We've all been in a restaurant when something goes wrong. Whether it's with our own meals, the service or another patron causing a fuss for whatever reason. Sometimes, these situations make everyone feel uncomfortable, and other times, there is not much you can do but sit back and watch the action unfold, which is what I did when I was recently invited to dine at E'cco Bistro in Brisbane.
E'cco is one of Brisbane's most loved, long standing restaurants with Philip Johnson at the helm. Philip Johnson was a celebrity chef back before there were celebrity chefs. E'cco has long been regarded as one of the top three in Brisbane but unfortunately, this doesn't mean it is immune to certain situations unfolding, as it did when I last visited.
Camb and I were seated at a table for two, just on the left of the main entry- at the window. Next to us, were an older couple who had already started their meal and were chatting away. Even though the staff knew that I was G.G. and I had brought my camera along, I didn't really feel too confident whipping it out, as the seating arrangements are quite close and I didn't want to attract undue attention or make other diners feel uncomfortable (hence the photos are taken on iphone and quite crap).
The very swift waitress had already given us menus and taken our drinks order when something at the next table started to go awry. The couple had just received their mains, and were now discussing, loudly enough for me to hear every word, the fact that the both the meals were cold. Uh oh. Neither seemed to be too uncomfortable when the man, not so bashfully, called the waitress over to complain, explaining that it was not good enough for the meals to be cold. At this point, I was inclined to agree. If you go to a restaurant with high expectations and are paying $40 + for a main you would hope the meal would be, at the very least, warm.
Meals were re done within the blink of an eye, and soon, the couple had two new meals sitting in front of them. Ahh- disaster averted. I was about to turn my attention back to Camb when suddenly, again, the man voices his disappointment with the temperature of the meal, but continues to eat about half of his meal anyway. When another waiter walks past to enquire about the meals- the man replies something to the tune of 'these meals are not even marginally better than last time', the waiter confirmed that he had heard correctly and then, with a look of horror on his face, goes to get the manager.
The manager comes over to enquire about the problem, explains that the temperature the meals were served at was closely checked, apologises profusely anyway and asks if he would like the half eaten meals to be returned to the kitchen. The man says he would like them to be, but he would like to try another option. The woman says she has 'had enough' and asks that the remainder of her meal be taken away and she not be served with another. At this point in time, the kitchen goes into overtime, and again, within 10 minutes, the man has another new meal in front of him. This time he is not pleased, but not displeased with the results, and eats his whole meal.
Camb would, without a doubt, leave me, if I caused such a fuss. Of course, I wouldn't. What struck me as rather odd, was the fact that neither of the couple seemed particularly embarrassed about the fiasco, which had certainly left the wait staff with some red faces. I'm going to assume (I know- assuming makes an ass and all that stuff but.....) that they have done this kind of thing before. They almost seemed like experts at complaining and having no qualms doing so. The restaurant do have to do their best to accommodate this sort of behaviour, and to, essentially, let the customer leave having enjoyed their experience. But what if the expectations are too high or completely unreasonable? What happens in that situation?
You see, in this situation, if I was the waitress, I'm not so sure I would have retained my temper or composure as well as the staff did, (who handled this situation with aplomb.) Had we not been seated directly next to the couple, we would have never known what was going on. I'm quite confident that after having the meals sent back once, the kitchen would have done their best to ensure everything was as close to perfect as possible. In fact, on the Saturday night that we visited, the restaurant was completely booked out, with several patrons waiting at the bar and everyone else in the restaurant seemed to be happy.
The experience was obviously meeting with everyone else's expectations. I'm also not sure if this man had an ulterior motive, (like his meal being given to him for free- which it was) or if he really, honestly, felt the three meals he was served just weren't good enough. I'd like to ask him- was it just the temperature that wasn't good enough? The flavour? Composition of the food? Service? All round experience lacking?
Were the couple next to us being unfair with their expectations? I think so. I think they were unnecessarily rude, demanding and downright grumpy. But still, the restaurant had to cater towards them. This, is why, we as diners also have a responsibility to be reasonable and adjust our expectations accordingly. I'm not suggesting that you should not have high expectations when dining at the a restaurant the calibre of Ecco, however I am suggesting that the man may have had a very different definition of hot to everyone else.
I'm also suggesting that whilst a restaurant is in the business of people pleasing, there are obviously, some people that can't be pleased. Whether in this case this was 'rightly so' or completely unreasonable, the restaurant still had to do their best to cater towards this couple, and do so with a smile. I'm not sure I would last very long as a restaurateur.
