Ever wondered what delights and/or horrors await behind the decorative doors of Melbourne’s theatre restaurants? We sent theatre critics Andrew Furhmann and Gram Morris, and food critic Gemima Cody to find out

Titanic Theatre Restaurant

Eat your heart out, Clive Palmer. David Varney’s bluestone-pub-turned-Titanic-diner provides all the weird and wonderful we need

Dinner
That something this whimsically insane exists – and that it’s packed from starboard to port every Saturday – fills us with such fist-biting joy, we have a shaky moment on Titanic where we almost completely lose it. Not during the appropriately sad reading of the death toll at the end. Not even during Celine Dion, by which point everyone has unhooked their emotions and inhibitions with rainbow cocktails, Crown lagers and bottles of Mumm. It happens as our bushy Captain commences a surprisingly thrusty rendition of ‘Gangnam Style’. Yep, Titanic is everything we dreamed – chandeliers, linen, and pinny-wrapped waitresses included – with less water and more charm. Commander-in-chief David Varney has us on board from the moment he implores we arrive in “after-five wear". We’re announced at dinner. We’re invited to waltz. And just because we can, we go buck wild and knock back a Bailey’s Irish Cream. The whole night feels like a nautical ‘90s wedding and is every bit as nostalgically awesome as that sounds. We get alternating dishes – huge creamy chicken vol au vents or arancini; roast chicken or a medium-well done steak with creamy mash and greens, chased with a dainty Pavlova and a chocolate mousse cake. Is this a life altering gustatory voyage? Perhaps not. But it’s not trying to be and the food is not the point. It's a package of daggy joy. Go. As fast as your land legs can take you. GC

...and the show
The line of stretch limousines out front is just the tip of the iceberg. Inside, fashions are fancier than a Cup Day birdcage. Guests are encouraged to indulge the fantasy of travelling first class; the venue even helps with costume hire. The decor is a charming blend of old-school upscale pub and cruise-ship dining room: it flatters those who’ve made an effort without overwhelming those who left their feathered fascinators at home. As for the show, it’s a sort of nautical-themed comedy cabaret, led by the goatish Captain Smith. This is fairly crude stuff, production-wise, but it’s diverting. In the end, we all live to see New York, and there’s a neat /coup de theatre/ moment to banish all thoughts an icy death. If you’re allergic to soft-hearted, cornball entertainment you might find yourself all at sea, but if you’re suffering hipster fatigue and craving the simple pleasures of dress-ups, cocktails and the chicken dance, then try Titanic, you’ll have a marritime, foreshore. AF

Schnitz’n’tits at Cellar Bar

Once a month, Cellar Bar tries its hand at making schnitz’n’tits a classy affair

Dinner
The gold tasseled room is ‘80s excess awesome, and for $30 entry, you're furnished with a crumbed pork or veal ciabatta and chips (with truffle salt. See? Classy as), and a five-minute show culminating in nipple on the hour. Getting fed and flashed for $30 is a bargain by Melbourne standards. They do great cocktails here too. If we’re honest, we’re probably more aroused by the bartenders’ shaking skills than the dancers’. The schnitzel sandwich isn't bad – wafer thin fillets wearing thick breadcrumb jackets in chewy, salad-stuffed ciabatta. But there’s the question of etiquette. Do we keep eating during the dance? We’re not sure, and spend the five minutes with sandwich poised mid-air, which in turn fills us with fear of looking vaguely menacing. But, if you can overcome the awkwardness of someone disrobing during dinner, there are shits and giggles to be had. Or, simply say no to mammaries and hit the bar at the weekend for martinis. GC

...and the show
I was expecting a homely yet somewhat world-wearied woman named Marg to be half naked and taking our orders. What we got instead was an hourly show that was neither stripping nor burlesque. I spoke to one of the dancers briefly and she was quick to draw a line between stripper and showgirl. If you haven’t seen the 1995 movie and you don’t know what a showgirl is, think high school Rock Eisteddfod with breasts. I’m not really the market for this stuff but in the name of journalism I tried to be aroused. They’re beautiful girls and the dancing is ‘hot’, but trying to eat and get turned on in a room full of forty other men while Dolly Parton blares out of the speakers is a bit like trying to wee when you’ve got an erection. There’s definitely a gap in the market for a Hooters-type restaurant in Australia, and with the right formula, something like this might work. By the way did you know Hooters had an airline in America? They went broke. True story. GM

