Tuesday, December 28, 2004

A Taste of My Own Medicine

Thank you to everyone who has posted comments on the HRB. In the interests of probity I'd like to share some of the emails not posted as comments to the site ...

23 December 2004 ... from Tourism Tasmania

Dear Ms Watson,

I was disturbed to read your diatribe associated with the Tasmanian Tourism Awards. Firstly, let me clarify that Peppermint Bay was awarded the Best New Tourism Development. This award is very competitive nationally and I am proud of Tasmania's entry and hope that we are in with a good chance of achieving national recognition for what is an outstanding new product.

The process involved with nominating for a tourism award is clear to both the public and industry. Nominees must be willing to put their businesses forward to be judged by a panel of their peers. It is a rigorous process and nominees are required to meet a certain standard before an award is issued. Indeed, there are a number of occasions when the judges have not issued an award because the nominated business did not fit the criteria of 'excellence'. In addition, the awards process is extensively audited through KPMG to ensure absolute integrity in process. I should also point out that the vast majority of industry awards are conducted on a nomination basis to ensure equity for all.

Perhaps it would be appropriate when attacking the industry awards to firstly check the facts with the organisors rather than promulgating misinformation and degrading the outstanding achievements of those that submit themselves for review amongst their peers.

The tourism industry is proud of its outstanding quality and we continue to collect national and international recognition for the quality of our product. We as a Tasmanian community should be supporting these businesses that employ thousands and are one of the largest contributors to the economic revival of the State.

23 December 2004 ... from "Fantasia"

Reading articles on coffee in hobart always makes me laugh.. Sometimes I think the people who are the most outspoken are the people who don't really know what they are talking about!! Anyone who claims to be a coffee lover in one sentence and then in the next sentence cannot stop raving about the virtues of Hudsons and oversized coffees is in my expert opinion a coffee ignoramus. Very similar to the customer who asks for a really good coffee and then in the next breath asks you to make it as hot as you can...Any coffee maker (and we can't call them baristas in Australia unless they have completed the very long course in Italy) knows that the minute you are asked for an oversized coffee you are faced with the issue of how to make it decently. You can use three shots of espresso so the ratio of coffee to milk is still good enough to make the coffee taste delicious. But most customers don't want to pay for the extra shots and would rather you overextracted the espresso, an no self-respecting coffee maker likes to prostitute themselves in this way. The other issue faced is that most large vessels do not fit properly under group handles so espresso needs to be transferred from one vessel to another and thus you lose the best tasting part of the coffee - the crema (something that the Timeless Way has not yet come to terms with).As for Hudsons.. It is the McDonalds of coffee and i have never ever seen any foodie stating the virtues of a quarter pounder.

As for good coffee venues in Hobart there are but a few. Sadly Retro does not live up the repuation is holds and i refuse to drink coffee there ever again after personally seeing them cook scrambled eggs with the steaming wand.T42 is ok but it largely depends on who is on the machine.. Has anyone tried the coffee at Peppermint Bay? If you get the guy with the blonde floppy hair on the machine then you are in for a real treat, well worth the travel down there. But I have to say that the best coffee I have found in the greater Hobart area in a while is at Brew in Sandy Bay. Has anyone been there yet? It is a new espresso bar and the couple that operate really seem to know what they are doing when it comes to creating a coffee. Food is also pretty good (but don't go expecting a dining experience, remember the focus in this place is coffee) and as for funky... It will really change your attitude I think.I must still try the Choux Shop as I have heard only good things... Will be happy to share my opinion one day.

27 December 2004 ... from Henry Jones Art Hotel

Dear Georgie,
Thank you for posting your thoughts about The Henry Jones on your site (which by the way has created quite a buzz in the hallways of the AHA, Tourism Council, etc!) Need to clear up a couple of details my friend…

1. I actually didn’t mean to email you previously – I was about to send you a note, but thought better of it and accidentally pressed send (!). So my apologies if it appeared arrogant, but I am pleased you interpreted it as invitation to check out the hotel.

2. The shade cloth was a shocker, but a necessary short term measure to eliminate the sun glare. The 6 large tailor made sails now in place look the goods.

3. I happily accept your other comments (particularly the favorable ones about our staff!).

Sunday, December 26, 2004

From Me to You

On Christmas Eve I thought to wish you all a Merry Christmas. On Christmas morning I thought to wish you all a Merry Christmas. And as Boxing Day rapidly approaches I’m still wondering how to wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. The best I’ve come up with is this, and I mean it from my heart:

May you eat the food of the gods, may you love the company you’re with, and if you drink heavily, may you fall very very softly.

