Marc and I stumbled across Spaghetti House once, many years ago when it was in West End. I enjoyed the food we had that night and kept meaning to go back but things got in the way and suddenly there were all these new other restaurants to try. Before I knew it, Spaghetti House had relocated to South Bank.
Revisits continued to alude me and once we then moved to Sinnamon Park, South Bank was a chore to get to. Last weekend, our group of friends caught up over dinner. When brainstorming for dinner locations, dozens of new establishments jumped into my brain for attention but for whatever reason, I got hooked on the idea of Spaghetti House. It was an irresistible combination of nostalgia, promise of carbohydrates and their limited edition lobster gnocchi that drew me in and blocked off all other suggestions.
I made the booking online and in doing so, came across some less than complimentary online reviews. Alarm bells went off but I when I researched the menu, I found it hadn't changed much since the West End days so I assumed standards would be the same. I put the bad reviews down to service issues and pushed through with the dinner plans.
We met on a Saturday night and were seated just after 8:30pm. The place was packed when we first got there but as our meal came to a conclusion, Spaghetti House was packing up around us, which I guess is fair enough considering it would have been quite late by then.
I didn't see much of the inside of the restaurant but the outside space is huge. The weather in Brisbane these days is as close to perfection as there ever will be in the world so it was an ideal time to embrace the elements.
Members of our group arrived at different times so we kicked the night off with drinks. There are Italian beers on tap, quirky craft beers, wine and cocktails. The girls mostly stuck to cocktails and the boys drank Peroni.
The menu at Spaghetti House actually looks quite promising if you're after wide options of standard Italian fare. There are starters, a section for gnocchi and risotto, and a mix and match pasta section to marry the flavours you want with your favourite pasta shape. There is another section with chef's recommendations, all of which sounded very appealing to me.
Arancini al gamberi, polpette con pomodoro and calamari friti
As a group we decided to order shared starters and choose our own mains. The food didn't take too long to start arriving, and I for one was ravenous so after an awkward moment where no one wanted to be the first to dig in, I broke the seal.
The calamari was dry but I didn't mind the other two starters. Jenny reprimanded my lack of judgement and exclaimed "can't you tell the arancini is undercooked?" I tried a few more bites and can now confirm there were indeed chalky risotto grains all throughout. I'm not sure what she had against the meatballs (possibly the sauce?); to me they weren't anything special but at least edible.
When the mains arrived, I could no longer ignore the low quality of food. I went around the table sampling everyone's dishes and the general consensus is poor. I'll start with the positive by saying serving sizes for the most part were quite generous. The pasta was offered in 'small' or 'large' sizes and we found the large to be probably too large, even for the boys with big appetites.
Cannelloni con granchio - baked sand crab, pomodoro and bechamel cannelloni
The only exception I found was my sand crab cannelloni, which I ordered in small. The plate was sizeable but it was literally just one thin cannelloni swimming in a wide pool of sauce. I left this feedback elsewhere and Spaghetti House retorted that I should have ordered large... maybe so but as someone who had not observed their varying sizes of cannelloni before, one single cannelloni is barely an entree and can not compare to the adequate servings of the other mains that were also ordered in 'small'. The sauce was quite tasty but overly sweet for my liking and I couldn't find salt on the table. There were no detectable traces of sand crab meat in the cannelloni.
Spaghetti ragu a la bolognese - slow cooked pork and beef with sofrito, wine and tomato
Mork's spaghetti was bloated and overcooked. The sauce is supposed to be slow cooked pork and beef, which evokes the thought of pulled meat but the actual textural composition was just mince particles. Flavourwise, it was much too tart; I felt like I had just sucked on a lemon after my mouthful.
Fettucine vongole - baby clams, chili, garlic, wine and parsley
Unicorn described her pasta as 'unflavoured cooked pasta'. I had to try some for myself and have to agree that it tasted exactly like unflavoured, cooked pasta. There was no sauce to this dish so she was eating plain fettuccine with garnishes of clam.
Pappardelle con ragu d'agnello - four hour cooked lamb shoulder ragu with pappardelle
Marc ordered the lamb ragu pappardelle, a dish we had tried at West End Spaghetti House. At the time I had mostly positive things to say about this dish but something must have changed because the current version lacked flavour and barely had any meat.
Pesce marinara - prawns, mussels, calamari, clams, salmon and tomato
Like the bolognaise and the meatballs, the marinara sauce was too acidic and there was so much sauce. All we could taste was tomato, which is a lovely flavour and integral to Italian cuisine but needs to be balanced or cooked out. There was a combination of small and large prawns, suggesting that the seafood mix is likely to be prepackaged and frozen...
Lobster gnocchi - limited time special
The last item I have to cover is Jenny's lobster gnocchi. In terms of flavour, I liked this sauce the best. It was a nice mix of sweet, savoury and creamy with a (very) mild seafoody twang. I wouldn't have known this was lobster if it wasn't on the menu and I think I may have scored the only piece of 'lobster' in the entire dish. I personally don't enjoy large servings of gnocchi because it tastes too gluggy to me but that's not really the fault of the dish.
We had a disappointing meal experience at Spaghetti House. The service was reasonable, aside from one moment when the wrong dishes were brought to our table and then whisked away without any explanation.
What I do take issue to is the fact that I summarized my feelings on Dimmi (which has since mysteriously disappeared) and Spaghetti House replied with an air of indignity, claiming we should have said something on the night. If it was just one or two dishes I can understand how raising the issue would help matters but when it was practically every dish we tasted that fell flat, it's difficult to bring that up to the busy waiters on the night. We are just a group of friends trying to catch up over dinner and when I'm dining out at a restaurant, I don't expect to have to give a stream of feedback to staff to keep the food acceptable and edible.
Spaghetti House also alluded to the fact that my negative review was against the grain of public opinion. Give me a break. If the management was more familiar with what other diners are saying about them they would realise it is not us but they who have a problem. There are too many good Italian restaurants in Brisbane to waste our carbohydrate allowance on mediocre food. We won't be going back.