Sunday, 2 May 2010

The elephant in the room?

Do you remember the old children’s story of “The Emperors new clothes”? It’s a tale by Hans Christian Anderson about two weavers who promise an Emperor a new suit of clothes invisible to those unfit for their positions or incompetent. The Emperor parades before his subjects in his new clothes, telling everyone in the town how fabulous he looks in his fabulous new clothes, and everyone in the town, falling over each other to be seen to be agreeing with the Emperor and wishing to be perceived as being fit for their position, agree how fabulous his new clothes look, with no one actually speaking up and confessing that they can’t see anything, until a child (with the usual child-like frankness of youth) speaks up innocently, proclaiming the Emperor isn’t even wearing clothes!

Well that tale occurred to me when I read this weekend’s John Lethlean review of Lebrina. Lebrina has seemed to me for many years to be the sacred cow of Hobart restaurants. No one has publicly derided the place, to my knowledge. It appears to have been a no-go area, whenever the subject of restaurants and their food has ever come up in the many conversations comparing food that I’ve been privy to with friends and acquaintances, and in the media, ever since it opened.

Whilst agreeing that I have thoroughly enjoyed many meals there over the years, it’s not the restaurant that immediately springs to my mind when planning a meal out, for some reason. I know that most high profile people, and people whose opinions on food I respect greatly, have all been in alignment in their Lebrina views – that the place is the cathedral of Hobart fine food, and dining out generally.

Which is why, when I read this weekend’s Australian’s restaurant reviewer John Lethlean’s review of Lebrina, I was extremely interested to hear his opinions, as he has none of the bias and links that locals have with Lebrina, so was writing his review coming from a totally different place to the usual local reviews of it. And poor Lebrina didn’t fare too well with an interstater reviewing.

If we continue with the Emperor’s new clothes analogy, Lethlean took on the role of the child in pointing out that while the food at Lebrina was fine, the place generally was “underwhelming”, commenting that he sees Lebrina as “a big fish in a small pond, and not one I care to drop a line in anymore”. Harsh words from arguably Oz’ top restaurant reviewer. He also states that the kind of dining to be found at Lebrina is now “kind of irrelevant, in a slightly poignant manner”.

Re-reading my account of my Lebrina experience from 2008, I understood what he is saying, and find it interesting to observe (in hindsight) that some other commenters to that post of mine ‘got it’ too. Being a loyal Tasmanian, I take offence to his criticizing one of our restaurants, but, to be honest, it does have a ring of Emperor’s new clothes to me.


Christina said...

I know exactly what you mean Rita, and the worst of it is, this is how I felt after eating at Pecora.
I loved the entree, arancini if I recall, but wasn't that satisfied with my main, salad with flowers, but even though it was home grown,local,beautifully done etc., and I could appreciate that, it just didn't do it for me. Very hard to say at the time when everyone else is raving madly about the place. A little overpriced I felt too.

I so understand how hard it is to be totally honest without ruffling a few feathers. While Phil and I adored Farmgate when Lee was there, others we'd taken weren't as impressed, we later found out.
The Republic, being a big favourite of mine, is a no go zone for some of our friends, but at least they are comfortable enough to tell us this.

My answer is always, each to their own, and this is why we have so many options, can't please all of the people all of the time.

It's easier to go with the flow than against it, and having to question yourself in the process.
I do think this process brings a deeper awareness and a sureity{?}of your final opinion though.

doolz said...

I took a group of friends to Lebrina and all of us were underwhelmed, esp with the lack of flavour of the combos on the plate. I really tried to like the experience (esp after all the positive media) but what was missing was the after dinner rave with friends about the food. We all agreed it was a bit ho hum and ripped off.
Recently I took my son to Ezards (Melb)to celebrate his 18th. The atmosphere was hushed (like Lebrina), but the food was outstanding with new flavours and textures that were exquisite as well as interesting. Things I look for in my 3-4 yearly "fine dining" experiences. It was expensive but worth it....and we both couldn't stop raving about it.

Anonymous said...

