Monday, July 4, 2011

Tony's Restaurant, Wellesley Street

For reasons too complicated to elaborate, last Friday I found myself on a dinner date with 21 other men of mixed ages, appetites and sexual preferences. Actually, the sexual preferences were fairly uniform, but  they weren’t going to be exercised that night – women were specifically banned for the duration of the evening.

The venue was Tony’s Restaurant, which has been operating in Wellesley Street since 1963. Unaccountably it didn’t show up on my recent list of the city’s top eateries from August 1980. Bloody hell, I hadn’t even heard of it myself until a couple of weeks ago.

Tony’s website tells us that it is ‘Auckland’s oldest (and many say, best loved) restaurant’. Who those ‘many’ might be is not specified, nor why they are spending their time gossiping about relative consumer affection among city eateries. But perhaps they are out there – you’d love the place very much, I’m sure, if your idea of a perfect meal involved some sort of deep fried white meat followed by something red on the grill. If you have recently asked yourself ‘why don’t restaurants slice stir fried carrot in a decorative fashion any more?’ then I suggest you book immediately.

But actually I’m not going to mock the experience at Tony’s, because we had a fucking great time. I don’t know that I could name another place in town where 22 men could go for a boozy dinner without having to put up with the staff periodically rolling their eyes or looking like they want to kill themselves – where in fact the staff actually seem very happy to be serving such a large, loud group.

“Are you going to stay sitting there?” one waitress asked the bloke next to me quite early in the night while seating order was still being discussed.

“Erm, I’m not sure sorry”, he replied meekly.

“Well totally don’t worry about it” she told him. “Sit wherever you like, move as much as you like and if I can’t find you give me a yell and we’ll sort it out.”

It pleased me very much. I make excuses not to go to group dinners generally, what with the latecomers, the loudness, the split bills … no matter how much I try to relax, my shoulders keep absorbing all the awkwardness and tension in the room until I can barely grip my fork. So what a rare and lovely pleasure to have the people at Tony’s be so cool and easy about serving dinner to a bunch of drunken monkeys.

And the food was okay – the scotch fillet had pockets of edibility, especially with extra mustard, and the chicken wings with a spicy sauce were pretty good too for that sort of thing. The waitress had recommended those wings; she said “I eat them every night after work”.

“Are they deep fried?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” she said, “I’ve never really noticed”.

It’s that sort of place, but you don’t begrudge them for it and besides, in my experience you’ll probably be less concerned about the food and more excited about your post-dinner trip to the casino, where you’ll lose your first seven hands of blackjack and go home in a huff when somebody points out that the money you’ve lost in six minutes could have bought a brand new merino sleepsuit for your baby daughter. Man, some people really shouldn’t be allowed to come on boys’ nights out.