And the Boomtown Rap Silver Spoon Best Perth Food Critic Award goes to…

It’s taken me a while longer to get this post up than intended. Was doing some stretches on the floor a few days ago and my lower back went into the most excruciating spasm. Have been shuffling around bent over like a reading lamp ever since, unable to tolerate more than a few minutes at a time seated in front of the computer lest my back seize up and weld me to the chair. A spinal version of that dire risk face-pulling kids are traditionally warned about of the wind changing and freezing them in some grotesque grimace for life. Gotta stand. Back in a few minutes…cre-e-e-eak…

Last post I awarded the inaugural Boomtown Rap Wooden Spoon for worst food critic in the West to one Ms Jacqui Bahr, of The Vincent Voice. Ms Bahr can take some solace in having inspired the creation of this award – at least her “winning” review was remarkable, albeit remarkably bad. Most of her food critic brethren and sistren in Perth are so mediocre, so bland, as to be unworthy of any comment at all.

There is but a solitary shining light among local food critics, representing a glimmer of hope and comfort like Gatsby’s green light across the bay to the few who, like me, actually care about such things. I refer to…drum roll… The West Australian’s Rob Broadfield.

There’s nothing particularly friendly or endearing about this bloke – or, at least, his persona as it comes across in his West Weekend Magazine restaurant reviews – so I will refer to him henceforth as Broadfield, rather than Rob. Karma is everywhere.

So what sets Broadfield apart from the rest of Perth’s food critics?

    1. His reviews are informed
    2. He can write
    3. His assessments are brutally honest

Truly, I have not come across any other Perth food critic who comes close to this guy. The average (and I mean average) food reviewer over here could be anyone who doesn’t mind a night out at a restaurant and has duly sucked up to their editor long and hard enough to get the gig. They rarely if ever demonstrate any specialist knowledge of the cuisine they’re covering, let alone its preparation, and struggle to move beyond pedestrian superlatives and adjectives in describing their experience. Words like “delicious”, “yummy” and “moreish” do not tell the reader anything about the food, but that’s what passes for assessment from these dullards.

And as for those almost inevitable references to “tastebuds”…really, what the hell do I care as a reader about whether some hack’s tastebuds were tantalised, treated or teased? All that tells me is that the critic is an unimaginative twat who is being paid to write clichéd shit. And they’re all so fucking “naice”, seemingly obliged to hand out good reviews indiscriminately.

Rob Broadfield, by contrast, comes about as close as words can get to giving us a meaningful literary experience, at least, of the restaurant he’s reviewing and the produce on offer, and he tells it as it is for him. He’s not afraid to put the “mean” in meaningful. This fearlessness has evoked threats from disgruntled parties, on one occasion on his life (source: a recent interview on ABC TV’s Stateline program)!

It takes something special to inspire lavish praise from Broadfield, but unlike the arrogant academic who never marks higher than a 7, he is not afraid to put himself on the line when he encounters the exceptional. And on those somewhat rare occasions, you get the impression you can take note with confidence.

Why? Because he clearly knows his stuff! He tells you why he is impressed (or otherwise), and he expands with detail that convincingly demonstrates an expansive knowledge of a wide range of cuisines. And not only from an educated diner’s perspective. He “trained as a chef” in his youth, which euphemistically indicates that he failed to qualify, but clearly he has actively pursued his early interest in food preparation and continued to develop a cook’s understanding of kitchen craft: his cookbook, Pull Up A Chair – A Cook’s Diary From a Summer Holiday, which features his own recipes, was published in 2000.

This is not a bio, so I’ll crush the rest of his notable history past and present into a single sentence mini-resume: food reviewer and editor of the Saturday West Australian’s generally excellent feature liftout West Weekend Magazine, Palandri Wines Director, Managing Director of Margaret River Radio AM1611, food reviewer for Business News, early 90s current affairs/talkback host with Radio 6PR.

I can bang on about Broadfield’s qualities as a food reviewer, and indeed I will be doing a bit more of that before this post ends, but first let’s serve up a few appetisers selected virtually at random from his recent West Weekend Magazine restaurant reviews.

