Remember the Mr Bean episode where he attempts to hide steak tartare it different parts of the table — flower vase, salt shaker, lady's purse etc. That's the feeling we experienced at the Crowne Plaza's Aria. Not because the meals were horrible (they definitely weren't) but because the serving sizes were so big that we felt bad about sending near full plates back to the kitchen. If you've been starving on a desert island for months, this is the place for you.
Aria is located in the first level of the Crowne Plaza. The kitchen is run by Adrian Walker who comes with more than 15 years' experience in some of Melbourne's best fine dining establishments. He also happens to be the executive chef at Lake Taupo's Hilton. You could say he's experienced with the circuitry of hotel food.
The restaurant is large but manages to retain a cosy feel with long cushy bench seating and a gas fire feature separating the room. On this visit it appears we're the only local diners for the night — not peculiar for a hotel restaurant — the rest of the patronage is made up of Lion's fans and visiting business men. Given the size of the dining room, it's interesting they seat everyone in the same belt of tables.
The menu is a combination of bistro and gastropub. You'll find things like Pacific oysters thrown in with grilled vegetable quesadillas, pork and pistachio terrine and house made pumpkin ravioli. The latter is under the entree header but, depending on your appetite, could be considered a main course. We shared the dish between two and received four large ravioli, firm to the bite and accompanied with mouthwatering sage butter.
The main section is broken up into two, including one dedicated to meat from the grill. Here you'll find classics like eye fillet, scotch fillet, lamb cutlets and salmon. We opted for the uncategorised section, choosing the Indonesian beef rendang and the fish of the day with a side of fries. The rendang came in two separate receptacles — one with rice, once with curry — from which you could have fed the entire family of three at the table next door.
The fish of the day (gurnard in this instance) was a similar head-size portion. The fragrant dish came with a ragout complete with fennel, capsicum and chilli. The accompanying garlic crostini was loaf size and would have been perfect to soak up the remaining sauce had we not been bursting.
Needless to say dessert was off the cards but the Whittaker's chocolate tart was certainly screaming out. Next time.