Leon and I went to an extremely expensive restaurant, The Manse, for our tenth anniversary on Saturday night. I didn’t realise it was quite so..elite. I had passed the old building often and wondered what it would be like to eat there. It looked warm, a classic traditional old building with an open fire.
So we headed down there amazed we could get a table at such short notice. Inside we glanced at the menu and read about the chef’s french credentials and started to browse his recommendations. He suggested the “Grande Degustation” at $125 a head. I don’t blame him. He was probably making a tidy profit. So I looked at the “Petite Degustation”, $95.00. Moving on, I perused the mains and settled on the Blue Eye Trevalla, but then noticed, in fine print, a minimum of two courses. Hmmmmm. Too late. We weren’t going to do the walk of shame back out to the carpark, so we stayed and braced ourselves for the credit card bill.
“What do you think Lamb Sweetbreads would be?” asked Leon. I leaned and said out of the corner of my mouth “offal, you know like liver, or tongues, or something equally revolting” and he argued that it said “lamb” so surely it was something else.
He made his first error then, asking the waitress, who was already looking down her nose,what it was, exactly. ( I could not see why she was employing the down-nose-looking expression, she had a greasy fringe that kept falling into her eyes and her shirt, unbuttoned so low it was exposing far too much, was not impressive to me). However she calmly told Leon it was the thyroid gland, and beamed at him.
He thought he’d mis-heard so to my increasing discomfort he asked again.
“It’s the thyroid gland…(I showed my revulsion, so she eyeballed me)… it’s actually one of my favourite dishes on the menu.”
“Oh,…ummmm…I’ll have the vegetarian filo” said Leon.
She arched one eyebrow and replied “yes, sir”. So much disdain can be packed into a simple, “yes sir”.
A ‘complimentary’ aperitif arrived in a sherry glass. This is “roasted pine nuts with…”
…something and something, espume?….I think I heard that. I assumend that was the green frothy stuff. I thought it was sorbe at first because it was bright green and when I dipped in my spoon I was expecting sweet, but got a mouthful of salty and it wasn’t a pleasant surprise.
When my crab arrived, to my dismay I noticed lots more spumey froth, only this time it was white and salty and there’s really no need to go there is there? The wild rice looked like a pile of deep-fried maggots. It tasted much better, but I couldn’t find the crab under the large expanse of spumey froth, until I realised it wasn’t there, but it was the two 20 cent size piles to the left. By now I was starving.
Leon’s Nashi pear with goats cheese rolled in ash, was apparently nice. I guess it was smokey flavoured. I wouldn’t know because if he had shared it with me, he too would have been starving. However both dishes were immaculately presented on ridiculously large white plates, reducing their appearance to the comically small. Like feasts for pixies. When Leon ordered his steak the waitress nodded and began to walk off, so Leon wanted to make sure it was medium rare.
“How do you cook the steak” he asked. I think she almost frowned.
“We only do medium rare because any more than that and the chef feels,…(and almost in a whisper) well, there is too much shrinkage”
“Oh, good” replies a cheerful Leon.. “that’s how I like it”
She managed something between a grimace and a smile and disappeared.
Four well dressed gay guys arrived (don’t ask me how I know, it was just obvious) and ordered the “Grand Degustation” for everyone but “we’ll choose our own wine.” So they were shelling out for drink after drink and about half way through they asked if the chef could get a hurry on because they were late for a fortieth. Evil waitress did not even bat an eyelid.
Finally the mains arrived and Leon had ordered steak. $51.00 for beef sirloin, and I am expecting at least half a cow. But alas, the colossal white disc arrived with an artistic stripe of balsamic glaze and two 50 cent size pieces of sirloin decorated with baby radishes. Hmm, no wonder they don’t do well done, it would have looked like two goats turds.
My fish arrived and the waitress flourished a white jug while she reverently whispered “the cabbage consume” and proceeded to water the dish with bright red liquid.
Okay, I have eaten in nice restaurants before, but this was like a parody of posh. I kept expecting to see Basil Fawlty appear and reveal the joke was on us. I had to really sip the French Sauvignon Blanc, which was much less fruity than the Australian varieties, because like Leon’s Shiraz, it was $15 a glass! No getting pissed tonight. And it was all too salty I thought, churlishly.
Leon had just managed to break his beef into four mouthfuls, (delicious apparently) and lay his cutlery down to speak to me when she-devil turns around and asks
“Have you finished sir?”
Taken by surprise at how quickly she had noticed his plate was empty Leon checked, (probably to make sure the real steak wasn’t hiding somewhere) and replied, “yes thanks”
To which she responded with exaggerated precision, the closing together of his knife and fork, in the finished position. Like she was closing the legs of some wayward wench. She lifted his plate and even her departing gate was filled with derision.
On her return she handed me the desert menu and said enthusiastically, “If I may…” and was about to recommended desert and coffee when I abruptly declined and we both left, laughing and headed to the pub where we first met, downed a couple of cheap…er wines, reminisced and headed home to the safety of the couch and chilled champers in the fridge.
So call me a Philistine, but I think dinner out should be a pleasant experience with warm service. And you should feel full, and comforted by delicious flavours. Paying that amount of money for such a small amount of food seems obscene to me, so maybe I have an inferior, working class palate, but I care not!