WHEN GOOD FOOD GOES BAD
By Jo Rittey
Melbourne has an avid love of food, wine and coffee. We’re blogging, Instagramming and talking about food trends, restaurants, and the latest bar 24/7. I thought French people talked about food all the time. Melburnians come in at a pretty close second. We have so much good food here in restaurants, cafes, food trucks and markets. So what do we do when good food goes bad?
What is the process and etiquette when faced with a dish that just isn’t good? Exhibit A. A pub in Richmond. Ordinarily, this is a great pub. It has a beautiful, cavernous interior, cool in the summer and cosy in the winter, a relaxed beer garden, they don’t have big television screens, their wine and beer list is well thought out, and generally the food is pretty darned good for pub food. It’s a great place to catch up with friends or to wander down to on a Sunday afternoon.
Recently, we did just that. We wandered down on a Sunday afternoon for a beer in the sun and some food. My fisherman companion made the huge concession to order the Mirror Dory, when usually he will not eat fish that he hasn’t caught himself. But Mirror Dory is a special fish; a deep-sea fish with a delicate, almost sweet flavour and flaky texture. This particular Mirror Dory, though, was very strong tasting and fishy with a distinct and stomach-turning smell. We are not the type to complain. But this just wasn’t right.
Etiquette says that we should call a server over and politely explain the food situation. We did this. The waiter returned and told us that the chef had tasted the fish and that was how it was supposed to taste. What’s more, said fish had been delivered the day before and so was fresh. It didn’t taste fresh and the implication is that we didn’t know what we were talking about. And that was the end as far as the server and kitchen were concerned. But we were left with nothing.
Later when two of the chefs came out to access the outside larder, the fisherman went over just to feel a little more heard. On asking whether they were the chefs, one of them replied, “he’s the chef and I’m the cook.” At which point the chef walked quickly back to the kitchen. The fisherman was not heard.
Now I am one of the biggest fans of chefs. I have a website dedicated to them. I think they do an incredible job. They are creative and hardworking. They have dedicated their lives to making food for others. I love that. I am not a chef. But I am an eater and I am one of the people they cook for. I eat out a lot. I think I know when something isn’t right. But are we just not allowed to say something isn’t right any more? Should we assume the chef knows best and that we must have been mistaken? Usually I would. This time I didn’t. But what did I get for that? Nothing. You pay up front at this particular pub and it’s not cheap. $28 got us nothing, because the dish we ordered was inedible. Not because we are fussy, nor because we don’t know how a Mirror Dory should taste, but because we were shut down and dismissed.
Our only recourse now is to vote with our feet and our wallets and not return. Which is a shame and more of a loss for us, than for them, because it’s somewhere we liked to go. Perhaps it’s a one off. Perhaps we are being churlish. I think if it had been dealt with differently we would not be feeling as disappointed. But it wasn’t and we do and, having never written a negative review on Yelp or Zomato, I’ve now written one here.
Jo has an exotic (kiwi) accent, loves good food and wine and has just a touch of the required culinary cynicism when it comes to the misuse of apostrophes and the hype over rainbow coloured breakfasts.