The most romantic night of the year is also a minefield for lovers of fine food and wine. Greedy Girl and gluttonous husband have tried their fair share of dining experiences on Valentine’s Day (night) and have come to the conclusion that, for lovers of fine dining, it’s probably better to stay home.

Our Valentine’s tradition is to polish off a beautiful crayfish (lobster) and a bottle of 2006 Leeuwin Estate Art Series Chardonnay from Margaret River in Western Australia. Greedy Girl can attest that a late (southern hemisphere) summer evening feasting out on her own balcony is much preferable to a comedy of gastronomic errors out in restaurant land.

One Valentine’s Day, when gluttonous husband was still a rapacious boyfriend, Greedy Girl was treated to an evening out at a time-honoured establishment, Florentino, in Australia’s food capital of Melbourne.

Florentino was established around 1928 although the current chef Guy Grossi took it over in 1999. Apart from a long tradition of the finest Italian cooking, the restaurant is noted for its olde worlde dining room, with tapestry-upholstered chairs, ornate light sconces, murals and frescoes.

This particular Valentine’s night, the room was also liberally sprinkled with pink rose petals; a delightful sight that, literally, got right up gluttonous husband’s nose … but such are the demands of romance, he manfully tried to stifle the twitches and sneezes.

As far as the kitchen is concerned, it should make no difference whether it’s a Valentine’s feast or any other night of the year. Having to deal with the dominance of tables a deux and a wait staff that generally would prefer not to be in attendance, Greedy Girl is yet to experience a dining destination that trades solely on the food on this particular day, rather than some manufactured sentimentality.

Not to put too fine a point on it, Greedy Girl hopes that any soppiness is confined to the expressions uttered by the love-struck individuals concerned, rather than the dishes presented at table.

This particular evening at Florentino, the starters were brilliant but things went downhill from there; the main course was uninspired and the dessert was, well, something that should never have left the kitchen.

Gluttonous husband loves tiramisu. This was on offer for the final course and presented by the waiter, with quite the flourish, in a large bowl. He proceeded to cut a wedge through the chocolate-flecked creamy outer layer and tried to lever it from the bowl onto the plate.

But it wasn’t so much as a wedge showing the lovely layers of coffee-soaked sponge fingers, cream and chocolate. It vaguely resembled a plate of porridge. In short, it was just a mess and the hapless waiter kept piling ever sloppier bits on top. He started to laugh. We started to laugh. We thought, any minute, he’d apologise, take the disaster back to the kitchen and try another approach. He didn’t. That sorry, laughable sight was our dessert. It’s not a good look in any restaurant but when you’re shelling out serious dollars for a fine dining experience it’s extremely poor.

And therein lies the problem in dining out on Valentine’s – so many restaurants that, virtually any other day of the year, have personable, engaged wait staff and stellar food, morph into a sub-par experience. Is there an assumption that the diners are too busy staring into each other’s eyes to notice what’s on their plate, or the perfunctory attitude of the staff?

At one exceedingly high-ranking French restaurant in Melbourne one Valentine’s, Greedy Girl’s evening started off exceptionally well. What she thought was the amuse bouche was ferried to her table under a cloche – only to reveal a jewellery box and a pair of beautiful earrings. Absolutely on a high after that the wait staff (many of whom we knew quite well being regular diners) quickly developed what could only be described as gallic shrugs for the rest of the night. There is no menu at this particular establishment, so the descriptions of the staff as the plates were presented was fairly crucial. It was basically left up to us to determine what we were eating as most courses were dropped in front of us with no communication other than ‘Voila’.

Having said all that, one must feel for staff on ‘holiday’ or other significant evenings. Presumably they’d prefer to be home with their nearest and dearest as well but the marketing of Valentine’s as a night for wining and dining is, in Greedy Girl’s experience, a huge let down in reality. Choose another night and you’ll probably get better service, better food and a less expensive bill.

Valentine’s Day – sadly, a night for whining and dining.

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