A lamb tagine, baby eggplant, preserved lemon, $27, was simplicity writ large. Based on a vibrant, clean-flavoured stock, it was a slow braise of lamb shoulder and shin made musky with roasted whole small aubergines and perked up with a fine julienne of preserved lemon rind. The flavours were impeccably balanced. Presentation in a cast-iron tagine was spot on. The house-made bread – I saw it going into the oven, courtesy of a very open kitchen – was perfect to sponge up the juices. [Duende Tapas Bar, Leederville, West Weekend Magazine, March 1, 2008]

The gnocchi was a courageously deconstructed dish with all the components on the plate not bound by a sauce. The gnocchi was twice-cooked – blanched and pan-fried – but managed to remain soft and pillowy. [Glass Brasserie, Sydney, West Weekend Magazine, March 8, 2008]

At this point we knew we were eating food a cut above. No stodgy, greasy samosa, no dried-out chicken in acidic and lurid tandoori paste, no desiccated prawns in factory-made tikka. Rather, the flavours were refined, clear and precise…

For desert, the kulfi, $5.90, was heady with mango and pistachio flavours. Disappointingly, it didn’t come in the traditional kulfi mould – a short, truncated aluminium cone like a stretched dariole mould – but the flavours were va-va-voom. [GoGo’s Madras Curry House, Mount Lawley, West Weekend Magazine, February 23, 2008]

See what I mean? He paints a picture of the food and its presentation, gives details of its preparation that assist to convey the textures and flavours, and reasons his way to his assessments. No lazy writing here, no tossing off cheap, empty superlatives like “scrumptious” or “yummy” that leave you to flounder and wonder.

Similarly, we are left in no doubt when he is unimpressed, or why.

…flavours were muted to the point of blandness. The [pork] belly wasn’t rendered properly, and was memorable for its roof-of-the-mouth fattiness. [(A)lure, Burswood, Perth, West Weekend Magazine, December 15, 2007]

If the steak was the highlight, the lowlight was the Thai beef salad…It was made on what appeared to be leftover roast beef, cut into large batons and with none of the hot (chilli), salty (fish sauce), sweet (palm sugar), sour (lime juice) flavours one expects from even a mildly authentic Thai beef salad. It was about as Thai as a double cheeseburger. For the record, Thai beef salad should be made from steak trimmed of every last skerrick of fat and char grilled with a dark, salty crust, before being thinly sliced and tossed with coriander, mint leaves, sliced shallots, cherry tomatoes, chopped chilli and a hot, salty, sweet, sour sauce. [The Globe, Parmelia Hilton, Perth, West Weekend Magazine, January 12, 2008]

That last quote brings me to a gripe about Broadfield. OK, he knows a lot about his topic, but he’s a little over-zealous in asserting himself as a superior culinary being. His laying down the law like this on Thai beef salad is gratuitous, patronising even. Is he writing a food review or a cooking column?

And would all good Thai cooks agree with his decree on the way a Thai beef salad should be made? It strikes me that provincial variation is one of the defining (and most fascinating) features of SE Asian cuisine. No one would argue with his complaint about The Globe’s substitution of roast beef for rare lean steak, but could he be justifiably accused of being inappropriately prescriptive in the rest of his table-thumping Thai beef salad commandments? I believe so.

There are other aspects to his reviewing that irk me, also. He likes to associate himself with the uptown set and postures as urbane – a cove of impeccable “taste” – while simultaneously throwing wry comments about suggesting some contempt for the very notion of “hip”.

For example, when told by a waitress at Duendes that by-the-glass wines are available but not included on the winelist, he writes:

This is something I hadn’t come across in a restaurant before.
“Right, er, so how do I choose a wine?”
“Just ask me. What would you like?”
This must be a hip new thing, so probably best I go with the flow.
“Oh…um…How about a Central Otago sauvignon blanc?”

Ironic smirk towards hipness, yet out he comes with a choice of wine designed to show off his status as a buff.

