I like to think we're spontaneous. What we are is a couple of last-minute larries. None of our favourites had a table free. So through a process of elimination, we ended up at The Astor.
We arrived five minutes early. The table wasn't ready, so we were asked to wait in the (cold) corridor. We waited for 15 minutes. If I'm asking a business client to wait, I'll at least offer them a tea or coffee to while away the time. Were we offered a drink? Another couple, who arrived after us, also waited. The "maitre d' "(she says through gritted teeth) invited the other couple to come to their table (hang on, we were first). Then he looked at us:
"You might as well come in too, your table's ready."
Right. Off to a flying start.
The Astor has such a lovely ambience, especially in the main dining room. There are two, but the main dining room has the bar and the flash and sizzle of the kitchen. Quite lovely. And embarrassingly let down by the menu. Uninspiring, dull, boring, see-Dick's-appetite-fly-out-the-window.
I had rather foolishly talked myself into being excited about an 80s style fug-fest, having fantasies about lobster thermidor and the like. No lobster on the menu. Never mind, what were the specials? No specials, except the fish of the day: Trevalla done two ways. Trevalla was already on the menu as a regular dish. Crikey. Desperation set in. For entree I ordered tempura prawns and bloke ordered salt and pepper squid. The 'battered' (not a tempura's arse-hole!) prawns were reminiscent of dagwood dogs. At least the squid was not overcooked (perfectly done, actually) ... but what the hell was that McCormick shake n bake bloody salt and pepper? To be frank, based on these two dishes, there was no evidence that this chef had ever set foot in an authentic Chinese or Japanese restaurant in his life.
Thank God we played it safe with the mains: Steak. Perfectly cooked, tender and juicy. Phew. And the panna cotta dessert was nice. But I can get a decent steak at the Cascade Hotel. And I don’t usually order dessert.
The Astor is a beautiful old restaurant crying out for someone to come and take the reins and return it to the quality of its glory days. The awards on the walls (circa 1986, 1988, etc) tell of a time when this was a grand dining establishment. Now it is just Hogsbreath Cafe in a fancy frock. Prices are low enough to attract the Hogsbreath crowd, who behaved throughout the night in a Hogsbreath manner: loud, mobiles going off, shouting by the end of the evening. Even the alleged maitre d' was dressed as if he was ready for a shift at the all-night Waratah Hotel bottle shop after the restaurant closed.
Apart from the décor, which on a cold wintery night always looks so warm and inviting, there is nothing to recommend The Astor in its current guise. I won’t be back.