Cafe's flip side proves a slightly better bet for the initiated

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 29 August, 1993, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 29 August, 1993, 12:00am

Cafe Flipp: G/F-1/F California Entertainment Building, 34-36 D'Aguilar Street, Central. Phone: 801-4946. Hours: Midday-2.30 pm; 7-10.30 pm. Bar open midday-late. Decor: Trendy. Cuisine: European. Menu changes monthly. Service: Surprisingly good. Reservations: Necessary for lunch. Smoking policy: No policy.

Overall value for money (out of five): three plates here.

AFTER a lunch downstairs some time ago at which three out of five dishes were disappointing, a rumour on the where-to-eat grapevine that upstairs at Cafe Flipp was a pleasure was received with suspicion and hope.

The lunch had not been helped by seating arrangements. The best tables, spilling out on to the pavement, had been taken, and eating was therefore done at what might have been a trestle as the tables were so close.

But upstairs there was room to swing a cat between tables, there were tablecloths, little blue-and-white spotted side-plates and fetching vases of flowers. Fellow diners looked, by and large, civilised and upwardly mobile.

The menu was different from downstairs; more heavily Italian than Californian. The food, as described on the menu, looked promising, with lots of de rigueur sun-dried tomatoes and aubergines scattered about.

And the waiter was one of those clever sorts who could tell with scientific precision when you had decided what you were having. He proceeded to take an order without writing anything down.

Over a suitably summery and good bottle of Australian pinot from Coldstream Hills ($250) - a choice in keeping with the ''happening'' atmosphere - dinner developed into a pattern of potentially good dishes which unfortunately narrowly missed the target.

Baby spinach salad ($55) with, yes, marvellous sun-dried tomatoes, Spanish onions and a hot bacon dressing was pronounced too oily and insufficiently piquant. Chicken livers ($65), served on olive bruschetta with a dark gravy, was bitter, a charge later levelled at the rather charred barbecue tenderloin ($150), which came with excellent potatoes and - slightly odd - spring onions.

There was nothing wrong with the salmon ($148), but everything wrong with the accompanying nicoise salad which had turned white under the weight of an unpleasant, mayonnaise-style dressing.

Creme brulee aficionados would have pronounced Cafe Flipp's version ($45) - served with almond tuile, a thin, crispy biscuity thing - runny, though the only problem hanging over mixed berries served with champagne sabayon ($45), besides the fact it looked like a car accident, was the mystery of where the champagne had evaporated to.

Upstairs did have its limitations. The music from the bar beneath would have gone better with nachos and skins than the finer things in life, and the one-slice-brown, one-slice-white pattern in the bread basket was over the top.

But it was better than anyone who has eaten downstairs would expect. The bill came to less than $450 a head.