Further, he frequently comes close to name-dropping, letting us know that he hobnobs with professionals and society’s success stories, yet – again – tempers this with a touch of irony. When reviewing Perth’s universally esteemed Jackson’s restaurant, for example, he lets it slip that his companion is “a colourful Perth silk famous for fulsome discussion on his favourite topic – himself”.

In his review of Bouchard’s restaurant in West Perth last week, he apparently thought it relevant to identify his dining companions as “three brokers, one an Essendon champion who played two grand finals”, “a corporate finance guy” and “a young guy with a red Ferrari…” What have red Ferraris and Broadfield’s taste for yuppie company got to do with the food at Bouchard’s? Or the fact that one of the gaggle had been an Essendon champion? Since when have jocks been known for their appreciation of fine food? And if never, why even mention this bloke’s footballing glory days – is this supposed to add to the cred of the review? Trophyism, Rob mate. Mere trophyism.

In his review of The Globe, he writes:

Barristers and journos are particularly good lunch company: their gossip’s first rate, their storytelling is well-honed and their laughter comes easily. They are a louche crowd, generally speaking, which is good.

Is it? What’s good about barristers and journos, particularly? A disproportionate number of society’s slimebags represented in that crowd, I would contend. And what the fuck does “louche” mean? I could look it up, but on principle I’m not going to. Terrific food reviewing aside, Broadfield is a bit of a wanker, it must be said.

I’m pondering whether he’ll fully appreciate his Boomtown Rap Silver Spoon Best Perth Food Critic Award. If his self-projection and review persona are anything to go by, silver spoons are passé for him. You get the impression he was born with one in his mouth.

He could take a lesson from Perth food blogger, The Food Pornographer, who shamelessly exhibits equal ardour for low-brow fast food, greasy-spooners and pooncey Subi yuppie fare, with an unselfconsciousness that charms, and a total disregard for any notions of foodie hipness. Her unrestrained love of food of all types, and the complete absence of pretention and preciousness in her eccentric write-ups are refreshing and endearing – in this, she has something to teach Broadfield.

The two are not to be compared otherwise, of course. They have different objectives and audiences, and inhabit different genres with different presentation modes. Both attempt the impossible – to communicate sensory experience through abstract modes of presentation: food critics work with words, food bloggers with a combination of photography and words (in that order of potency).

Broadfield’s food reviewing is an accomplished and developed art, built on a lifetime of focused experience and acquired knowledge. His taste in food and wine is genuinely refined, and he writes with flair and panache. However, the air of “superiority” that keeps creeping into his work, that sense of nose in the air, is a flaw he would do well to address. Garnishing his elitist posturing with a sprinkling of irony is not the answer, serving only to conjure the image of a fat boy with his hand stuck in the ideological cookie jar.

But thank Bacchus for him. He’s the best in the West, and probably about as good as food reviewers get anywhere.

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12 thoughts on “And the Boomtown Rap Silver Spoon Best Perth Food Critic Award goes to…”

  1. For my money (and it dates me terribly) the best restaurant reviewer I’ve ever read was Sam Orr in Nation Review. His real name was Richard Beckett and he was the assistant editor of the magazine. He was also widely fed, being a former foreign correspondent, and a good cook himself. His reviews were as much social commentary as food reporting.

    He was a bit of a name dropper. Frank Moorhouse, Michael Boddy and Mac Cocker all got a look in. If I knew more about the writers and ratbags in Sydney at the time, I could probably identify one or two others.

    Angus and Robertson published a collection of his reviews in 1980, entitlee “Roll on Brave New Bloody World”, illustrated by Michael Leunig.

    His best writing? I reckon it’s the last paragraph of a review of the grill room of an unnamed hotel in King St Sydney, to wit, “I’m not reviewing this place, you can all go to buggery. I like my nostalgia alone. Needless to say the rest of the pub has been done up in the passing manner of a whore’s breakfast and is not worth bothering about.”

  2. Thanks, Bananaman. That para you quoted is a beauty.

    Food’s my thing, rather than food critics – I hadn’t heard of your Mr Orr until now, and never read ‘Nation Review’. Actually, the only celebrated food writer I know of is Elizabeth David, to whom England owes one hell of a debt.

