & Sons in Heidelberg are putting on a range of tasting menus including a seafood option complete with half lobster (and live music to bob along to). Polly's has rescheduled its "Lover's Day", with dumplings, cocktails on tap and DJs at Avalon (previously Polyester Records in Fitzroy), while south of the river Oriental Teahouse is bringing back "Dumplings for Dating", where dumplings and drinks are shared over an ice-breaking board game.
Pulling the plug on Valentine's Day was a surprise blow for restaurants, many who felt they were just getting their mojo back. That's how chef Nicola Dusi from The Hardware Club feels, and it's why he doesn't want to limit the good vibes to a single Sunday.
"It was such a disappointment. I bought a lot of awesome, fresh seafood and that was going to go in only one day," he says. "When we reopened, we thought, why only one day? We might as well just go all out and see what happens."
The Hardware Club's love language? Complimentary rum baba and a digestif trolley peddling house-made amaro and rose petal and cinnamon.
Long live Valentine's Month.
- Mr Miyagi, 99 Chapel Street, Windsor. mrmyagi.com.au
- Hemingway's Wine Room, 150 Wellington Parade, East Melbourne hemingwayswineroom.com.au
- Chin Chin, 125 Flinders Lane, Melbourne chinchin.melbourne
- Kisume, 175 Flinders Lane, Melbourne kisume.com.au
- Baby Pizza, 631-633 Church Street, Richmond babypizza.com.au
- Tetto, 48 Toorak Road, South Yarra tettodicarolina.com.au
- Embla, 122 Russell Street, Melbourne embla.com.au
- 400 Gradi, various locations 400gradi.com.au
- Little Black Pig & Sons 48 Burgundy Street, Heidelberg littleblackpigandsons.com
- Polly's/Avalon, 387 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy pollybar.com.au
- Oriental Teahouse, 455 Chapel Street, South Yarra orientalteahouse.com.au
- The Hardware Club, 43 Hardware Lane, Melbourne thehardwareclub.com