I raise a glass in your honour.

GW the HRB.

p.s. Now that the worst is over, roll on January, the real days of summer!!

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

So Far So Good Mr Crawford

In a roundabout way I was invited to the Henry Jones Art Hotel to cast my eye and say what I dared. With a fellow ne’er-do-well I perched myself in the Atrium and settled in for the afternoon. I had in fact been to Henry Jones a few times before. When first opened I frequented the Long Bar for a few weeks. It can be a bit cramped (all popular bars are), but it looks fantastic, and I love the staff in their crisp jackets and smart attitudes. The champagne wasn’t bloody bad either. Anyway, back to the Atrium.

The first time I was there was actually for a corporate networking event. Twenty-five bucks a head and buy your own drinks. Hmmm, bloody bewdy. But not the fault of Henry Jones. On the contrary, they laid on the food thicker and faster than any of us wankers could shovel it in. So, following my “invitation” from the director (please Mr Crawford, don’t let this go to your head) me and my tawdry mate rocked up for a lunchtime nosh. We already had a bottle of champers under our belts and we were ready for a feast.

The menu in the Atrium is brief, very brief. But having just criticised Sisco’s for offering too much in their lunchtime sitting, it would be churlish of me to criticise this concise menu. We ordered the oysters. Mmmmmm, creamy and rich and fresh that day from the Tasman Peninsula (but definitely not for the faint hearted). Then we had the platter with the stupid name: A Taste of Land and Sea. Naff. But it was good and it was interesting and it made the ordering of more wine so easy (hence my inability to actually describe what was on the platter).

In brief I love the staff at Henry Jones, they are all so special and make diners, drinkers, and gawkers alike feel like they’re worth a million bucks. I’m looking forward to trying the Steam Packet, Henry Jones’ flagship restaurant. It is the namesake of a 19th century Hobart pub, which augers well.

One criticism Mr Crawford: sending an emailed business card without an accompanying message? A bit arrogant, n’est pas? Oh, and the shade cloth in the Atrium, a bit Bunnings don’t you think?

But so far, so good!

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Sisco's and the Disappearing Trolley

I’d come to Sisco’s because of an ad that said Sisco’s was trying something new. A lunch trolley: no waiting, the perfect solution for the one hour lunch break. The ad promised tapis, yum cha dumplings, sushi, wraps, all sorts of bits and pieces to tempt and taunt. I knew what would happen. The famous eyes-bigger-than-my-belly would kick in and I’d want one of everything. One hour wouldn’t be long enough, one stomach not big enough. I hoped to be so excited by small plates and big flavours that I’d want to come back each day until I’d tried everything twice. So on a whim I tucked Tim Winton under my arm and climbed the stairs to small food heaven.

I took a seat. Deathly quiet, except for the incessant rat-tat-tat-tat of the ceiling fan over my head. Then it dawned on me. Not a trolley in sight. Shit.

The waitress was warm and attentive. She brought me a drink. And three menus. Oh dear, where was the trolley? There was the standard lunch menu (really the dinner menu), there was the fish specials menu, and there was the crayfish specials menu. I craned my neck and gave my eyeballs a thorough 360 degree workout. Where’s the trolley? Panic rose in my throat. The waitress patiently explained: they tried the trolley for a few weeks. But no-one came. They needed to prepare three trolleys at a time. But no-one came. “Maybe Hobart’s not ready for it, cos no-one came”. Hobart’s not ready? I’m ready! Instead of leaving in a huff I ordered the prawn bisque.

It was nice enough, the bisque. It came rich and red with a prawn cake and a whole prawn wrapped in silk-like pasta threads. But I couldn’t help feeling an ongoing sense of disappointment. I wanted the trolley. But beyond not getting my own way I was disappointed in Sisco’s for not keeping their money where their mouth was.

Sisco’s has a mixed reputation. I’ve had stunning meals here and abysmal ones in equal measures. Hurrah to them for trying something new, boo to the patrons (myself included) who were too slow to grab the chance, and boo to Sisco’s for being too quick to punish us for our tardiness. Any new venture is an expensive risk. Maybe it was a risk worth persisting with. Maybe it was just what Hobart needed. And then again maybe it was crap and we are all better off not knowing.