Draculas Cabaret

Expect g-strings, pasties, lots of bump and plenty of grind

Dinner
Look, it’s simple stuff – you’ll start in the bar with mustardy chopped chicken heaped onto Ritz crackers and talon-like prawn filo pastries – but what Draculas lacks in culinary fireworks, they make up for with the novelty of fishbowls filled with Vok-based cocktails, syringes filled with jelly shots and a boobtacular show. It’s essentially like a pub meal crossed with the sugary joys of a party at Pizza Hut. Three courses are all banged out pre-performance at a hell of a clip. The set entrée comprises of a chicken tikka or caramelised onion tart chased by fish, chicken, lamb or a vegetarian chill affair we’re promised “isn’t as shit as it sounds.” It's not. Grilled lamb rump arrives in a glossy coat of gravy atop a simple stack of steamed broccolini (fancy!) and mash. It’s pretty simple, but the meat is pink, the serve is burly and it hits the table hot and fast. Fear hyperglycaemia? Go for Coopers over cocktails. They're touted as “so sweet you’ll think you’re in heaven” – they lie not. GC

...and the show
The new Draculas floorshow – “Bloodbath” – is much closer to a goth-themed Crazy Horse-style cabaret than the winking schlock-horror homages of old. Out with the vampires and in with vamps. At least the club’s reputation for technical excellence remains undimmed: this show runs tighter than an hourglass corset. It features some very swish projection mapping, a lewd but irresistible black-light puppetry routine and no end of funky stage effects. Yes, the pert and nubile charms loom large, but there’s abundant acrobatic and musical talent, too. Lauren Skopalova and her aerial contortions are jaw-dropping, while the enthusiasm of the house band is contagious. Comic interludes are off colour, but strike a chord with the punters: after more than thirty years in the game, Draculas knows its audience. Still, the raunchy new aesthetic does sit uncomfortably with the venue’s now somewhat naff Halloween theme – the ghost train and papier-mâché gargoyles – and we might be seeing the start of a more thorough reinvention of Melbourne’s longest running cabaret restaurant. AF

Witches in Britches

Looking for a ribald, rough-edged, sketch-comedy cavalcade? Look ye to the neon castle on King Street

Dinner
You can honestly have a rollicking good knees-up at Witches in Britches. We know. We’ve had one. But that’s more something you’ll conjure from your soul than your surroundings. As far as novelty dining goes, this is just so daggy it comes full circle and becomes great. Visiting the bar helps – a ghoulish den replete with faux snakes and eyeballs where jugs of Carlton Draught, busty wenches and syrupy Love Bite cocktails provide a bolstering shot in the arm. This isn’t such food as chefs or diners dreams are made of – squishy pasta licked with a tame Napoli sauce is followed by your choice of two mains and a chewy date pudding, seemingly fresh from the microwave. Our lamb actually has a decent slow-cooked stickiness, and though the chips and lettuce both want for crispness they provide the much-needed ballast to get you from door to the post-show disco in an upright fashion. Keep your mind ratcheted wide open. If in doubt, just add beer. It gets better, we promise. GC

...and the show
The venue is decked according to a low-budget exploitation horror theme, but the stage show tends toward rude, pop-culture parodies. The gags come thick and fast, the good, the bad and the heinous. The brow is so low it might as well be a simian shelf: words like puerile, distasteful and imbecilic spring easily to mind. But there’s an infectious earnestness, too – the warmth of improv comedy – which is guaranteed to win over all but the most self-righteous. There are some decent singing voices in the cast, but the heart of the show is James Seamark, a priapic little goblin whose shuddering pelvis will be in your face all night. A new show is due to be launched in May, which is good, because the current routine – “Witches of Oz” – has worn perilously thin in places. Still, if your tastes are broad enough – like, Broadmeadows broad – the witches and their tiny, tiny britches will, as promised, have you in stitches. AF

First published on . Updated on .

By Gemima Cody, Andrew Fuhrmann and Gram Morris   |  

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