Friday, 24 July 2009

Stillwater in Launceston

You know how you acquire memories which get softer, and better, the longer time goes on?

Well my memories of Tidal Water Restaurant, the superb restaurant situated at St Helens from the late 90’s/early 2000’s, which subsequently relocated to Launceston and morphed into Stillwater, are like that. I possess two menus from Tidal Water Restaurant, one of which graces the cover of my prized personal Recipe Book. The meals at Tidal Water were stunning, and faultless. The service was such that I have never witnessed the same since.

People travelled from all over Tasmania to eat there. My parents did. They took friends, who in turn took more friends. The food was way before its time, and was simply out of this world. I loved it there, even more than I love Marque IV (if it had existed then, which it didn’t).

That is the background to my visit yesterday to Stillwater. Given that the owners are the same people, and that trillions of diners there have absolutely raved about Stillwater, I naturally expected the same, or better, than the old Tidal Water.

I was sadly let down.

It breaks my heart to think back to my lunch yesterday. To start with, there was an elementary spelling mistake on the blackboard menu, which I pointed out to the waitress as she seated me. Her response was to ask me if I was a teacher. That was it! No attempt to ask me what the mistake was, or to fix it. It was still there like that when we left at the end of the lunch period. Now to me, that’s OK for a pub (and even then it’s not, but you know what I mean!), but for somewhere like Stillwater, I’d assume there would be NO spelling mistakes (or mistakes of ANY kind) anywhere, let alone left all day like that! A minor glitch, yes, so let’s move on.

We had a lunch meeting, so three of us dined. We decided the Stillwater’s taste plate ($19.50) of “four continually changing tastes/flavours” sounded good, so ordered three of those to start with. Todays tastes were:
A latte glass of the soup of the day, which was Cauliflower, scallop and black truffle salsa; a tiny square of Asian sugar cooked pork belly; a crumbed scallop with a ginger syrup over it; and an Asian prawn salad.

Great idea but extraordinarily ordinary. The soup was fine. The pork belly was fine. The crumbed scallop was a crumbed scallop. The prawn salad was a tad better than the other three offerings on the tasting plate, but not much. As I said, they were all fine, but not outstanding – like I expected them to be.

Next came mains. I was torn between the Thai fish cakes ($28.50, on ginger and mirin jasmine rice, fragrant coconut curry sauce and Asian herb salad), and the Salt and Pepper squid ($27), so asked the opinion of the waitress, who said that a bunch of customers yesterday had raved about the Fish Cakes. Had it been somewhere else I definitely wouldn’t have ordered them but with the memory of the brilliant meals I’d eaten in the past at TW and aware of the huge reputation of SW, I selected the fish cakes.

Big mistake! They were worse than awful! I simply don’t like to be so negative, so won’t dwell on how bad they were, but let me just say that if any of my grandchildren can’t make better Thai Fish Cakes than those, I’ll eat my hat!

My plate, complete with 2/3 uneaten food, was cleared back at the end of the meal by the waitress who didn’t raise a hair, or enquire as to why her customer hadn’t eaten much on the plate. Unbelievable!

My lunch companions had the Pork Belly ($26.50) mains (same as entrĂ©e except piled higher), and the Herb and Pepper seared Atlantic Salmon ($29), lemon butter mash and crushed peas with tomato/Tasmanian reisling reduction. The pork was apparently brilliant, but the salmon wasn’t up to expectations.

We desserted on an Apple and Rhubarb Cake, a Chocolate Tart and a Citrus Syrup Cake – all $7.70 each. Ordinary.

Look, I’m truly sorry – about the moan above; about the fact that I’d built up my expectations so high; about the fact that this establishment seems to have gone downhill so much for me; that I didn’t enjoy driving all the way to Launceston for a lunch that was so ordinary; that I paid an arm and a leg for the privilege too ($250).

If I close my eyes, do you think I would wake up, and it would all have been a bad dream? Would that it were so….I had waited three years for this day to come (ie the day I get to review Stillwater for my blog). You let me down big time, SW. I’m broken hearted about it.


nutsdeb said...

I hate it when that happens, you remember things so much better than they are now. Could it be that the restuarant remained the same but your tastes have far exceeded their standards? When we were kids we all thought Pizza Hut spag bog was the best in the world but we all know better now! It's still a shame...

Anonymous said...

paul's staying at marque IV

Anonymous said...

I am not sure if this is true or not but I have heard that there is a different team at Stillwater through the day as to the evening and possibly evening diferent owners. This would be consistent with the quality of food i have eaten there over the years. The evening meals, particularly the degustation, are stunning where as the day time fare is relatively run of the mill.

lemon curd said...

Slightly off topic, but possibly slightly relevant...
What is everyone's opinion on where to serve/clear meals from?
-Serve from left clear from right
-Serve and clear from right
-Serve and clear from right but don't interrupt conversation

A few options, obviously a few more out there, what's the go?

the archbishop said...

should you be casting first stones at spelling mistakes sister rita?

Rita said...

Thank you Anon 7.46. That would possibly account for the ordinariness of everything experienced there on Thursday.
Possibly not, archbishop, but then again I am not running one of Tasmania's (arguably) top restaurants which by reputation possesses the highest in all standards hospitality.

Kitty said...

Hi Rita
We had our last supper at Fee and Me on Tuesday - and fortunately, it did live up to memory and expectations. Well worth the drive.
Unfortunately we stayed at the Colonial in one of their refurbished "business class" rooms - with the red carpet and the black net curtains and very subdued lighting - well, I'm supposing it was different business they had in mind.....

Rita said...

Hey Kitty - great to have you drop by! Did you get to pop your head in the kitchen and say 'hi' to Fee?
Hope you're getting as much use from your TM as Nellie - I left her this afternoon whipping up a mean-smelling Butter Chicken for dinner party tonight, complete with freshly dry-roasted and ground garam masala - all done in the Thermomix. Man, I wish I was one of her friends and not her mother!

kim said...

Just came across your blog while googling away and thought I had to respond. Firstly I must disclose I am part of the Stillwater team. There are 4 partners that are responsible for different parts of the operation, Don Cameron is our Executive Chef, Mel Cameron is our Front of House Manager, Rod Ascui is our Business Manager and I, Kim Seagram take care of Marketing, Communications and many other associated jobs.

I must sincerely apologise for the luncheon you experienced and the service was just not up to the standard that we endeavour to train our staff to. As for the food we run different styles of food throught the day. Breakfast, lunch and afternoon or morning tea is a much more casual affair in a cafe style with food that is more seasonally focussed and simpler. It is our evening dining that really sets us apart from our competitors. I think this is the experience you were seeking when comparing us with Don and Mel's old operation Tidal Water in St Helens. Rod and I used to have Ripples Cafe at Ritchies Mill throughout the 80's and 90's.

We appreciate customers who bring to light any defficiencies in our service or food offerings and endeavor to recitfy the problems to continue to fine tune and make our operation the best it can be, thank you.

If there was any chance you might be in Launceston one night in the near future we would love you to experience our what we can really do and do well.

I hope to hear from you soon.
Kim Seagram

Rita said...

Hi Kim and a warm welcome to Rita's Bite blog. Thank you for your considered response to my post about Stillwater. Yes, I WILL be in Launceston overnight within the next month, and truly want to experience the true Stillwater food which my memory, plus everyone else I've ever spoken to about it, has reported.
I will make sure I return for an evening meal, and am positive it will impress!

Kim said...

Please let me know if I can help at all with a booking for you, I can be reached at the restaurant on 6331 4153 and would like to endeavour to make up for your less than exemplary lunch.