Hard News by Russell Brown

124

Everyone's a critic

Metro's 2010 restaurant guide, and associated Restaurant of the Year Awards, has coincidentally turned up at just the right time for the Media7 show on critics – of restaurants, music, comedy, whatever – that we'd been planning for a while.

Our panel guests for the programme will be Graham Reid, Geraldine Johns and Richard Carrington, whose Notorious company manages Ben Hurley, Dai Henwood and Jeremy Elwood, and who has had a bit to say about reviewers, especially the ones who stuff their columns with all the show's best lines.

We'll also ponder the modern trend towards reviewers as punters-with-blogs, and people who diss restaurants on Twitter the moment they leave (I have pretty much done this) or even at the table.

If you'd like to join us for the recording, at TVNZ tomorrow from around 5pm, click Reply and let me know.

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But back to the Metro awards and guide: I was all set to be unhappy. They've named The Grove "supreme winner", which I thought would sink any chance I had of taking my darling there for her birthday on Friday (yeah, yeah, I know, but I've been away for a few days). But, curiously enough, I called this morning and had no trouble making a booking for two. We're going to Miles Jupp at The Classic beforehand. Dinner and a show. It sounds so grown-up – which I suppose it bloody ought to at our age.

But back to the Metro. Some regulars turn up in these awards: Soto is named Best Asian Restaurant again, and I'm not sure I know why. The idea – pushing-the-boundaries Japanese cuisine – is fine, but I've never found the actual food to be brilliant. Easily the best part of my birthday dinner there last year was a thrillingly complex 30 year-old Yamazaki single malt at the end of it – and even then I had to decline to drink it until they served it in a proper glass, and not a full-to-the-brim shot glass. (The maitre d' was grateful for the tip, and gave me a little extra by way of thanks. Can't moan.)

And not only have they named the very average Monsoon Poon as one of their Top 50 restaurants, they've named as a "favourite dish" the so-called Twenty-five herb and spice Indian lamb curry, which is one of the most pathetic dishes of its kind I've ever had to get through at a restaurant. As my dining companion observed: "twenty five herbs and spices – and 20 of them appear to be tomato puree."

I don't dine at highly-touted restaurants all that often (and when I do, it's often on someone else's dollar), but I have been served some surprisingly average food at the supposed hot places to dine: a gristly wagyu steak at Euro, a dud dish at Rocco, etc. On the other hand, I've never been let down at Prego or the Canton Café (where the bill for the table can be less than the price of a main at a fancy place). And I've had a similar 100% success rating at the Richmond Road Café.

But yeah, I'll keep the Metro's little book as a guide. It's nice to see that The Mulberry, who have been advertising with us via ffunnell, have made the cut.

Anyway: see what I'm doing there? I'm reviewing restaurants on my blog. It's the coming thing, I tell ya.

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And sometimes, the collective reviews of members of the public can tell you things that proper critics can't. Delicious in Grey Lynn (which I hasten to add is now under different owners and no longer resembles Fawlty Towers) was still getting favourable notices at a time when Dineout.co.nz was crowding with stories like this:

After sitting at our table for a while it became apparent that we were being stared at. It was quite obvious and they weren't being subtle! A waitress came over to our table and asked if we wanted anything else to eat and i replied that we would just be having coffee and dessert and she seemed happy with that. The stares continued from behind the counter and then a guy came over and asked the same question and to which i gave him the same answer as the lady. We were told that we had to leave and that we needn't worry about coming back there. I've never experienced such terrible behaviour from a restaurant. Do they not want to be in business? I think they need a bit of a waking up.

And:

Last night I struck a situation that left me quite simply astounded. Mid way through our meal my friend and I were approached and told we would have to move tables as where we were sitting was inconvenient for the restaurant. I will admit to being a little iritable at this - we were after all half way through dining. Before I could say any more the staff member who had made the request was suddenly yelling at me that I had to leave and that if I didn't she would call the police. The situation escalated to this level with a speed that I found astounding and distressing. When I tried to pay for the part of the meal I had eaten I was told she didn't care about money and again was shouted at to leave.

And:

Then the manager arrived and told us to get out. He said we were a group and they would not serve us as separate tables. We were discriminated against because we knew each other. The restaurant had 30 empty seats when we left. Another party of four were upstairs by the time we left. One of them said "it happens all the time, look at the website", so we did.

And:

This man is probably the rudest person to work in the hospitality industry. All we wanted was to have a meal at the restauarant for my mothers birthday, unknown to us they do not serve tables over 6 people (there were 8 of us), after having some drinks and being seated on separate tables, he decided we were not going to be served any food and yelled at us to GET OUT! followed by further insults.

And:

The owner/manager at this joint is the most nasty individual ever encountered. We waited 40 mins for our food, when we went to pay the bill we were told not to come back because we had merely enquired when our order was coming out. He looks bad tempered, is bad tempered, does he think he's Gordon Ramsay or what!!

And:

She comes up first words out of her mouth "GET OUT" starts removing our plates which we have just started on!!!! "What is going on here" I ask "I own this place and I don't want you here"! I'm thinking who on earth is she expecting?The Queen she wants us out NOW! Scream profanitys at her, plates are broken and my Mum is rather upset.

And:

We waited another 40 minutes (1 hr 15minutes in total for a table before we gave up and got up to leave). On our way out, we gave neutral feedback on getting estimated waiting times a bit closer to actual times. The male staff member was very abrupt and rude and even said ‘Or what?’ when we suggested this to him. Then he told us to get out and not come back. We were so shocked and left shaking our heads. One member of our party went back to get the guys name so he could inform the owner what kind of people were working for him and it turned out this guy was the owner!! The story gets worse, the owner followed us out of the restaurant …

There's more where they came from. Again, this was two to four years ago and these people fortunately no longer own the restaurant (which is now in the hands of Geoff Chunn and partners, I believe). But their time there has wrought a collection of customer reviews that is truly a classic of its kind.

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