When the captain’s away, well? At the Agrarian Kitchen, who’s at the helm?
To really let a new place settle in and start to hum before I review is something I like to do. So often, you’ll see already a change of staff after just a few months, and with the gloss worn off, or a place will have got the bugs out and settled in to its rhythm.
The feedback on Rodney and Severine’s Agrarian Kitchen had been glowing, to say the least, so this time, with a group of locals from the New Norfolk area, I decided to descend and give the Kitchen a try. We were excited.
The place itself is gorgeous. Original brick and asylum floor notwithstanding, it’s spacious, modern, open, with the chopstick lights (same as Born in Brunswick) adding a design element that goes. With a huge bar and wood tables and accents, the eye is still drawn to an enormous open kitchen that looks the goods.
“The kitchen? Don’t get me started. What the hell are they thinking? “
Equipment all over the place, and a cheese fridge in an anteroom gives a nod to the classes that Rodney holds for foodies wanting to learn the finer points of cooking. Our waiter was sweet, friendly, and efficient. The kitchen? Don’t get me started. What the hell are they thinking?
But first, the menu. Efficiently short, with just 11 choices of food in total. And it read well. We chose the fried sourdough potato cakes with ketchup, $10 and the chicharrones with smoked chilli and whipped peanut $12 to start. The cakes had always had rave reviews, and are my absolute go to when I have a hangover, which is mercifully rare these days.
Disagree with me all you like, but our group found both the cakes and the chicharrones, which are just large slabs of very thin pork crackling, greasy. Very greasy. And with the creamy bland whipped peanut sauce, those mothers were – tasteless. The potato in the cakes had large black spots which made them fairly unappetizing as well.
“In fact, this would go down as the worst dish I have been served in Tasmania, bar none.”
Moving on, we had high hopes for the main. We decided to share the Southern Fried flathead, at $80 for 2 – seemed expensive – but with Cabton cabbage coleslaw, potato and farmers’ cheese salad, smoked flathead braised peanuts, and razorback ranch + pickled cucumber, what could go wrong?
Everything, it seems.
The flathead arrived, with accompaniments. First off, for $80??? I don’t bloody think so! Outrageous. It was a small fish to begin with, that had been hacked into 3 pieces, and deep-fried in a thick batter as is. Complete with bones, some scales and the entire backbone. In fact, this would go down as the worst dish I have been served in Tasmania, bar none.
It was impossible to eat. We were spitting, pulling lumps of fish and tiny sharp, lethal bones out of our mouths, and some of us gave up. It was just all too hard. What the f**k was the chef doing in there? Nothing much, by the looks of many staff standing around chatting. And how dangerous is that as a dish to serve to anyone? Let alone charge $80 for the torture?
It was putrid. Lazy chef, lazy kitchen, incompetent and downright crazy. And of course, it was greasy as well. The sides were bland to the point of tasteless – the slaw had no bite, the peanuts had no flavour, and the potato salad? Nothing. A bit of mustard that didn’t appear to add anything either, mysteriously enough.
We did mention this debacle to the waiter, and she rushed off to report. However, it was still on the bill, and we paid. Such a shame. After a dish like that? There’s just no going back. And it’s heartbreaking to see all Rodney Dunn’s efforts and ideas just be sideswiped by kitchen staff not doing their damn job.
I had a client, when I was in PR, who got a fishbone stuck in his throat once at a dinner, and I’ve never forgotten it. Those suckers in this tiny flathead were sharp as needles and everywhere. I am sure that the fish was fresh, the sides fresh, but negligence on this scale has to be called out.
We left. The other five, all locals, would not be going back. Dessert? Forget it. The wine, a fresh blend of Gris, Riesling and Chardonnay by Brian “Field Blend” at $13 was pleasant enough, but I would have had to have a vat to eclipse the man o’ war that was served as fish.
Could I ask the captain to get back on the boat? A restaurant is such a dynamic, multi-layered business that it needs a strong person at the top, with solid systems in place to ensure quality and consistency. For all of us there, on that day, it will be some time before the ‘bones incident’ fades.
The Agrarian Kitchen Eatery and Store / 11A The Avenue New Norfolk TAS 7140 / PH: 03 6262 0011 / Open Friday – Monday, 11am – 5 pm; Saturday for dinner / $$$