When should a review be pulled? Dare I be crushingly honest and tell it how it is?
While my stated aim of writing this blog and collection of pieces about food and the food industry is to be kind, and fair, I agonised over this piece. With more than twenty years of hard slog in kitchens, mostly my own, under my belt, I have more empathy than most reviewers.
I know just how hard it is to get food right 24/7, and Murphy factors? Starting with the weather, I state in my book, Theatre of War, that the restaurant business must have more Murphy factors than any other industry on the planet.
Beginning this episode in my food career, I vowed if a place delivered extremely badly, I would either go back to compare, or dismiss – no ink space – or grief – for them! So the dilemma I faced when reviewing Pier 01 up in Ulverstone was that it was okay, just not great.
This pushed me to compare it to an experience at The Hotel Grand Chancellor in Launceston, which was okay again, just not great, and maybe if they read this, and take note, they might just make their guests a little happier, and business a little better.
First, Ulverstone is a pretty seaside town in the north-west of Tasmania. I lived there for a time, and enjoyed the friendships and community spirit that small towns can give. So I asked a good friend where should I eat before I head out to the theatre? Pier 01, was the recommendation, so there I sit.
The space is pleasant, a smart high airy feel with lots of wood and polished concrete floor. The girl who serves me is chatty and friendly, and while there are only two other tables dining, it is early.
Drinks? Good to see Tasmanian wines at the top of the list, and a Storm Bay Sauvignon Blanc from the Coal River Valley at $8.50 the glass is good value. Hobart has trouble charging less than $10 a glass for anything these days, and I want to yell at a few places, “What are you thinking?” when I see a wine list with glasses at $18 or more, and bottles not less than $85!! Yikes, that can really add to a bill!
Now, down to the food. A reasonably big menu, and I’m dining alone, so plump for the ‘Beef and Reef’ which is Cape Grim Beef (big tick here), king prawns and scallops in an Ashgrove cream sauce with chilli dusted fries and dressed green leaves.
Don’t you love it? ‘Dressed green leaves’! “Formal or casual attire?” I want to ask… So it was – okay. The beef was great quality, but drowning in the creamy sauce, which just tasted like – cream! Far too much cream, and the chilli fries had fled the kitchen undressed, without the chilli and, were pretty ordinary plastic bag frozen type as well. The beef was almost blue, rather than medium rare, and on the whole, underwhelming. At $40, not a cheap meal either. Plenty of it, but the execution, well, maybe I just got them on an apprentice night.
Dessert? Again, the description given by the menu, far outshined the actual delivery. What a shame! Depicted: “Apple, honeycomb and Lime: Honeycomb mousse, lime curd, green apple glaze, flexi white chocolate ganache, hazelnut crumb, sweet cinnamon pastry.”
Woah! Was that a dessert or a pastry shop? At $14, okay, but the apple was kind of doughy, the green jelly skin a bit dry and tough, and the rest? I didn’t finish it. Sorry guys, sounded marvelous, but didn’t quite get there in the end.
I will go back, with a crowd next time, and see how we go. And I can guess that is has good cooks, but falling under the pressure of simply trying too hard. I don’t care if a dish has 99 ingredients or techniques to show off the kitchen prowess. Simple food done well will get me, and I suspect the dining public, every time.
The next night found me in Launceston, checking in to the Hotel Grand Chancellor, one of an enormous group of hotels, still sticking to paradigms in the hotel trade that smack of the past.
Large, airy lobby, large featureless restaurant, and staff who are well trained, but…. Somehow have lost their personalities in the training.
Hoteliers take note: your staff are the front line, and the smaller or more intimate feel in a hotel will win out over a barn and staff who are just…. staff!
I’m standing at the edge of the main restaurant, because the sign says I must, and there is no one to be seen. Staff that is. A table of six women in the middle of the room are talking, and three other single women sit at tables on the periphery, like Saturn’s moons.
After a few minutes, two doors open on either ends of the room and staff bustle in, spy me, and one pleasant young man comes to attend.
When we ascertain I’ve got the grand total of 30 minutes to order, eat and head off to the theatre, the waiter tells me he can do fish and chips in that time. Well? Great! I’m relieved, and within about 7 minutes, I have a basket full of crisp beer battered flathead and chips. Not bad, not bad at all, but at $28? It would want to be!
My room is bright, spacious, very clean and comfortable and next morning, I dine in the restaurant again, for breakfast, which is actually a pretty good buffet full of most anything you could want – fresh fruit salad, eggs, bacon, pancakes, beans etc. etc…. and incredible value at $20 if one is staying. One was!
The problem with this hotel, is that it’s soulless, and when I come back to the bar after the show, at 10pm, I’m told the bar is shut! What? Oh dear. There’s a small fortune spent on granite on the floor, bar tops, gleaming brass everywhere, but none of that impresses anymore, does it? It’s like the Titanic, a beautiful grand gesture to the past.
In this era of Air BnB, and amateurs muscling in on what used to be the sole preserve of professionals, times must be tough. But hotels need to move with the times, and small, boutique is more appealing, particularly where the staff or owners get to know their customers, and tailor the experiences to suit. The Chancellors aren’t bad, by a long shot, just…. tired.
Ph: 03 6425 7811 | pier01.com.au
Hotel Grand Chancellor Launceston
29 Cameron Street, Launceston, TAS 7250
Ph: 03 6334 3434
Are you disappointed in my thoughts on Pier 01? Did I choose badly? And what are your thoughts on big hotel chains that are looking more and more like white elephants every day???