Psst: Hot Tip for Inexpensive 5-Star Experience

View from Sofitel Melbourne on Collins
View from Sofitel Melbourne on Collins – subterranean secret dining.  Photo: G Kemlo

One of Melbourne’s best kept culinary secrets is buried beneath the Paris end of Collins Street at Sofitel Melbourne On Collins.

I wish I could tell you to go to a special door confidently give the secret knock and you’d be in like Flynn, but there’s no signage and select few know about it. Thousands walk on top of it every day at busy Collins Place.

This subterranean gastronomy occurs in a basement level training restaurant called the Pantry, attached to Academy Sofitel, the hotel’s regional training school.

Well, ‘le chat est sorti du sac’, so I guess I should disclose at this point that my son, Christopher, is a graduate of Academy Sofitel and our family has dined once, a couple, a few  oh OK, I confess we’ve eaten plenty at the 50-seat Pantry where culinary trainees manned the kitchen and management trainees were front of house. It has been around 10 years and is now run in conjunction with Victoria University.

It opens Wednesdays through mid-September and it is the real deal, however you slice and dice it: a three course a la carte lunch costs $35 a head, while dinner is only $38 for three courses including petit fours. Drinks are extra. But really, you could spend more at a fast food outlet and get no service.

Apart from the food, half the fun of dining at the Pantry is getting there via an underground maze of stairs, corridors and the occasional lift – so best to book (03) 9653 7744, tell ’em Graeme sent you and meet in the hotel lobby where you can be personally escorted below stairs.

And while it is full of trainees, there are no L plates here – it is fine five star fare and service, supervised by Academy staff.  The restaurant recently won ‘Best Restaurant in a training institute’ at the Restaurant & Catering 2013 Victorian Awards For Excellence.

Graeme Kemlo

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