Playground Martini and Tapas Bar - Garema Place, Civic

I had a good first impression of this place - there was a definite cute, playful vibe and I really liked the canopy of ropes across the ceiling. The AV projector created the effect of flying birds fluttering about the tree on the wall, which was unexpectedly quirky. The use of the black walls as a blackboard was effective, especially with the coloured chalk.

However, that good impression did not last long. We sat down on the coloured stools and it took over half an hour before the wait staff noticed us and offered menus. There were only a handful of patrons (including us) in the bar that evening.

When I read the drinks menu, I was excited to try the innovative-sounding creations. A few that stood out for me were the Early Grey Martini (not sure if that was a typo on their part), the Pomegranate Martini, the Dewberry Martini and the Scarlett Martini. However, I settled on the Choc Martini, which unfortunately, was a let down. It lacked the rich, chocolatey flavour I expected of a chocolate martini.

Working our way through the menu, things did not improve. The Peach Monkey Bar Martini tasted like fruity sugar water and the Coffee Martini tasted like what I would imagine dirty dishwater to taste like.

The only drink where I actually enjoyed the taste, was something that the bartender did not make - the Three Sheets Pale Ale, which, oddly enough, was served in a jar. Maybe this is what all the hip youngsters are doing these days - drinking beer from jars in playgrounds.

It was nice to see cider was part of their range. In fact, they even stocked my favourite brand - Rekorderlig (in various flavours) but the prices were off-putting.

Chargrilled garlic prawns with avocado salsa ($15) The prawns were barely warm when they arrived and went cold very quickly but the flavours stood out and the accompanying sauce (garlic aioli) was sensational.

Beef sliders, onion rings, chutney ($14) The menu promised onion rings and chutney with the beef sliders, which I was really looking forward to, but when the sliders came out, there was no sight of the onion rings or chutney. After peering under the bun to look for the onion rings, we came to the conclusion that the tiny little spring onion rings sprinkled on the plate must have been what they meant! This was quite disappointing as we ordered this dish based on the misleading menu description. Despite this, the sliders themselves tasted pretty good. The bun to meat ratio leant a bit too much to the bun side, but this was easily overlooked because the sauce inside was deliciously flavourful – it reminded me a bit like a creamy peri peri sauce.

Smoked ham hock croquettes with garlic mayo ($12) This is the dish I enjoyed the least and would not order again. For $12, you got 4 small fingers of fried mashed potato (that’s $3 per croquette!). In hindsight, I should have included a fork in the photo so you could see just how tiny the croquettes were. Inside the croquettes were very very small bits of unidentifiable meat. I couldn’t even tell it was ham hock, let alone that it had been smoked. It could have been cut up spam for all I knew. Luckily, the accompanying sauce (garlic mayo this time) came to save the day again.

Clockwise from top left:

Braised lamb shoulder, smoked eggplant $15 I quite enjoyed this dish. The flavour of the meat paired really well with the smokiness and the texture of the eggplant.

Fried whitebait, paprika, sea salt $14 The whitebait was cooked very well, the batter was crisp, the meat was still juicy and tender.

Haloumi soldiers, chargrilled tomato puree $13 Not the best haloumi I've ever had, and the tomato puree was unmemorable.

Chilli pig skin crackling, paprika $10 This is worse value than the croquettes. Whereas the croquettes were expensive, they were still tasty. The crackling was expensive and boring. Each piece was dry and hard, very difficult to chew, and worst of all - lacked any sort of flavour.

Overall, the highlights were the creative interior design of the bar and the sauces that came with the dishes. However, the novelty of the bar may soon wear off...perhaps the wait staff could spend less time socialising behind the bar, and pay a bit more attention to the patrons. Playground bar has potential, but the lack of detail lets it down. With upmarket prices come proportionate expectations of quality food and service; and unfortunately, the menu over sells and under delivers.

Food Avenue rating: 5/10.

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