Now, I've been in my share of restaurants all over Melbourne, so pardon me if I was a bit cynical before I boarded the Colonial Tramcar Restaurant. I thought I had seen it all before, after all, it was only a tarted up tramcar at the end of the day. Right?
I had read briefly about the Colonial Tramcar Restaurant when I first arrived in Melbourne, and I thought it was a cool/quirky idea, but as soon as it entered my mind, I forgot all about it, that was until it came to me when I was choosing a restaurant for my girlfriend's birthday. I tortured myself looking up restaurants all over the city and then I remembered that brochure I read when I first arrived here.
She had been dropping several heavy hits as to where she wanted to go, but through my own selfish wants and sheer pig headedness I went ahead and booked the tramcar. I knew it could easily go either way - a roaring success or a disaster I'd forever be reminded of. My decision was greatly helped by the amount of overwhelmingly positive reviews I had read on the internet. Surely all those people couldn't be wrong, and true to their word they weren't.
It was suggested that you be at the tram stop (tram stop 125 at the corner of Normanby Road & Clarendon Street) fifteen minutes before departure. We were there at least 25 minutes early and my girlfriend was starting to make her increasing hunger concerns known. As I scanned my various fellow dinners, who like us shuffled from one foot to the other, chatting about the day's events with a mix of confused anticipation on their faces, I began to panic and wonder should I have just gone ahead and booked a traditional restaurant.
All my worries quickly faded away as the first of the 5 bright wine coloured trams pulled up to the stop. The mere sight of the antiquated ornate tram made me excited. As the maitre d ushered us onto the second tramcar, a rush of excitement came over me. Thankfully we were seated in the front section of the tram. It was nice having the smaller space at the front of the tram with 3 other couples rather than the larger back section, especially seen as I had a trick up my sleeve for later on, which could lead to some embarrassment.
As we sat down in our comfortable booth, my default tourist mode quickly switched on - iPhone was quickly brandished to snap the exquisite interior. A beautiful mix of rich old fashioned leather and wood finishing, framed by brightly illuminated mirrors towards the back of the tram, with the tram itself bathed in romantic dimmed lighting. I imagined this is what it must have been like to be in first class on the great train journeys of the day, such as the Orient Express.
Our host for the evening quickly introduced himself along with his helper and the chef. A polite affable a professional type of chap, who answered any questions poised to him with great ease. I was a fan of his from the off, as he professionally manoeuvred and subdued the concerns of a fellow Italian diner who complained about the air con being too cold on him and his mother. He quickly gave us a rundown of the food on offer, the drinks available, the route the tram was taking and so forth.
We quickly devoured the plate of crackers that were positioned in front of us upon entry (served with Chicken Liver & Cognac Pate and Roasted Red Capsicum dips). The entrée was grilled Barramundi or (Seared) Kangaroo, I opted for the safe choice as I've yet to sample skip over here. The general consensus was the fish was the right choice. For the mains, you get the choice of Chicken or Steak, we both opted for the steak. I was disappointed with my steak I must admit, it was a bit old boot leathery for my liking.
However the atmosphere flowed like the wine as we shuffled around Melbourne and its famous landmarks & suburbs (with great efficiency). The tram skipping through the various place marks of Melbourne with the added bonus of tinted windows so as the gawking citizens of Melbourne can't see in (but the gawkers on the other side of the glass have a perfect view). The atmosphere on board trumped any restaurant I've ever been in; you could tell people were really enjoying this novelty. I took fair advantage of the free bar on offer - maybe one too many a glass of red was consumed. The friendly staff always on hand if anything was needed offering - i.e to take pictures.
The cheese tasting platter looked impressive and I'm sure it tasted lovely, but seeing as I was the lone cheese eater I meekly picked at the cheddar with an increasing full stomach and aware that space was still needed for dessert.
Amidst the romantic surrounds and easy on the ear music, I fell into a daze of contentment (maybe it was just the wine taking effect), but suddenly our host reappeared along with the words 'I'm told someone here is celebrating a birthday tonight?', cue embarrassing/delighted face of my girlfriend coupled with my own gurning visage opposite. As the host, plus me and my fellow dinners broke into a impromptu 'happy birthday', it seemed my gamble on the birthday cake paid off.
As we stopped for a leg stretching 10 minute rest at Albert Park, the chef offered to box our cake jokingly mentioning how he was going to divide it amongst himself and the other staff. I nervously laughed (I hoped he was joking as the cake cost me 35 dollars!). Dessert came in the form (of my favourite) Sticky Date Pudding or Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta, it went down a treat ably aided by a warm shot of port. Before we knew it, the tram was closing in on its original departure point, as we crossed the Sadridge Bridge to gaze out at the mesmerising scene that is Melbourne city at night. I gave thanks for a wonderful night amidst a wonderful city.
We suddenly came to a halt. I couldn't believe the 3 hours had passed so quickly. I could easily have spent another couple of hours onboard. As the host ushered us off, I thanked him and the staff for a wonderful night. How I laughed at my cynical former self as I skipped off the tram, gazing back at the now splendid tram bathed in light, it looked like something out of a movie set.
It was like the tram was almost smiling, like it had seen it all before, acknowledging the appreciative and wondrous looks its occupants gave it before they wandered off into the Melbourne night. The tram knew well it was the star of the show and we were its latest converts.
A delightful night out in Melbourne, the Colonial Tramcar really is something different, a unique dining experience and a must for anyone visiting Melbourne.