Southern Ocean Lodge was our fourth hotel in our Australian holiday; we came via the Park Hyatt in Sydney, Thala Beach Lodge near Port Douglas, and Longitude 131 at Uluru / Ayers Rock. Whereas the first three pleased us very much, in their very different ways, Southern Ocean Lodge, with it's cocktail of superlatives and negatives, was ultimately an expensive disappointment and we were quite happy when the time came to leave.
First, the superlatives.
The architecture, in side and outside, is nothing short of wonderful. When you first arrive, you are greeted in the "Great Room", a huge circular space tastefully and invitingly furnished, with floor-to-ceiling panoramic windows affording spectacular cliff-top views. The vast ceiling seems to float without any visible means of support. By night the windows provide spectacular reflections of the gorgeous interior space, and in particular the reflections of the spot list in the ceiling crater a wonderful illusion of a canopy of stars.
The spacious and luxurious bedroom suites are equally delightful, curving down the cliff-top in a way that provides great views from the floor-to-ceiling windows and private patios.
The staff are friendly, cheerful and genuinely do their best to make your stay as enjoyable as possible.
The cleaning and maintenance of the suites and public spaces is practically perfect (yet inconspicuous). This includes keeping the huge floor-to-ceiling windows beautifully clean in all weathers.
Kangaroo Island provides spectacular coastlines, interesting flora, seals, sea lions, koala, and kangaroos - all accessible using the Lodge's well-organized inclusive tours.
We like the "all inclusive" approach. It is not just the tours that are bundled in with you stay - tea, coffee, snacks, wine, champagne, and liqueurs are "all in"' and you can either help yourself or be served by the attentive staff. The wine selection - all from vineyards in South Australia and several from Kangaroo Island itself - is superb.
So what are the negatives?
Our principle issue is with the philosophy of the cuisine. At both lunch and dinner you are offered a choice between two options for your entree and main course. However the style of cooking is assertively and uncompromisingly modern, with small portions (which is fine bearing in mind you are being fed with four courses), but generally aggressively flavoured with a complex "broth", "jus", vinaigrette or paste. It is an attempt at a sort of eclectic "fusion" style of cuisine, combining flavours from all over the world in a single dish. The chef clearly thinks very carefully about all his ingredients and flavours, and you will either love it or hate it. But because you are offered a choice between only two items, all our party had the experience of really not wanting either, e.g. the occasion when the lunch choice was goat or squid. Revealingly, at one point we were told that it not uncommon for adults to choose from the children's menu. Because the hotel is over an hour's drive to Kingscote, going elsewhere for a meal isn't a practical option.
Our second issue is the execution of the cuisine.
We simply didn't find the subtle, delicious flavoured we have enjoyed in top-class restaurants elsewhere in Australia, New Zealand, Europe and North America. Taste is a very personal thing. If you like your palate to be hit with intense and unusual combinations - rather than relying on the high quality of the locally-sourced ingredients to speak for themselves - you will probably enjoy the style of cooking at SOL. But we didn't.
The food was frequently tepid when it arrived (to the point of being inedible). For a restaurant aspiring to be top class, this is unforgivable.
3. While the front-of-house staff were courteous and attentive, the wait for each course was usually a long one. It's all very well to be brought an airline-style hot towel at every meal - but what we actually wanted to be brought was the food!
4. The management insist on playing loud and intrusive background music in the public spaces including the restaurant (which did nothing to make the waiting for food more enjoyable). I don't think the staff and management, who are generally young, have any idea how unpleasant many older people find this. When we asked for it to be turned down or off, we were told that this would only be possible when we were the only people around. On a few occasions we got this opportunity, though I'd much rather not have to make myself a nuisance by asking. Generally, however, we had to endure brassy, jazzy rhythms and wailing vocals. While this is obviously a matter of opinion, in our opinion the marvellous ambience of the Great Room and restaurant simply don't need embellishing with this kind of "Muzak".
I should emphasise that when we raised our issues about the food with the management, they listened and left no stone unturned in trying to make us happy - to the extent of discussing the menus in advance with each member of the party, customising what they of feed on an individual basis - even presenting each of us with a personalised toyed menu at the start of dinner! However
we hate having to make a fuss
being told that you can have absolutely anything we want is lovely in theory, but in practice what you really want is a proposal from the chef for food that you want to eat!
5. If you want to branch out beyond the all-inclusive tours, then the private tours they offer are exorbitantly priced, with a minimum fee of $650 or $750 for a party of up to four people on a half-day excursion.
Reader, make up your own mind. This is a very personal opinion, and the other entries on TripAdvisor show that it is a minority one. If you disagree with the above view of the negatives, then a stay at Southern Ocean Lodge will be a fantastic experience.
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
22 August 2010
Thank you so much for taking the time to post your review to Trip Advisor. We welcome our guests' feedback and Trip Advisor is certainly an effective and valuable tool for sharing information with fellow global travellers. It's evident you have really considered all aspects of your recent family stay at Southern Ocean Lodge, and we're so pleased that you enjoyed the Lodge architecture, the attention to detail in the guest suites and those amazing coastal wilderness views. We agree that the inclusive nature of the product allows an 'at-home' lodging feel and a real taste of Kangaroo Island as a destination. Thankyou for your points regarding the cuisine, its serving and the restaurant music. The style of cuisine is indeed modern, and the focus of our cilinary philosphy is to develop mutually beneficial relationships with the mostly small scale producers on Kangaroo Island, to encourage production of their fine ingredients and to transform each in a menu in a way that showcases each food item. Thank you for communicating your concerns to management, and for your acknowledgement that both the Lodge Managers and our Chef worked to try to resolve these. We hope that in balance you'd consider your stay with us a good one, and we trust you enjoyed the rest of your Australian holiday.
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This response is the subjective opinion of the management representative and not of TripAdvisor LLC