I was about to scoff my coffee and leave, but then I noticed the recently-arrived table of middle-aged women quizzically eyeing their three menus … “Um, what happened to the trolley … we booked here a month ago specifically because of the trolley …”. I rose and paid my bill. The woman taking my money was the 'boss' of Sisco’s. I thanked her for the lovely bisque and the excellent service. But then, grabbing the bull by the horns I told her how disappointed I was that the trolley was so short-lived, I told her what a good idea it had been and that she should have persisted. But her attitude said it all:

"We’d have three people on a table wanting the trolley while the fourth person would want something off the dinner menu. People would ring up wanting to know what it was all about, what was on the trolley, would it fill them up, how many courses were they allowed, and so on. It was all too hard. Hobart’s not ready for something like this."

Maybe you should try again?

"No, I can’t be bothered."

I felt outraged.

I’m tired of feeling punished by restaurant owners with this attitude about Hobart and its diners. It was clear to me that due to their own impatience and poor menu control Sisco’s was bound to fail with their lunch trolley. But Sisco's obviously doesn't understand this, so in the interests of patiently explaining the problem I’ll use simple words:

  1. Most restaurants have a different lunch menu from their dinner menu, diners expect this.
  2. At lunch time, don’t give people the dinner menu to order from. Boring.
  3. To give a new lunch idea such as the trolley the best chance of success, don't give diners the option of ordering from the dinner menu. It's lunch time, diners will deal with this.
  4. If diners need educating about your new lunch option, be patient and teach them what it means. If you have no patience with this personally, have another staff member deal with telephone enquiries. Given that you are rarely open for lunch, people will be curious and the onus is on you to be patient.
  5. Don’t bitch to local diners about Hobart “not being ready” for your brilliance. It is graceless and leaves a very bad taste in the mouth.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Pier One

Pier One at the Casino is Hobart’s premier waterfront restaurant and bar. It says so on the menu. We were there for a Christmas function. Dozens of faxed menus had been inspected before a consensus decision to book. But imagine my surprise when the staff acted as if we’d poohed our pants when we first rocked up. Sneering waitresses who looked pissed off already.

I was less than impressed when our waitress tried to “up-sell” by offering flat bread for the whole table (i.e., pizzas … why can’t they just call them pizzas?). I suggested people could order their own. When she thought I wasn’t looking, she asked someone opposite me the same question. I looked her in the eye and repeated my original suggestion. Surly look. Maybe I really had poohed my pants.

I ordered two entrées and got on with the serious business of enjoying some wine. I sat with my back to the rest of the restaurant looking out at the water. Nice view, but the novelty soon wore off as my gastric juices began eating through my stomach lining in anticipation of food. Waiting, waiting, waiting. Gee, must be packed, I thought. Nope, not even half full.

Finally my entrée arrived. Half a dozen natural oysters. Mmmm. Tasty. Tasty in the way oysters shouldn’t be. Not off, but had that “sitting in the fridge a few days” piquancy. Ever the optimist, I ate one more and then one more, searching for a nice one. Fool. And then we waited again. And waited. I felt sorry for those at the table who had foregone the entrée, imagining the state of their stomach lining. At least my foul oysters were staving off the gastric acid.

Bored and hungry we approached the bar to order more wine. Ahhhhhh, above the bar like a beacon shone a bottle of Craigie Knowe. And it was the 1999 vintage. Ooooohhh, this could perhaps make up for everything. “We can’t sell it too you. We’re out of stock”. But I’ll just have that one, the one up there. “No we’re out of stock.” But it’s just there! “We’re not allowed to sell it to you”. Right. Now I was angry. I sat and sulked and waited for my bloody next course. I scowled over my shoulder from time to time, silently willing that bottle of Craigie to fly to my side. But when I looked again it was gone. Spirited away and hidden! Right! Now I was furious and sulking. But sulking in silence because I didn’t want my Soft Shell Crab to be spat on.

Finally the food arrived. The Soft Shell Crab came as a quarter of a small crab wrapped in an attempt at wonton-style pastry. It was surrounded by a slick black moat of black bean sauce, which was unbelievably strong and salty. The crab wasn’t oily, but tasted like it had been cooked in the same oil as last week’s fry-up at the Mustard Pot. Now I felt sick. This was not going well. I spent the rest of the night feeling queasy, and not even a Red Corvette at the Birdcage Bar could save me (what was I thinking?). At four in the morning I awoke feeling decidedly unwell and lay awake until dawn feeling pissed off.