What a great post Rita-Why do Sue & Roger of rate it as THE BEST PLACE IN TAS TO DINE OUT THEN?

Christina said...

Hey Doolz, dined at Gingerboy which is Ezards restaurant too, too long ago now,nearly two years, but have never forgotten it, and think of it often! I know what you mean about the after dinner rave! If you can get that at the end of a great meal, you know it's been well worth it!

inn-cider said...

Pecora was overrated-& didn't last long, it died before it choked on its own hyperbole and that was three years ago.

BI Cheese extension is interesting. Finally upping the ante on the cafe delivery. Hopefully no more long waits on food, rock hard bread, masked as 'artisan' and management yelling at staff in front of customers.

Cumper at RVL getting another award. Hope the bread still comes out on time, whatever there is of it-maybe wake up earlier & bake some more!

Flukes-less Home Hill song remaining the same-was he ever there?

1.3/4 wait for toasted sangas at Fleurtys last weekend left a party of guests fuming.

Curious & damming review in W/end Australian Mag about Tasmania's top rated resto-Lebrina thisd weekend.

Roge & Sue, do you read Lethlean's articles?

Anonomouse said...

So glad someone else said it. I got torn apart when I complained about Lebrina. The gist of my argument is that I thought there was biasing towards "Starring/Hatting" a place in Tasmania i.e. lesser restaurants in Tasmania get more stars than a similar sort of place on the mainland getting starred. I also said the service at Lebrina was disinterested, the food while being good was nothing special and it was overpriced for the number of dishes/quality of dishes we got. Got ripped apart by the locals. They seemed to think it was good if not better than places like Guillaume at Bennelong, Claude's and Bilson's... Funnily enough, some hadn't even dined at any of these.

I'm really glad that someone with a lot more influence than me has finally said it. Lebrina is a good little restaurant - I love dining rooms like that. But it really does have the potential to be a truly great restaurant - much much more than what it is now. To me, it seems to be resting on it's laurels and past performances. It's like an old footballer - the fans really love him, but his performances have waned yet you can't drop him because the fans will tear the town apart. Such a shame...

Anonymous said...

I agree with the above sentiments whole heartedly. Locally, it is rated as Tasmania's best restaurant by Graham Philips & Roger & Sue(who review for Gourmet)
Scott Minervini is a good if not great chef and the prices at Lebrina are right up there, comparable to the mainlands best. Because of this they should be on a par with them but I dont think they are.
I think they are tired of it all and sadly it shows

Anonomouse said...

GP has no idea... I think Tassie needs some good competition to GP. A critic who knows their stuff and is willing to make the big calls and go against the status quo.

Anonymous said...

dont think we need any more critics just consistent ones...dont believe lebrina is the best...but its good in its own way...if a bit dated...anticipatingt a few new openings this year...hope they can deliver the goods...or be prepared to take a few hits...still the usual suspect critics will fall over themselves...the rest of us will just have to decide for ourselves

lemon curd said...

I don't think it was a really bad review - I like his writing, always feel like he's sitting next to me with a glass of vino debriefing in a bar. He was to the point, happy to say he wouldn't revisit.

Lebrina has never been on my radar, mainly because I've never known anyone who has worked there, or been conected to the place - which is odd given the incestuous nature of the hobart hospo scene!

I'm moving soon, and had Lebrina on my 'things to do in hobart as I haven't done it in the last two decades' list, but I might leave it this time and have another panini at p-hole...

sir grumpy said...

Where was that review? What page/section...I must have breezed right past it.

Rita said...

Sir G - your poor old eyes are obviously failing you these can find it in the Weekend Australian Magazine May 1-2, Food & Wine section, Page 29, headed 'Medium rarefied'.

sir grumpy said...

Sorry, Rita...what was that...couldn't see wot you wrote. (But thanks, I must have whizzed past it umpteen times).

sir grumpy said...

Hmmm, read it now. Food sounded good.
I'd love to hear what the chef and staff think of the review.
Right of reply and all that.

Anonymous said...

Just thought I would add a note to say a posh new Bar named Ivory has just opened up in Hobart. (Ex Proller)

Haven't been yet but heard it's good.

nutsdeb said...