    ALTHOUGH…I’ve got a little something to say about Pommy food in a coming post that queries the standard dismissal of the place as gastronomic cretinsville.

    Anyway, good to hear from you.

  3. Hi Rolan,

    My fiance pointed me towards this post in particular as we are both ‘fans’ of Rob Broadfield as well. Mind you, it doesn’t seem like it would be too difficult to rise above the steaming turds that Gail Williams puts out every week. Yummy! Steaming Turds!

    On another note, have you checked out ? While not a dedicated reviewer, Matt offers some objective insight into a reasonable cross-section of Perth’s restaurant scene. He does love himself though.

  4. Hi Brad. Thanks for your comment.

    I had a quick look through abstractgourmet. To be honest, I quickly gained the impression that Matt is a wanker.

    What’s this shit about, showing pics of his kitchen with all that upmarket crap in it? Smacks of trophyism to me.

    Then I came to his list of ‘Things I couldn’t do without’ and lo! – look at the first 2 items:

    Maldon sea salt
    Murray River Pink Salt

    Couldn’t do without? Oh, please! By now I’m sneering and dismissing this bloke as a yuppie foodie tosser. How about a blindfold test Matty mate? Three dishes identical but for the salt used. Do you really think anyone is going to be able to tell the difference between the ones using Maldon salt, Murray River pink, and Saxa? Fuck off!

    But just to make sure I have this plonker properly pinned, I click through some of his recent blog posts and it becomes quickly apparent that he inhabits upmarket restaurants and considers $150 for 2 “not expensive”. Gimme a fn break! This is the sort of affluence that I hate in bloody Perth.

    Gimme good PROVINCIAL fare – food of the people with great local seasonal ingredients and traditional local recipes – every time over poofy restaurants with some sensitively gesticulating truffle-bearing artiste chef at the helm.

    That’s what I so love about travelling to SE Asia – the fantastic and utterly unpretentious street and cheap restaurant food that puts most of our effete establishments to shame at paupers’ prices.

    This Matt bloke’s no gourmet – he’s just another dedicated follower of fashion.

  5. Rolan,

    What a shame I don’t have comments like this posted on my site. It’s clearly only frequented by arse kissers like Brad and other people who aren’t as sharp as you, to see me for the yuppie wanker I am…

    Still, I did find it interesting what you picked up on to identify me as someone who is more concerned with fashion than real honest food.

    I’m not going to bother trying to justify the places I frequent, suffice to say that my favourite restaurant in Perth was a cheap and dirty Indian restaurant that recently closed down, and I love nothing more than to have a nice bowl of pho, which I don’t think I’ve ever paid over $10 for at my local Viet restaurant.

    The money I am happy to spend is entirely proportional to how happy I am with the meal and the service… which I’m guessing we probably differ on.

    As for saxa vs maldon, I most likely couldn’t tell the difference in the final product, which is why I cook with a regular rock salt, and use maldon or pink salt to season at the end, because I like the texture.

    I also think there’s very much a place for truffle bearing artiste chefs in this city, because if there weren’t then all the great little cheap suburban haunts would be full of pricks like me.

  6. Matt baby! Why get so defensive about being spotted as a tosser? If a plonker you be, then be it proudly and don’t worry about being called for what you are!

    A couple of quick points. You admit you “most likely couldn’t tell the difference” between Saxa, Maldon and Murray River pink salt (oh – you missed the world’s best according to the initiates…tch tch…and I’m not gonna identify that for ya…better hit the Stillnox til you hunt down this yawning gap in your arsenal of fine foodie esoteria lest you lie awake worrying, poor lad). You use Maldon or Murray River pink at the end of the cooking process “for texture”. Ferchissake! Does the jury require any more time to confirm Mr Stein’s verdict?

    But pray tell, if you “likely” (I’d bet certainly) can’t tell the difference, why do you put Maldon and MRPS at the head of your ‘Things I couldn’t do without’ list? Expensive “texture” agents, aren’t they? I searched, I hoped, but didn’t detect any note of irony in your ‘About Me’ section. Hmmm? There goes that slip slop slap sound again!