Pier One … Hobart’s premier waterfront restaurant and bar! My arse!

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Welcome to the Intrepid Traveller

I would like to take the opportunity to welcome a new visitor to the site, who is also a visitor to Hobart. The anonymous comment was posted today, and it highlighted for me that it is not just the cynical chattering classes of Hobart who despair over food and service quality here. Our Victorian Visitor complained thusly:

Bless you Ms W - just come across your site today and it is long past due that the whacks be laid in. We visit Tas 2 or 3 times a year, Hobart usually in there, and have come to despair of eating out in your fair city. That's not to say that the raw produce isn't fantastic. We make pilgrimages to the Hmong gardeners, the Wursthaus, the oysterers [surely the French have a name for it - huitrines?] with the sole regret that we don't have a kitchen of our own to hand. But eating out? It's merely a necessity to be borne until we get the goodies home. I guess it's not that the food is fairly conventional and the service is erratic, but that the prices being asked are out of keeping with the content. If all I can get in Hobart is ordinary food I'm prepared to pay ordinary prices, but Sydney prices? All that said, Hobart doesn't have the monopoly on poor service. I had read much about The European in Melbourne and finally got there a couple of weeks ago. Won't be back. I'm too old to put up with the kind of crap that used to be de rigeur at the Black Cat in Fitzroy.

In my earlier days I spent quite some time at both the Black Cat in Fitzroy and The Galleon in St Kilda. The service in both establishments was legend. You know the sort: hennaed hair, Brains glasses, sour look, and superior attitude. But the coffees were good and it was kind of cool to pay someone to make you feel inferior (why do you think the Dominatrix is such a sought after service provider?). These days though, it is not cool for staff to think that the Soup Nazi a la Seinfeld is a model to aspire to. And it is deplorable that visitors are left wishing for their own kitchen to make the culinary aspect of their Tasmanian travels more palatable. We all know that we have excellent produce and wonderful locations. In summertime, where better to sip champagne by the water in the summer sun. In wintertime, where would you rather be sipping on a gutsy red in front of the fire when there's snow on the mountain and the sky is that dazzling blue? Our chefs and our restaurant owners should be experts in maximising the assets we have here. But alas.

To add salt to the wound, see Graeme Phillips' article in the Sunday Tasmanian (Sunday 5 Dec, 2004) for an illustration of the depths some establishments are stooping to: frozen fish and mis-truths about produce availability. Naughty naughty naughty. We think we know who won't be on Santa's list this year!

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Is the Spirit of Christmas a Single Malt?

I have somehow managed to manoeuvre myself into the fabulous position this year of having numerous Christmas party clashes. Each occasion involves really good friends, treasured current or former work colleagues, or just damned attractive cut-throats, so no single option stands out as a better offer. They all involve dinner, and not a bloody one of them is the "pop in for a little while" type. Worse: there are "activities" planned (shudder) to keep us busy, to distract us from drinking too much, to stop us snogging the boss and photocopying our bits. Activities. What a stupid bloody word and what a stupid bloody idea at Christmas! Why can't I just turn up, get pissed, and stagger off into the dawn like the dishevelled Scrooge that I am? I don't want to go bloody go-karting, boot-scooting, bowling, or bungy-jumping. And what is it with holding me to ransom by not handing out the Secret bloody Santa until the end of the night? Ooooooh, better not go to that other Christmas party for dessert, you might miss out on a chocolate penis from Santa!

I know I should feel blessed that I have so many friends who want to share my company at Christmas ... NO THEY DON'T ... THEY'RE JUST HOPING FOR THEIR OWN BLOODY CHOCOLATE PENIS! Well hell I say, go buy your own and leave me out of it. But no, it would be bad of me not to go, I would be forever hounded by the ghosts of Christmases past/present/to-come maddeningly chanting in my ears: You have to go, it's Christmas. So, is this the true spirit of Christmas in this post-modern age: Obligation? (Look out, I'm hearing a bunch of comments being tippee-tapped away as I speak) Obligation to family and friends, obligation to buy presents, obligation to credit cards? And obligation to not let me get completely, tit-flashingly pissed. Truth be told I never really get that drunk (collective sigh of relief), but this mad and desperate spree of Christmas parties leaves me breathless with the overwhelming sense of duty they inspire. It leaves me hanging out for January, the real days of summer where we can bask in the laziness of holidays, barbecues, backyard cricket, and madcap spontaneous get togethers. Where simple things like cicadas and aeroguard, sandy fish and chips, and a sunburnt nose mean so much more. Where our friends and family gather because they want to, not because they think they should. Where photocopiers and go-karts breathe a collective sigh of relief ... until next year.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Simple Pleasures

