Now THIS Is Hard to Stomach!

You know those annually issued gold books full of restaurant discount vouchers that every second bozo whips out like a hidden derringer when settling the bill? You hope the junior waitperson is on at the cash register when you pay, because if it’s the restaurateur, there’s this sense of false cheer (and occasional outright resentment) when they spy your voucher and realise that their profits are going to be lighter the weight of the discount.

I don’t like using the vouchers for that reason, but maybe that’s just me and my guilt complex. I know a couple who swap vouchers with other gold book holders to accumulate multiple discounts at their favourite eateries, where they unashamedly front up with apparently endlessly materialising vouchers time after time. Whatever…

Boomtown Rap regulars will be familiar with my financially undernourished state of being. Without the assistance of the gold book discounts, I would only rarely be able to indulge my love of eating out. I don’t get The Book every year, but I’ve bought it enough times to have tried out a fair sample of Perth restaurants that under non-discount circumstances would be out of my price range. And I have to say, my impression is not generally favourable.

Too often, the food is mediocre, on occasions dire. The service swings between blowfly attentive and downright neglectful. Outrageous corkage is often imposed on BYO wine. This is a trend that has been underway for some time, inflating already bloated prices that would entitle you to a much better eating out experience in Melbourne or Sydney (actually, it’s quite a few years since I was in Sydney…I’m not sure what they’re dishing up at what price over there these days).

Speaking of trends, it seems to have become acceptable to drag ill-behaved brats into restaurants until late to run around tables while mummy and daddy enjoy a tipple over dinner, determinedly oblivious to the scowling of people like me, who yearn to stick out a leg as squealing Jaxon and Georgia hurtle past. Didn’t see any brats belting around St Kilda when I was doing the rounds of Acland Street and surrounds. Then again, the action doesn’t even get started there until 10pm. By that late hour in Perth, tables are being stacked on chairs and glances thrown at lingering diners like rotten tomatoes.

There is an aspect of the food scene in Perth that is even more mediocre than the restaurants – the food critics. Most of them insist on referring to their “taste buds” at least once per review. Versatile, these arcane tongue sensor thingos. They dance, writhe, perk up, buzz, zing. Then again, so would you if you were subjected to this range of stimuli: according to our reporters de table, their “taste buds” are bombarded with flavour, treated, assaulted, blasted with chilli and subjected to “experience” (I have come across the loathsome phrase, “an experience for your taste buds” more than once – and once is more than enough).

Mediocrity is a crime. Gimme extremes, negative or positive. Gimme something memorable, an event.

Like the time my partner and I were down in Busselton pre-Boom – before the yuppie infestation – when there was still a touch of the rustic and some bumpkin charm about the region. We had the meal from hell at the only “restaurant” we could find open at 8.30 pm one weeknight. An Italian joint on Bussell Highway. No one else there. It was the cook’s night off. A slow-talkin’ farmer’s son had been left in charge, his girlfriend filling in in the kitchen.

The order took an age to arrive. When it did, our slow-talkin’ waiter informed us proudly that we were getting a double serve of garlic bread to make up for the long wait. It was cold, fatty and sorta waterlogged (served us right for ordering it…good garlic bread is a rarity at the best of places). We couldn’t get through one serve, let alone two.

Then followed some muck they called calamari, at the merest shadow of a fork shedding its cold oily skin of burnt brown crumbs to reveal a circle of fishy gristle that resembled, both in appearance and in the mouth, bait from a bucket left in the sun. Accompanied by a bizarre rabbit food concoction in vinegar they called a salad. We declined dessert. “What, full as googs?” beamed our host. We nodded weakly. Sometimes you don’t have the heart…

That was a night to remember. It has ended up being terrific value, recycled time and again as a story that just begs to be told. Probably unfortunately for my hapless audience, I rarely deny such earnest entreaties.

But back to Perth food critics. Forget the mediocre, which is almost all of them. There are two that stand out, representing opposite extremes.

Those sensitive to tone will know what’s coming. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, in this post I give you the worst “food critic” in the West…maybe the worst anywhere! The best will make an appearance in the next post.

So, to whom do I refer? Why, Jacqui Bahr, from community newspaper The Vincent Voice. What’s more, I award Ms Bahr this inaugural Boomtown Rap Wooden Spoon of the West on the basis of a single review. I’m sure you’ll agree, dear readers, on the evidence I am about to present, that the award is well deserved, despite the absence of further examples of Ms Bahr’s, erm, work.

I make this award with some misgivings. I have a soft spot for The Vincent Voice. They have their heart in the right place (that is, I agree with their stances on certain issues that have no relevance to this post), and they are a privately run community paper struggling to survive against the odds. But some things are irresistibly appealing to my poison pen, and Ms Bahr’s review of Gianni’s Restaurant, in Mount Hawthorn, is one of them.

Our Jacqui doubles as the Vinnie Voice’s Arts journo, and perusal of the opening sentence in her review of Cinema Paradiso’s French Film Festival serves some warning that she may be misguided in her career choice:

“Cinema Paradiso is set to swoon with a voluptuous list of French films to shimmy onto the screens in late March.”

Swooning cinema theatres? Voluptuous lists? Shimmying films? That’s a lot of clangers in one short sentence. Impressive! What next? Well, this…

We move to the right of the same page and here we find Jacqui as food critic.

“Having eaten plenty of goulash in my time, Gianni’s was exceptional.”

Phrasing, Jacqui, phrasing. Nothing remarkable there, though. Crap writing like that is typical of young journos, and many older ones.

THIS is remarkable: she ends her review with the worst metaphor I have ever encountered in all my years as a reader of sub-standard food reviews. Behold:

“Warmed by the hospitality and reasonable prices, my friend and I stumbled out, our bellies indulgently pregnant with hefty Balkan food-babies.”

Any further comment is redundant.

2 thoughts on “Now THIS Is Hard to Stomach!”

  1. Gratified to be attracting such erudite readers, joe. Thought about giving journalism a shot yerself? Lyricism like yours should not go to waste…

    You need to develop your critical faculties a little, though – then you’d note that the post was not about journalism as such. The topic was the poor quality of food reviewing way out west.

    Food reviews are food reviews, whether printed in community newspapers, online, or in The West. Perhaps you’d care to expain the logic in excluding community papers from the nominations?

    Now that you’ve been spoonfed (sorry – couldn’t help myself) the topic of the post, I’m sure you’ll agree our Jacqui is a worthy recipient of the inaugural Boomtown Rap Wooden Spoon of the West. She had some fierce competition, but in the end, how could she be overlooked with that “food babies” effort? Credit where it’s due, puh-lease!

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