Whilst all this fuss was going on, we were not left without attention, and ordered our meals. Camb was asking me to stop eavesdropping, but even if I wanted to (I didn't), I basically would have had to put ear plugs in to not hear the conversation at the next table.
Now, to the food. Camb ordered the field mushrooms on olive toast with rocket, parmesan, truffle oil and lemon as his entree whilst I went with the carpaccio of kingfish, nori, shiso, edamame and ponzu dressing (all entrees are $24.5)
Camb's entree was a simple dish, a classic ecco styled arrangement. Philip Johnson specialises in simple done exceptionally well, as this dish proved. The mushroom was gorgeously textured, the rocket fresh and the truffle oil splashed sparingly to ensure the rest of the dish was not overrun by the flavour. This dish is actually pretty sought after, and I managed to find the recipe online for you to use if this is something you would like to create at home. I'm going to give it a go this weekend.
I chose the carpaccio of kingfish which was served with herbs, edamame and ponzu dressing. This entree was light and almost cleansing- great to start with. The kingfish was fresh and the texture good, although, I would have preferred a little less ponzu to get a little bit more of the kingfish hit I was after.
As you know, it is my duty to try as many dishes as possible, and in every other instance I can remember, Camb and I ALWAYS order different dishes- but on the evening we dined at E'cco, both of us had our eye on the rabbit loin wrapped in smoked bacon served with rabbit leg ravioli, pea purée, baby carrots and maple jus for $42. Neither were willing to budge. Stubborn old things, aren't we?! This one time, we decided that it would be ok to order the same because we were both enamoured with the dish when we saw it being served to a neighbouring table (not THE neighbours) earlier in the evening.
The dish looked like a garden on the plate- very tempting. Peas and carrots were seriously special, even though they were just a little something on the side.
The rabbit loin and stuffing wrapped in bacon were just beautiful. The loin was tender, the stuffing had flavour and the bacon added just the right salty touch. The maple jus was rich but whole, adding depth to the dish.
The ravioli inside was falling apart tender, however, the ravioli case was overcooked, a little chewy and lacked the softness of a great ravioli case. That being said, the dish as a whole worked incredibly well and Camb and I were more than happy with our choice.
As you know, I'm not a big dessert eater, but this time, something caught my eye. Whilst Camb couldn't go past the special a chocolate souffle, served with chocolate sauce, honeycomb and chocolate icecream - the honey bavarian cream with gingerbread, compressed apple, coriander and green apple sorbet took my fancy.
The chocolate souffle had risen and Camb enjoyed every bite, blah blah blah- I simply cannot write anymore about it because I am so excited to tell you about the honey bavarian cream.
This honey bavarian cream, served with gingerbread, compressed apple, coriander and green apple sorbet (yes, I am showing reverence by repeating the full description again) was the single best dessert I have ever eaten in my life. Ever. There are no exceptions, nothing even comes close. This dessert was absolutely bewitchingly fantastic- it was as close to perfect as a dessert can taste for me. The cream was rich and full but not overpowering. The honey provided a sweet yet somehow almost earthy taste which was matched with the crunchy, bitey gingerbread. The dreamlike compressed apple and syrup had a beautiful soft texture and the syrup, drizzled over the cream, with a little bit of gingerbread too was basically the most wonderful dessert flavour combination. When all the sweet side of things got a little overwhelming, a bite of the fresh, punchy coriander and apple sorbet was all that was needed to bring the palate back down to earth and prepare it for the next bite of heaven.
So... that was my experience - a little bit of heaven for me, and a little bit of hell for the waitstaff. Is that the mark of a great restaurant? Something like the 'send it back 3 times situation' can occur right next to me, yet my dining experience was still fantastic. At times, I do see people getting a little self righteous about their dining experiences, it is surely an easy trap that we can all fall into. Particularly when you are paying good money for the experience and it doesn't live up to your expectations.
In these situations, I think, before complaining, it is important to ask- 1. Are my expectations reasonable? If you answer yes, then I think you are within your rights to politely point out the fault/problem. If you are polite and reasonable, I believe most establishments go out of their way to fix their error, and if they don't then your bad word of mouth is their punishment. If, however, like E'cco, they do everything in their power to rectify the error and the evening is saved, then surely that is something you would like to tell your friends about too.
....Tell me readers, what do you think about dining expectations? Have you ever been in a restaurant where a situation like this has unfolded?
When to go: For a special dinner, perhaps a birthday or anniversary. Or anytime you think you deserve to eat the best dessert of all time. (I'm hoping it stays on the menu forever.)
100 Boundary Street
Brisbane QLD 4001
07 3831 8344