    As for never paying over $10 for a bowl of pho – well, you’d be hard pressed to find a bowl of pho at a good authentic Vietnamese noshery for more than $10, wouldn’t you?

    Re: “I did find it interesting what you picked up on to identify me as someone who is more concerned with fashion than real honest food.” Mate, you seem to be assuming that I read enough of your blog site to select particular items for the purpose of slagging you off. I didn’t! The truth is I spent around 3 minutes on your site and had no choice but to conclude as I have. The evidence is everywhere! No selectivity goin’ on here. I could have picked on any number of items that screamed “yuppie foodie fashion victim”.

    You may or may not have a clue about good food. My impression, though, is as I wrote: there’s a strong suggestion of pose and studied foodie cool about your site content. I hate that shit.

    Which doesn’t mean, of course, that I hate you. Yes, my remarks were sorta personal and yes, I am having a shot at foodie yuppies – a category your site content does suggest you fit firmly into. I am also well aware that I am making sweeping generalisations and possibly – in fact, probably – not being entirely, erm, balanced in my judgment.

    So, fair enough that you pop up with a protest. But fair dink, digger, as a bona fide food freak a lotta lotta moons before food became yuppified and trendoid, you’ll excuse my scepticism when every second bozo today claims to be some sort of gourmet – oh, not to mention a kitchen legend in their own lunchtime.

    I have a lot more to say on this subject, but that will be reserved for an upcoming blog post I have been hatching for some time. You were just unfortunate in copping the initial blast (no need to post back that you are unaffected by my opinions…of course you’re not…heh heh).

    PS: I’ve read and re-read (and twice is more than enough) your sentence “The money I am happy to spend is entirely proportional to how happy I am with the meal and the service… which I’m guessing we probably differ on.” I’m buggered if I can decipher what you’re trying to say here. Extending your comment logically, if you’re really chuffed with a meal, you’re happy to pay bigtime. Does this mean you leave a $100 tip every time you get a really nice pho? Or are you saying that you don’t get really nice food for less than really (y)uppy prices?

    May I suggest a trip to Malaysia for you in the near future? Melbourne’s cool (I mean it), but if you wanna know about truly great food – whole spreads of magnificent fare at prices that wouldn’t get you a spring roll in yer local greasy spoon in Perth – and sample absolute proof that price and quality are not necessarily directly proportional, educate yourself in some other cultural environments and get to know, to really know, what I mean when I declare a preference for good provincial fare over the fussy, often pretentious and usually way overpriced offerings that go under the umbrella of ‘fine dining’ here.

  7. Gday Rolan,

    Met Rob Broadfield last nite and you’ll be pleased to know he’s def a ‘Rob’ and not a ‘Broadfield’. Witty and clever, yes. Funny, def. Helpful to a new foodie? Yup. Wanker? Not that I could tell, and I hate wank.

    And I think Matt’s syle is lovely in its self-depricating way. He doesn’t come across as wanky to me.

    You, on the other hand, seem to fascinated with wanking. Must be a boy thing..


  8. Mean little effort out of the blue – like a nip from a moody poodle. Outta the wrong side of the bed this morning, Jen?

    Erm, no, “wanking” is not a boy thing. I was using the term F-I-G-U-R-A-T-I-V-E-L-Y (look it up).

    And unlike you, I gave clear evidence for my assessments.

    As for “Matt’s style” being “lovely in its self-depricating (sic) way” – you must be referring to another Matt. Self-deprecating would be the last adjective I would use to describe him as he comes across on his blog.

    Rob Broadfield may well be a great guy – I haven’t met him. Again, my use of the term “wanker” was entirely figurative, and in the context of appraising his food reviews (which I was mostly extremely positive about) – not referring to him as a person.

    You may or may not agree with my observations on the aspects of his reviews I find wanky, but wouldn’t it be a little more constructive to enter into rational argument, rather than resort to silly personal jibes that exist for no other purpose but to express your own petty nastiness?

