Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Thanks John Lethlean

I read with much interest John Lethlean’s Weekend Australian Magazine review of The Mill on Morrison, in Hobart on Saturday 12/5/12.

I need to make a few gross generalisations before I move on with my thoughts on his review, just to set the scene. Firstly, The Australian is read Australia-wide, by people of a certain ilk. Most of those readers would be the types of people with a reasonably disposable income, and an interest in, or passion for, good food, wine and culture. These are the people who are currently bringing in a lot of high end dollars to the state whilst they arrive to do a foraging and cooking course with Rodney Dunn at Agrarian Kitchen in Lachlan, staying at Islington in South Hobart or Saffire at Coles Bay, eating at Garagistes in the city and spending time at MONA at Berriedale.

All of those activities are wonderful, and worthy recipients of the high end dollar, and are providing our state with the kudos of being THE place for quality experiences for the discerning mainlander.

Without a doubt, all the abovementioned places have top quality staff whose sole aim in their working life is to provide their customer with absolute perfection in their devotion to duty.

But these same customers should beware that if they stray off the straight and narrow road of any of the above venues, they are likely to find exactly what John Lethlean describes in his review – a lack of committed service, bad food and general questionable hospitality practices.

Let me hurry to assure one and all that these are merely generalizations, and that every single place that isn’t one mentioned above is therefore unprofessional and inconsistent! That is definitely NOT the case. Hence my blog listing of Recommended Best Eats….these are places I have been to over a period of time and found to have two of my most desirable attributes in a hospitality environment: consistently good service and consistently good food. Note the word ‘consistent’. My belief is that this is where we, as a collective hospitality industry, are severely let down. We are simply not consistent enough. Hence decimating reviews such as John Lethlean gave Meadowbank a few months back, and The Mill over the weekend.

Coincidentally, in the weeks before Lethlean published his Meadowbank review, I had gone there and genuinely written a most glowing and complimentary review of the wonderful food and service I had received there. I was blown away by my experience, to such an extent that I decided to take a party of 6 hospitality friends there a few weeks later. The variation and difference in food and service was astronomical. If I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes, I wouldn’t have believed it. Our experience the second time was the polar opposite of my previous visit. The service was abysmal, and the food, just plain bad. I went to the toilet deliberately to check in the kitchen to see if head chef Wayne Smith was present, thinking that maybe they were without him that day, which might account for the food, but he was there.

Then the week after, Lethlean’s review appeared in The Weekend Australian, slamming Meadowbank for all the faults and foibles we had observed the week before. Had I not returned to Meadowbank after my previous visit, I would have been hugely offended and affronted on Meadowbank’s behalf at such an unfair attack on an obviously wonderful place. As it was, I had to nod regretfully as I read it, as by then I totally understood where Lethlean was coming from, and that he probably had, in fact, had an experience identical to mine.

So, despite the fact that I haven’t been to The Mill, I think John Lethlean has done us a favour. He is using eyes, ears and a mouth which travel Australia reviewing restaurants. He has not decided to pick on Tasmania specifically. He has judged a few Tasmanian restaurants on a nation-wide basis, and has found us lacking in many areas. I believe consistency is the main one.

Commenter on this blog, Richard, is correct when he says we fall so short it’s embarrassing.

That’s what blew me away when eating at St Kat’s in Melbourne a month ago. I looked around the room, watching body language and overhearing conversations, and thought to myself there was 100% approval by all customers present there. Nothing was left to chance by all staff, both FOH and kitchen. The food was exactly the standard it should have been, as was the service. It was so obviously consistent.

So Tassie restaurants – take note – take your heads out of your collective butts! Stop being so loudly proud of being Tasmanian, and automatically thinking that gives you a passport to fabulousness, and ensure you actually CAN deliver the goods, every single minute of every single day you are trading.


Anonymous said...

I don't want to thank Rita for her support; rather, I'd like to say that what she has published here, in the context of a small town and a small "food community" is brave and very honest. I think Tasmania and Hobart in particular should be grateful for this kind of candour when playing the game of sycophancy indulged in by most bloggers would have been the path of least resistance.

John Lethlean

Anonymous said...

Bravo Rita

Anonymous said...

mmm interesting. The Australian review = Bad Restaurant.
Tas Hospitality awards = Best new restaurant.
Now who is right??

Leigh said...

Fantastic article Rita. While I am absolutely lacking in all sorts of qualification here (Apart from knowing where to enjoy parmi, and where not to), I'm frequently sayigng "Why does Tassie have it so wrong? We have the best produce, the best location, yet something is making it go horribly pear shaped"

potplant said...