I have slept today away in the fitful slumber of one with head and lungs full of unpleasantness. I have dreamt of drowning and woken myself coughing. Throughout this eventful illness (I’m sure it’s consumption) I have been blessed with great advice. Day 1: A hot toddy (brandy and … I forget the other ingredients, never really got past the brandy); Day 2: Spiked orange juice (juice of 3 oranges and 1 lemon, leatherwood honey, 2 disprins, and a slug of brandy). Tasted like a bad cheap cocktail at a wedding, but did me some good I’m sure, especially when I followed it with another brandy. Day 3: Liquid Echinacea three times a day in water. This is my least favourite option. Firstly I have no Liquid Echinacea (easily fixed tho), secondly it doesn’t involve brandy (easily fixed too). But it just sounds too darn sensible!

Anyway after waking and launching myself for two hours into Tim Winton’s ‘Cloudstreet’ (what a magic dusty way with words), I finally roused myself from my chamber, showered, fed the cat. Straight for the tea and toast. Smothered in leatherwood honey (the toast, not me). And now I’ve got the biggest, loudest, most irrational craving for butter chicken. Or potato cakes. So why is it that when we’re sick and snotty all we crave is simple pleasures? You could come flouncing in here with your horn of plenty overflowing with crays and champagne, and all I’d be asking is “but where’s the toast?”. I dare say I would even turn my nose up at a Craigie Knowe Cab Sav (gasp!), saying “can I have a cup of tea please?” Some days life has a way of putting things into perspective.

Anyway, seeing as how I’m all fey and wan and unable to dine with orgiastic abandon this weekend … I call upon the HRB sprites to away! away! and return with tales of joy or woe to stuff our heads with nonsense (beats snot anyway).

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Athena and the Minotaur

It's the first day of summer. It's grey out there, there's a chill in the air, and I'm getting a cold …

Oh and it’s official, I’m going straight to hell on the back of a Minotaur, cos here I go with some gossip. It’s a tale of classic Greek foes facing off in a silent assault on service standards in Hobart. The combatants: Athena’s (lovely location on the pier) and Mezethes (great atmosphere in the old Mr Wooby’s spot). Both serve classic Greek food with not a little focus on seafood.

Confronted, as I was, by a new acquaintance in Barcelona (the bar, not the city), I was left mouth agape by the tale she told of her experience the previous night at Athena’s (the restaurant, not the goddess’ house):

“We were kept waiting for our food for two hours, we were really patient but finally we got a bit annoyed, but when we complained to the man and asked for a free drink as compensation we were told … ‘I’m not saying sorry for anything, I didn’t do anything wrong’. We thought this was a bit rough and wanted to complain about his bad attitude … but then we found out this guy was the owner!”

Wow! Stunning ennui from someone who obviously doesn’t feel the need to ensure repeat business!

The irony of this story is that on the night in question I was bound for Mezethes with a gaggle of raucous 30-something women, with whom I’d been drinking for the previous couple of hours. We were late, we were loud, we tried not to be obnoxious. We broke glasses, we spilt drinks, we sang loudly with the musicians roaming the room, and a diner at another table (quite rightly) shot in our direction a “Look at Moiye”. We had a fabulous time, the food was okay (yeah, I know, just okay), but the service was warm and hospitable and friendly and accommodating. It was as if the only thing that mattered was us having a good time. Such a different experience to my new acquaintance’s encounter with the management at Athena’s … and so much cheaper!

I went to Athena’s when they first opened, hoping for an experience akin to the exquisite Greek seafood I encountered years earlier at Nick’s in St Kilda. I was so under-whelmed by the seafood and by the service at Athena’s that it has never occurred to me to go back. Similarly, whenever I speak with anyone else who has dined there, I hear a similar tale.

But that’s okay, cos by the sounds of it, the management of Athena’s is doing just fine with one-off diners. They seem to be quite happy to leave the repeat business to Mezethes.