    As you’ll have noted, I am not one to hold back, but I never diss someone without explaining what I’m on about.

    Naice blog by the way. Listen hard to all the good advice and you’re well on your way to becoming a naice new yuppie foodie.

  9. To be honest, I don’t think there is any thing wrong with either traditional or modern cuisine. Food is always evolving.

    Now, that doesn’t mean that you won’t catch me attempting different cuisines and I have tried food of the molecular gastronomy variety. I don’t think there is anything wrong with modern or ‘yuppie’ food.

    Like beauty, food is in the eye of the beholder – as in people have different tastes – for example someone might like apples, but others hate them.

    Unfortunately, you seem to come across as someone who likes to write nasty things about people. Or perhaps your blog is where you can spew out your hatred/dislikes? I can’t really say because I don’t know you personally, but it does seem that way in your blog entries.

    However, I will say your description of Matt of the Abstract Gourmet as a ‘wanker’ is accurate. I have put my name down here as ‘anon’ because my friend is friends with Matt and apparently Matt is known for being a little bit of an ass/condescending/wanker and it is difficult to get along with him.

    But just because Matt comes across like that doesn’t mean that all people who are passionate about their food are ass/condescending/wankers.

  10. Some fair comments, anon – and some that I’d suggest are probably a bit loosely worded.

    First, I share your general sentiment that there is “nothing wrong with either traditional or modern cuisine”. ie: I am open to all food experiences.

    That said, I have my preferences, and reasons for them based on my experience – won’t elaborate on the comments I have already made above…when I finally pull my finger out I will be posting on this topic in some detail.

    It’s true that I’m not as tolerant or live-and-let-live as you in my attitudes, though. If I think something’s shit, or someone’s speaking shit, I’ll call it how I see it. I’m SO sick of the blandness of everyday life and everyday folk who walk around inside a polite mask NOT saying what they really mean. Fuck that – this blog is an outlet for purity of expression for me.

    You might see that as “spewing out your hatreds/dislikes”, but I see it as frankness unadorned and undiluted by pretentions of “niceness”.

    Actually, I reject the charge that there is hatred in my more ascerbic responses to comments I take issue with, or in my posts. There is not (and I am in a position to know!). Hatred is far too strong a word.

    Certainly, there is disdain and contempt for some of the self-righteousness and pretentiousness I see around me, and contempt for some of the values that pervade our society. (I do refer to myself as a “malcontent” in my blog sub-title, so you have been warned!)

    Further, I think you’ll find that if I’m “nasty” to commenters, it’s in response to some pretty aggressive content not initiated by me. If someone comes to fight, they’ll get back what they give out – simple. I was rude in my descriptions of Matt and his blog, though, and I acknowledge that. But I defend the gist of my comments as valid, and point to his blog as clear evidence!

    Tell you what – have a look at the “nasty” stuff from me and you’ll find it’s in reaction to any of three red rags: self-righteousness, egotism, pretentiousness. Not that it matters, but those elements are the keys to my reserves of “nastiness”.

    Of course, I take your point that not all food lovers are like Matt from abstractgourmet (shit, even the name of his blog is pretentious). I certainly never meant to imply that this is the case – and thank the lawd it’s not.

    I do hold, though, that there is a lot of yuppie wank around food, and that for me, the very term “foodies” evokes images of monied twits banging on about high-end offerings from snooty prima donna chefs who are less talented than many thousands of street hawkers in SE Asia, for instance, who have never heard of Le Creuset, or truffles, and who would look at you with bemusement if you ventured that Murray River Pink salt was a culinary must-have you “couldn’t live without”! That is such wank, as is parading your expensive Euro cookware in a series of pics on your blog, as if that proves anything about your credentials as a food writer or cook. Christ, have a peep into a pro kitchen and you won’t see that high-end nonsense in there (apart from knives, which do need to be high quality). That high-end gear is marketed to the home cook who wants to be seen as “serious”. File under kitchen fashion accessories. Beats me why anyone would photographically advertise their naivete, but I guess marketing victims never see themselves as such!