Read this with a growing sense of relief...I've been sadly disappointed by the standard of everything in some Tassie restaurants that consistently get rave reviews in foodie mags etc. and wondered if I'm just over-fussy or lucked out and went on the day when the apprentices were in charge. Also, as a lone female diner of a certain age, I've observed my reception was sometimes decidedly cooler than that given to couples or parties, but perhaps I'm being paranoid?

Anonymous said...

I disagree, Its not hard to find bad food and service all over Australia, and the world. I have had some amazing meals in tasmania, shockers in 3 hatted sydney restaurants(and vice versa). Its hospitality, its run by people and there will allways be the element of human error so its never ever going to be ALLWAYS perfect. I feel for the owners of the mill, owning a restaurant is hard and I am sure they are doing there best, otherwise why would they be there?
I agree with Tetsuyas veiw on this review, not everyone likes the same thing, its only one persons opinion.
And it certainly does not mean that all tasmanian restaurants are not up to standard.

lemon curd said...

I went three times to the Mill. Once was fantastic, a very enjoyable evening. The other two times were very similar to Lethlean's experience. Food that I would have been dissapointed preparing let alone serving.

I didn't read the review as the vitriolic attack it's being made out to be, in fact I was a bit confused reading Fabian's response in the Mercury the other day - particuarly "We're not trying to be a fancy, upmarket restaurant. We just want to be a casual, fun, happy restaurant with good food..."

Imagine if he had responded with "Yes it was a bad review, I didn't agree with everything, but we're targeting Bla, Bla and Bla as a priority and would hopefully have the opporunity to redeeem ourselves for Mr Lethlean in the near future."

My point is - why not take on the chin this and improve what you do and how you do it? Because there are some things that are great there, and other things that clearly aren't. Build on the strengths, and fix the weaknesses!!

David said...

After what you've said about Meadowbank in this post, should you still have it in your list of recommended best eats?

Rita said...

Thank you John Lethlean. I only call it as I see it.
Leigh - you ask a question I have been asking myself for many years!
Potplant - you're definitely not alone, rest assured. On the question you ask about your reception as a lady of certain years, you're probably correct, unfortunately. We generally begin to fade into the background as we age, unless of course we are a minor or major celebrity!
Anon 3.48 - you are 100% correct as well. If you read the blurb at the top of my Restaurant page, you will see that I have always maintained exactly that fact you so rightly point out - that a review is merely one persons reaction to a situation...in this instance a dining out situation. Tetsuya is, as he should be, correct in maintaining that not everyone likes the same thing - if that were the case, there'd be no need for menus because we'd all eat the same thing!
LC - thanks for that! I hadn't realised the outcomes of your subsequent visits to Mill! And yes, I wholeheartedly endorse what you suggest Fabian say. Put your hand up and admit that you have stuffed up! How hard is that? Apparently very hard!
David - well spotted! I wondered if anyone was paying attention to that! I have left Meadowbank there because I have subsequently returned and found all to be as it was previously. Added to that, a few industry friends whose opinions I trust implicitly have also had great meals and service there since, so Meadowbank gets a reprieve!

Anonymous said...

funny enough, I went to the Mill a day before the review was published. I must say I 100% agree with Mr.Lethlean and Rita.

I was happy to pay the price per dish, however I was not happy to pay the price for the standard, quality and quantity of food I received!

I went to the restaurant, took my whole family and left feeling, hungry, angry and robbed.

My advice, instead of cost cutting with shockingly small serves of tapas, rethink the price per tapa (that is, all the cuts of meats used in the dishes are pretty cheap!), let the menu flow... tapas is Spanish... where were the Sardines, tomato based tapas, garlic prawns soaked in butter and garlic...free bread to soak the sauce in? Fill your customers up! If it means giving them free bread because you know the servings will not fill them up, so be it! Trust me, they will be a tad happier for that.

Garlic Popcorn for $5!! Popcorn for $5!!!! which would have been a mouth full (I knew to stay clear of that one!)

Just a note to all restaurant owners and their FOH. Your customers are doing you a favour and not the other way around. Do not forget that they have chosen your restaurant to spend their hard earned money and deserve the experience you have promised. I believe restaurant owners should drill this into their staff heads. A customer should constantly be reminded of why they are there.. For the food and the service! After all, that is what they are paying for!!!

Anonymous said...

Congratulations Rita the best article you have ever put forth and thank you very much mister lethlean. Hopefully this will be the kick in the arse the "middle rung" food in Tasmania requires. On a side note they were the only restaurant in that field at THA's which is a self nominated awards

Anonymous said...