For you Sir Grumpy the link to the article:

sir grumpy said...

Thanks to Nutsdeb, technology what a concept.

Anonomouse said...

In other restaurant news....

373 win's best restaurant in Tasmania...

You are dead set kidding aren't you? If it names Angasi as a "Cafe Restaurant", The Point as best fine dining and Mures Upper Deck as best seafood it's not exactly an award worth been excited about...

Anonymous said...

It’s clear that many who comment on this blog see it as a way to exercise professional jealousy

Why can’t some of you just accept someone else's success?

I bet the 373 team are really proud of their achievement.

Why not let them enjoy their moment?

Perhaps you feel overlooked, ignored or underappreciated.

I empathise, but slagging off others sadly reveals much about your character.

It’s hard to accept, but it’s not always about you.

Christina said...

I have to say when I read the list myself, I couldn't believe Mures was our best seafood. I know we have a dismal representation for a State that prides itself on fantastic seafood, but Mures?
And as for The Point fine dining, I'm positive there are many others giving this place not only a run for their money, but excelling in fine dining!
Can't comment knowledgably on Angasi as I've never been, but am reasonably sure that is more of a fully fledged restaurant than a cafe.
Congratulations to 373 though. I'm sure it's well desreved.
I guarantee you anon 9:11 there is no professional jealousy on my part.
I'm just a passionate diner, but I thought exactly the same thing as Anonomouse.

Anonomouse said...

Anon 9.11

Professional jealousy? I don't think so. I totally disagree with the list. I'm sorry that I don't agree with it. It's nothing to do with jealousy... Obviously you are in some way associated with 373 and I think that's good. I think 373 is a reasonably good restaurant. But in my opinion it is nowhere near as good as others. I'm happy for you to celebrate.

I don't feel overlooked, ignored or under appreciated. I'm not even in the industry anymore. But I do know what a great restaurant is, what a good restaurant is and what a crap restaurant is.

Explain to me what my character reveals? Come right out and say it. I don't mind. I'm happy for you to say it. Rita no need to delete. LOL!

I simply gave an opinion - either you can suck it up or have a cry about it. I'm guessing the second judging by your initial response.

Winners r Grinners said...

Hey anonomouse
373 won 373 won 373 won!
Now many people know of that restaurant and their win but no one knows you coz you weren't good enough to stay in the industry-suck that up quitter!

Christina said...

Maybe Mures and others are about to get a run for their money.
Heard a rumour last night that Tacos at the silos will be gone by July and that Joff from Flathead will be there.
Only a rumour, but bloody hell I hope it's true!

Anonymous said...

Winners.... No one knows about the restaurant because it's not that great. Sorry to say. It wasn't particularly good when I went and it doesn't compare to some of it's contemporaries... The mushroom plate I had was shocking. Dry flavourless lasagne, weak as water consomme. Yuk. Disinterested service; 23 minutes to clear two plates - with two other small tables there. Horribly overpriced for what I got. $35 mains? For that? Skipped dessert - went and got an Oreo McFlurry.

Just saw the list. No Smolt, Picalilly or Source? Strange.

Anonymous said...

Source-still finding its legs after big name chef arrived 5 months ago and just got a new menu on. The jury's out. Our local scribes have been less than impressed.

Picalilly-too try hard-dont mean that in a bad way but I'm yet to be convinced. The dining room needs to be more high end if the food has the aspirations of greatness it appears to have.

Smolt is curious. Its good food and reliable service but somethings lacking? Its as if the place needs a jolt of something to awaken them and focus its enormous potential.

For my money Piccolo and Monty's fly under the radar. Marque iv cant possibly be as bad as some reviewers will have you think. Good things are coming out of Meadowbank kitchen again.

Anonymous said...

Pretty good summary, right on the money at this moment in time!


Anonymous said...

well done 373 on the win, and well deserverd for a young couple who have put their money were there mouths are and got in there and had a go. Unlike other anonomouse commenters that are happy to just bag the shit out of everone else and TALK about how they would be able to do things better.