What you hope to find when re-examining a restaurant after a few years have elapsed is that maturity has taken a promising new place to an even higher level.
At the very least you expect the restaurant has remained solidly good, particularly when there have been no changes in its kitchen.
You hope for this because there is nothing drearier than writing about a once-great restaurant that is now on the decline.
So cheerlessly I report that my recent Bocado visits speak of a malaise in both the front of the house and in the scullery.
In 2006, when Bocado was born, I was thrilled with the bold flavours of Tomasz Gurzynski’s well-cooked Mediterranean food. I was also impressed with the caring service and the astonishingly fair prices. Bocado means ‘mouthful’ in Spanish and there were lots of those that made me smile.
But in 2009, those bocados are lacklustre, the service is amateur and the costs are up. After three-plus years, I wouldn’t begrudge the price rise (roughly $8-$10 per main dish) but when the quality has dropped, the hike smarts.
As for the food, I’d have another bowl of the roasted vegetable and mushroom soup (thickly satisfying). But that’s about it. A butternut squash soup spoke mostly (and uncomfortably) of cream. The grilled calamari arrives lukewarm, its texture rubbery, its flavour wan. Lots of medium rare lamb in the lamb starter, but the presentation is haphazard and the roasted vegetables beside it – zucchini, red pepper, onion – are fridge-cold.
It was unfortunate for Bocado that just the day before (at the Fraser CafÃ©) I had sampled a beet salad that made my heart soar. It made this version seem so dull – shredded beets on a bed of shredded romaine, with a few slivers of cold pear and untreated walnuts does not a memory make. None of the elements comes together in any meaningful way.
The meat from a lamb shank should fall sweetly from the bone into a pond of something delicious. Here it is bland, without lamb flavour, without the bone, and with the texture of pot roast. Medallions of lamb arrived well-done, tough, in a far too salty demi glace sauce. Chicken is dreary beneath its breading.
The Bocado lunch menu is the dinner menu, slightly tapered and with smaller price tags. At each visit, lunch and dinner, the special is salmon Provencal. There’s nothing special about it. The fish filet sits on an ample bed of inedibly crunchy, lukewarm rice, scattered with soggy zucchini, grape tomatoes and unseasoned carrots. I eat the fish, which is tolerable, and must leave the rest.
All desserts are imported from other shops. The apple tart is fridge-cold, has a soggy crust and comes with fake whipped cream. The chocolate mousse cake in a Mediterranean restaurant doesn’t appeal.
At my final visit, during dessert and coffee, I am well aware of an animated discussion unfolding in the kitchen, punctuated with shouting, laughter and a parade of salty language. The doors may be closed, but soundproof they aren’t. We may be the only table left in the dining room, but it’s 1:30 p.m. and lunch service isn’t over, gentlemen. Temper your conversations until the paying public has left the building.
We finish our espresso (which arrives tepid) pay the bill, fetch our own coats and let ourselves out.