Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Adding Jervois to the whine list

My radio buddies and I visited Jervois Steak House for lunch recently, and I was mighty pleased with the food – particularly as I shotgunned the only signature prime rib available that afternoon. But we had a disappointing service experience which rather spoiled the meal.

Early on, I asked our waitress for some suggestions from the winelist, telling her that we were after something 'mid-range'. My wait-staff shorthand isn't perfect yet, but I had hoped this might prevent any embarrassingly expensive recommendations, although in the end it didn't really matter as just then I spotted a Rioja for $86 and thought it would be a good opportunity to introduce my colleagues to a good Spanish red.

Whether or not you feel that $86 represents a mid-range choice might be interesting to discuss on another occasion, but for now all you need to know is that half an hour later, when someone else at my table asked for a bottle recommendation, our empty bottle of Rioja was replaced with a different, second bottle of red which we duly guzzled.

It wasn't until we paid our bill that I noticed that second bottle was on the list at $116. Now, is it extraordinarily mean-spirited of me to begrudge the fact that we were bumped up well into the next price bracket without any sort of warning from our waitress?

As it happened, we had quite a mix of diners at the table, not all of whom would have been entirely comfortable paying $24 for each glass of red, particularly without knowing they were doing so. I would include myself in this list – a Friday afternoon lunch with friends being one of those occasions where the Angel of Quantity might start to out-wrestle the Angel of Quality for control of the wallet.

The unexpected expense wouldn't have been so bad if I could blame an inexperienced waitress, but when we paid our bill the mâitre d' made it clear that he'd helped pick the bottle. My co-host Jeremy reckons that's what happens when you ask a staff member to choose your wine – they'll try and milk you for the extra cash. For me, one of the nice things about going to an expensive restaurant should be that generally the staff know better. Perhaps they're missing the excellent Kirsty Brown, who used to preside over the front of house but recently shifted to Bristo Lago in Taupo without so much as a goodbye hug.

An extra thirty dollars, when split between four people, isn't going to break the bank. But to me it's a worrying sign that the restaurant staff were either playing us or not paying enough attention; neither are forgivable in an establishment which asks you to pay up to $100 for a steak, on the basis that you're in trustworthy hands.

Post script
Also, the urinal is mangled and there's no mirror in the mens' bathroom. I don't need to stare at my own reflection all evening but it would have been nice to know that I had crema de balsamico on my Adam's apple.