We have some friends in Sydney with a country retreat in Mittagong, about 90 minutes south-west of Sydney. For three years they have been telling us we’re welcome to use it anytime and now that we’re finally here, I don’t know why it’s taken us so long to take them up on their kind offer.
We’ve been cooking on the bar-be-cue most nights but last night we ventured into the town of Mittagong for a break in the routine. With a population of just 7,000 we knew we wouldn’t be spoiled for choice but thought we would be able to find a family-friendly pizza place for a casual dinner.
On the main road we found Vin Santo Restorante. It has a cute facade and the two flags are a welcoming touch however the inside is a bare cavernous space that really needs some banquettes or similar structures to create a more intimate dining experience.
We walked in on the dot of 6pm and having arrived so early we were the first of that night’s arrivals. Being a casual looking place with its grey carpet, chequered white and green tablecloths, artificial candles, Christmas decorations (Christmas in July?) and 1970’s bar area, we were expecting the restaurant to be inexpensive and BYO however we found it over-priced and fully licensed.
The young and enthusiastic waiter greeted us at the door with, ‘How are ewes goin’?’ and we replied we were all good and I spotted a heater at the front of the restaurant and asked if we could sit at the table closest to the heater (seeing as it was 6C (42F) outside) but for some reason he said we couldn’t sit there but could have the next closest table.
As soon as we sat down the waiter asked, ‘Would ewes like some menus?’ and I really think that is a question that doesn’t need to be asked. He asked us if we’d like something to drink but then hadn’t given us the drinks’ menu so disappeared again and came back and then hovered while we made our decision. Wine by the glass was reasonably priced at $7.00 and it was good to see they stock wines produced in the local area.
Then the waiter brought over a bottle of tap water with some ice in it and said, ‘I’ve just filled this bottle and only just put the ice in it so if you want to drink cold water just leave it for a few minutes so it has a chance to cool down’. He then stood there ready to take our orders and I felt like the night was progressing on fast-forward.
We started looking over the menu and the menus are of the size that are too big to lay on the table and when you hold them up, so large that they totally obscure the person sitting opposite you. Quite unnecessary. There didn’t seem to be an entree section so we decided to go straight for a main course. I just couldn’t see anything tempting on the double sided menu at all. It reminded me of the bastardised Italian fare we used to be served when eating out in the 70’s – spaghetti bolognese, tortellini boscaiola, penne napolitano, lasagne and of course, fettuccine marinara. Terribly lacking in imagination.
The other mains were equally as uninspiring with a pork cutlet, chicken breast or steak (at $38.00) being pretty much the only options. The special of the day was chicken parmigiana served with hot chips and salad but I wouldn’t consider that ‘special’ more just ordinary pub food.
The pizzas seemed more interesting. Alfie ordered a meat lovers from the children’s menu. Carl ordered the ‘special’ that was chorizo with rocket and a capsicum sauce. There wasn’t a gluten-free option on the menu but I asked if they made GF pizzas and was told they were available however they come in a smaller size. This would suggest to me that the GF bases are out-sourced rather than being freshly made on the premises. I ordered the prosciutto, pesto and artichoke pizza with caramelised onion and fresh tomato with the smaller GF base.
We also ordered a ‘garlic loaf’ that we imagined would be substantial considering they were charging $8.00 for it. The waiter asked, ‘Would you like that as an entree?’ He seemed determined to ask questions with obvious answers. When Carl ordered the pizza he told us that before service the staff sits down as a family and has a meal together and that night they’d had the pizza Carl had ordered and he just wanted to tell Carl how good it was and how much they had all enjoyed it. Righto.
It wasn’t long before the garlic loaf arrived and it wasn’t the size we were expecting. Just five small slices of bread (three if you don’t count the crusts) costing more than a dollar each and while the bread was hot to touch on the outside, it was stone cold on the inside and the butter hadn’t even had a chance to melt.
Then the pizzas arrived and I noticed they were round pizzas cut into tiny little squares – vive la difference. Alfie’s eyes lit up as he spied his pizza stacked generously high with toppings. Carl loved his pizza and ate every bit of it. The waiter asked him how he liked it and Carl said, ‘I think that’s the best pizza I’ve ever had’, (but just remember Carl has not once ever had a bad meal). And then the waiter told us again how all the staff had enjoyed the same pizza for dinner pre-service and that it was the chef’s own special creation and as Carl had given it such high praise would he mind if he passed on his compliments to the chef. Honestly!
And then there was my pizza. Hmmm. No generous piling high of toppings. The GF base was excellent and I wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference between that and non-GF. It was thin and crispy which is just how I like my pizza bases. I was hoping the pesto would be freshly dolloped onto the pizza as it came out of the oven so that it would bring a vibrant greenness to the pizza and then maybe finished off with a drizzle of olive oil and showering of fresh basil leaves but alas, the pesto was thinly smeared onto the base so it turned that brown colour and the smearing was so thin I couldn’t taste the pesto at all. As for the artichokes well where were they? The fresh tomatoes were so finely diced they also become insignificant and not worth a mention in the menus description. I could definitely taste the proscuitto and it was so salty I had three glasses of water to get through it.
Alfie had an ice cream that came out in a stainless steel bowl that immediately takes you back to 1975. I thought it was included as part of a kid’s dinner package but it was separately charged. I also ordered him a kids drink but it came out adult sized and was charged accordingly.
We didn’t stay for anything extra. Somehow three pizzas, one ice cream, a garlic loaf and three drinks cost nearly $100.00.
I did notice quite a few locals coming in and buying takeaway pizzas. Perhaps what Vin Santo does best is make pizzas but at over $25.00 per pizza they’re not cheap. The waiter was genuinely eager to please however could probably try to be more discreet and less obvious with his every approach to our table needing to be acknowledged.
I found the prices at Vin Santo to be almost at a fine dining level and when the setting, service and menu fall short of the prices charged, the only result can be a disappointing dining experience.
Verdict: Best avoided.
Vin Santo Ristorante. 105 Old Hume Highway, Mittagong NSW 2575. Ph: (02) 4872 4300
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