    In parting, I’d refer you to my series of posts on Malaysian food as evidence that not all my writing is rancorous and negative.

    Food is an enormous positive in my life and has been as long as I can remember – surely, long before it became fashionable to broadcast how very passionate (kill that word!) you are about food. Its importance to me probably accounts for my strong views. You tend to be most discerning, expressive and critical (both positively and negatively) about things you know and care most about.

  11. Love your page.

    Check this out. My recent visit to rock pool, muy complaint and Neil’s reply.

    Hi Neil,
    Myself and five other people dined in your Rockpool Fri 11 March. Overall the experience was extremely disappointing and a return visit at this stage is highly unlikely. The fit out and feel of the restaurant is amazing, superb job. But it is a bit like a school with great facilities with average teachers; one without the other is futile.
    Upon arrival we ordered some cocktails and beers. I ordered 2 cocktails. The first one was garnished with a miserable piece of mint, nothing else. The second cocktail did not arrive until we had been moved from the bar to our table. I had to ask the waiter 15 minutes later whether the cocktail would be arriving. Apologies were voiced from this very pleasant waiter (heavily freckled face, white jacket)who seemed genuinely concerned about the delay. The second cocktail eventually arrived with an unimaginative offering of pineapple. Where is the imagination and art?
    Entrees were fine apart from the over charred rock hard bread on the pork belly entree. My colleague’s sirloin steak was full of sinew. Inexplicably some of the steaks came out cut into neat rectangles. You may have a valid reason for this but the result compromises presentation and the feel of eating a steak. The effect seemed rather amateurish and reminded me of cutting up food for my young child. My T-Bone came with no sauce, if I was supposed to order sauce as an extra this was not indicated to me by the waiter. The chef must have had a moment of culinary inspiration when he decided to place a poorly cut lemon wedge beside the steak. The steak itself was poorly trimmed with too much fat and overdosed with sea salt. The béarnaise that accompanied some of the other steaks was way too acidic and had very little warmth, little aeration and almost splitting.
    The side of potatoes fried in wagyu fat and rosemary was average, basically overpriced Pommes Parmentier. My colleague ordered the boiled green which she indicated was laced with salt and unbearable to eat, I tasted and had to agree. One of our party requested mustard with her steak. The mustard condiments arrived just as the steak was finished. The waiter’s retort was that the steak was fine just by itself, very unprofessional. She offered to take the steak off the bill. Alarm bells should have been ringing at this stage and her supervisor should have been alerted.
    The wine waiter brought the wrong bottle of wine and upon pouring the wine managed to pour part of it over my colleague’s hand. Those who declined wine were not offered an alternative. We had to ask for our water to be topped up on two occasions. The bread had to be asked for. Coffee was served yet we had to ask the waiter for sugar, my local cafe can these basic procedure right.
    There seemed to be a total lack of management of staff. At no time during the meal did the maitre d’hôtel or someone approximating management approach our table and enquire about the quality of the meal or our enjoyment of the night.
    Overall the experience was extremely upsetting and disappointing. You were present on the night, in what capacity I am not sure. It seems to be me your attempt to replicate your other offerings in the eastern states has been severely compromised by the recruitment process. Your staff are you letting you down on too many accounts.
    On the top of the menu is quote from yourself, “The cornerstone of good cooking is to source the finest produce”. What you have failed to add is that you need chefs to cook it and waiters to serve it. The best fit out in the world and the finest ingredients does not a restaurant make. Most of the problems encountered are a reflection of average recruitment, poor training and absence of quality control. Did the chefs even taste their food? The average punter might be impressed but discerning diners will not be impressed. There is absolutely no excuse for these defects in a restaurant that is charging these prices.
    A visit to Jacksons, Star Anise or Loose box will provide you with lessons on how a first class dining experience is catered for and the essential match between price charged and expectations met. The Wild Duck in Albany with it limited pool of staff manages to surpass your restaurant. Rockpool on this occasion has failed to deliver a quality dining experience. I do not normally subscribe to critiques on the Internet however I am so incensed with this dining experience I am tempted to publish my discontent. I firmly believe in giving every restaurant I visit an opportunity to adequately explain any deficiencies in food and service. With this in mind I am interested in hearing your thoughts on my concerns.


