I've blogged about an experience at L'Academie before. It's a training restaurant facility and as a diner, you take advantage of that by enjoying bargain 3 course meals. Around now, as it's getting closer to Christmas, they have a special Christmas menu to chose from. Since my parents are huge fans of L'Academie, we made a booking to go.
In the past, we've all found that it wasn't necessary to make a booking. You can pretty much walk in, especially at lunch time and get seated. That's definitely not the case these days. We were squeezed in on a Monday evening because that was the only night available.
They put up Christmas decorations and there was 'I'm dreaming of a white Christmas' on a one-song loop. Needless to say, by the n'th repeat my ears were about to bleed but luckily, someone changed the CD before mains were served.
The thing about L'Academie that is a bit of a double-edged sword is that the courses come out really quickly. On one hand, if you've just finished work and your tummy is grumbling (like ours), this is a good thing. On the other hand, it's a reminder that most of the dishes in this restaurant aren't prepared to order. I didn't like that our entrees came out before bread plates were taken away... this has happened to me at a few restaurants (I swear I don't dawdle with bread!) and it's developed into a pet hate.
First up was some complimentary bread and butter. The bread was a bit like those Asian bakery-style breads that's sweet with a slightly waxy exterior. The butter had a nice herby flavor (dill and garlic?) but was stiff and difficult to spread. I got around that by greedily sandwiching a nob into my bread :).
For each of the courses, my parents and I chose different dishes so that we could try out as many different things as possible.
Beetroot risotto cake - with roasted field mushrooms, balsamic rocket and Australian Highland's goat's cheese
I got the beetroot risotto cake for entree. The risotto cake itself was quite bland - not a lot of flavor going on there. In this dish, the cheese did all the talking.
Mum chose the swimmer crab tian. It was a bit under-seasoned and we couldn't detect significant 'crabiness' but it wasn't unpleasant.
The chicken terrine was for dad. I've actually tried L'Academie's chicken terrine before. It's very flavorsome (to the point where it's too salty) and quite tasty.
Homemade gnocchi - with roast tomatoes, pistachios, sultanas, baby spinach and roaring forties blue cheese butter
Mains came not long after. I had the vegetarian homemade gnocchi. I absolutely loved this dish! I think it's too rustic to be considered 'fine dining' but the flavors were fantastic. I loved the subtle blue cheese undertones and the roasted tomatoes were just divine. This is a smashing vegetarian dish, my favorite of the mains.
Pan seared Atlantic salmon - accompanied with saffron risotto, cherry tomatoes, baby spinach and lemon beurre blanc
Dad's pan seared salmon was also well-received. I didn't think much of the saffron risotto but the salmon itself was a hearty portion and cooked well.
Mum had chosen the duck. Ironically, this is the main menu item that we all wanted to get and it turned out to be the most disappointing. The duck was extremely dry. The potato stack was pretty good though... if that can be counted as a redeeming feature.
By the time desserts came, my expectations were quite low. Thankfully, dessert was the best course of the evening!
The chocolate tart was to die for. I could happily eat an entire slab of that. It was rich, decadent yet not too sweet. As good as any full-priced restaurant-quality tart from elsewhere.
I loved the cheesecake too. Whilst I thought the accompanying mango pieces were more distracting than complimentary, the cheesecake itself was smooth and creamy - great consistency.
The creme brulee was the least well-received but it was still decent. All the components were there but it was overshadowed by the other 2 desserts.
This experience at L'Academie basically confirmed my previous observations. This place is hit-and-miss in terms of taste. The gnocchi and desserts were the occasional stand-outs. Some items were downright disappointing. Service is efficient and you get your food FAST. The dishes are presented beautifully. Regardless of all pros and cons, I still find L'Academie an indisputably good bargain.