Swan or ugly duckling?

The red velvet lounge  in Cygnet exudes local charm.  The first giveaway is the proliferation of people mingling around the dining room.  Half of the patrons are standing around their tables with a glass of wine as if they’re at the pub.  A great cavern of a room which, in its heyday was the local theatre, the walls are painted red and there are large theatrical red curtains.  The staff are friendly ( if a little wary of newcomers ). 

I am always slightly cautious of places that have been hyped up and unfortunately I was right to have my doubts.  Entrees sounded suitably enticing, all seasonally appropriate.  I settled for the angel hair pasta with crab, chilli, garlic and pangrattato.  This was a foolish choice because I frequent a restaurant in my local town who offer an angel hair pasta dish which I adore and cherish and eat often.  So the red velvet lounge had a lot to live up to before it had even begun.  Beautifully cooked crab was a good start but then an overpowering citrus tang left the subtlety of crab meat in the shade; coupled with pasta which reminded me of two minute noodles, things weren’t boding well.  It was by no means unpleasant, just a shame that the balance of the dish was askew.

Being the English woman that I am, if I see a dish which vaguely resembles a roast dinner then I am sold.  So it was no great surprise that I opted for roast chicken with peas, onion soubise and honeyed parsnip.  I requested a leg and thigh as opposed to the breast and my wish was granted.  The meat was mostly moist with occasional dry patches, ( starting to sound like a weather forecast ) honeyed parsnips were tasty but again the honey overshadowed the main event.  Onion soubise had good flavour but was as cloying as treacle and I feared for what it may do to my innards.  Again, tasty enough but i was left waiting for the main event…  My fellow diners spoke of pies that were too dry and chickpea stews which were also too dry. 

I have to remind you that this is a cafe which opens for a couple of evenings a week, and not a fancy restaurant.  But, if you ask me, if something’s worth doing, it is worth doing properly.  And to my consternation, it lacked the care and thought that I would have liked to see.  It is a place which champions local food, makes its locals feel incredibly welcome and brews a damn fine coffee.  As a last resort I ordered a pear clafoutis with salted caramel ice cream. The ice cream was divine, heavenly, I could eat a bucket of it and the clafoutis itself was pleasant, if a touch too sweet. 

So many country towns have their signature restaurant and this is Cygnets place to be.  I think in a town where you dominate the market in terms of modern australian fare it would be easy to become complacent and I fear the red velvet lounge has done just that.  And what a shame, because I think it has the tools to be truly memorable…  If they were a restaurant which served only salted caramel ice cream, I would go every day for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

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