Firstly, I think instead of focussing in on establishments receiving bad reviews and giving them mass media attention, perhaps we should focus on the venues that have been consistently receiving good reviews/ praise, acknowledge their contribution to the food industry in Tasmania, and maybe angle the media in a positive direction. Garagiste, Sidecar, Pidgeonhole Cafe, Ethos Eat Drink, Mee Wah (to name a few of many) are fastaatic establishments, with a consistent high quality, and their media/reviews reflect that.

Also, it's rumoured that three of the judges have left the THA board, unhappy with the fact that The Mill was awarded Best New Restaurant, in a category that they were the only establishment eligible/nominated.

I'm not sure whether that will change people's minds, but maybe it should...

steve said...

No one ever complains about a good review

Anonymous said...

Wrong Steve - a few well know eating establishments have indeed closed after receiving accolades.
El Bulli for one killed by its success. Ferran Adria, owner of the loss-making establishment, decided that he no longer wants to serve members of the public.

Oh and the THA awards are often awarded to the only entrant in the section. The awards are only open to members and very few owners will pay the membership to an organisation that offers very little to a small establishment.

If you don't believe me ask your waiter/ress unless of course you are dinning with the Farrells.

Oh and John Lethlean I don't always agree with your reviews but at least when it comes to Tasmania you don't seem to carry any of the parochial baggage that Tasmanian based reviewers do and you don't have a conflict of interest because you don't supply services to the establishments you review !!!

Good bad or indifferent- the review is a chance to reassess your aims and objective, correct the errors and build on the strengths.

Move on get over it and improve - life is full of mediocrity.

(And ice vovo's Sire Grump)


Anonymous said...

Are you talking about certain local restaurant critics that also have a wine business? buy enough of their wine and it may get you places.

Brad the Web Designer said...

Good to see Rita telling it how it is!

Loudly proud of being Tasmanian certaintly doesn't automatically grant a passport to fabulousness.

However, if someone was to stray off the straight and narrow road in the mainland, wouldn't they also encounter restaurants lacking committed services and questionable hospitality practices?

Rita said...

Yay Cool Room - glad you're still out there, and dropping in to visit now and then!
Brad - I have to confess to having not been on any road trip on the mainland since my last marriage broke up - which was 10 years ago - hence I have no idea what you would encounter if you strayed off the straight and narrow interstate. Due to that reason, plus the fact that my hospitality knowledge is only relevant to southern Tasmania, I simply cannot comment on your suggestion that people might encounter the same on the mainland.

steve said...

Yes you will encounter bad resto's on mainland if you stray-thats not the point, the review was here, in Hobart. This response it yet another deflection, indicitive of the 'victim' mentality thats seems so pervasive here amongst a strata of hosp people who feel they been 'hard done by'.
For the great majority of operators, a good review is seldom complained about. Yes Pier in Sydney and Skye Gygnell responded to critical acclaim, the former handing their 3 hat status back and the latter quitting her post at Petersham, however these cases are in the absolute minority.
Nobody takes self nominated awards seriously and those that trade off them are seriously deluded.
Lethlean has his favourites and I think its obvious who they are, could this be interpreted as parochial as he is victoria based, maybe it could, but so what? he's entitled to his opinion and so are the reviewers here.
As to the wine importeres whom several people on this blog have alluded to being favourable to those who sell their plonk, that is simply not true. They go to great lengths to declare that they sell wines to said establishments. Think about it, their very currency as reviewers would be devalued if they were compromising their critiques for financial gain.
Underpinning this, they keep getting the gig at GT, so obviously the management trusts their judgement.
We all need to lift our game and I'm not putting myself or my establishment above this, we'll definately be trying harder.

Anonymous said...

Four courses of Vegetarian food for $170???
I could get a vegetarian lunch and dinner for a week on that dosh!

Madge said...

Okay, I'm not a completely fussy eater/diner but...

On recommendation from a colleague, I stopped off at a cafe in Campbelltown yesterday just for a hot choc and snack. The bloke who served me took "disinterested" to the extreme, and when I told him a friend had raved about the establishment ... he didn't even acknowledge that I had spoken to him. Not even a bland, "That's nice, dear"!!!

The cafe was so warm and inviting and I would have preferred to have stopped for a sit down snack. Perhaps it was the low $$ value that drew his disrespect?

Whatever, won't be going back there and will be telling people to avoid it.

Anonymous said...

Hello Rita,
I have only just discovered your blog and came across responses to The Mill review. My partner & I were visiting from Brisbane and ate there last week. While I thought the food was pretty good, there were quite a few glitches with attention to detail. Bones in the flathead fish tacos and salmon. Young staff that seem distracted and unprofessional, and one even managed to accidentally pour the juices of a scallop dish down the arm of my partner and into his wine. All this without apologising. While we thought the food was fine, we would have liked to see more care taken. The local produce used was excellent by the way.