    Neil’s reply

    Hi Aine

    Thanks for your feedback.

    I attached a letter I got on the same day as you went to the restaurants so you could see what a crazy life I lead.

    Every day is full of highs and lows.

    I’m terribly sorry you received such bad service, I can assure you I don’t set out to have it that way and spend a lot on training and recruitment.

    We will continue to train with the staff and try to make sure every customer gets looked after.

    Your letter will be used as the one below in staff training.

    Sorry you didn’t enjoy the food either.



    Neil Perry


    107 George Street| The Rocks | NSW | 2000 | Australia
    Telephone +61 2 8248 3803 | Facsimile +61 2 9252 2421 | Mobile 0417 212 678

    Dear Sir/Madam,

    I would like to say congratulation on a great night.

    My boyfriend took me to Rockpool last night to celebrate our One Year Anniversary and I was so terribly impressed with the evening.

    Firstly, the entrance is AMAZING. I absolutely love what you’ve done with the initial corridor. The candle light is such a nice touch. Makes is very enchanting!

    The venue itself was beautiful. We were seated next to the curtains and the table was great. It wasn’t crowded and the fact that there were no table clothes was a nice touch. I have been to other restaurants and I am not keen on the table cloth and even less keen on the white paper table cloth.

    The service was great – Very attentive and friendly people. Our particular waitress was really nice. I would definitely recommend your restaurant just because of the quality of service. It’s something that unfortunately isn’t that common in Perth.

    The food… What can I say about the food… TO DIE FOR! The entrees were a good size, not too big and not too small. Our steaks were beautifully cooked and our sides were delicious, especially the potato’s in waygu fat and the steamed vegetables.

    But I must say – My most favourite part of the night, this is not to say there was anything wrong with the rest of our night, but the desserts! I had the hazelnut macaroon and it was divine! The taste of the banana ice cream initially over powered, but then it melted away to this lovely and delicate hazelnut biscuit. I will be talking about last night for a long time to come.

    Thank you for a lovely evening – And please thank the servers and the kitchen! They did a great job.

    We will definitely be returning.

    Kind regards

    Name blanked out by me but not by Neil

    My reply to Neil

    Hi Neil,

    Your reply letter has amazed me beyond belief. I have attempted to give you the opportunity to respond in a manner that should befit a restaurant of this supposed calibre. You have completely failed to address any of the points raised.

    To be perfectly frank I don’t care if you live a crazy life and it should in no way negate the appalling experience we had in your restaurant. You have made the decision to expand and promote the “Neil Perry” brand. Is your crazy life a pathetic excuse for an average meal and amateurish service? Is your crazy life and inability to deliver a quality product reflected in the prices on your menu? “Tonight all the prices are reduced by 10% because Neil Perry is leading a crazy life”.

    “Every day is full of highs and low”. I am still incredulous that you have written this to me. Is this the vein of training and recruitment that is given to your staff. Is this the ethos of your restaurant? Why not put this as the quote on your menu to honestly reflect the disdain you have for customers who have chosen to eat at your restaurant. What about a new slogan, “High tide or low tide at Rockpool tonight, take your chances”.

    Your decision to include the letter from your fulsome customer is an insult to me. I am not interested whether other diners had a fantastic experience. You of all people should know that consistency is king, the first meal from the kitchen should be the same as the last. Your attempt to make a comparison between our dreadful experience and your joyous customer is an affront to my intelligence.

    Is this style of complaint handling a modus operandi for all your restaurants, is it in the restaurant operating manual. When you receive a complaint shrug it off with “Sorry mate, shit happens, terribly sorry, oh and by the way we had a letter from a customer who thinks we are great so you must be the odd one out.

    I am in total disbelief of the gap between your media persona and how you deal with customers who pay your wages. Have another look at the letter you sent me. Pass it onto to your recruiters and trainers and managers. See how proud it makes you. If your final opinion is contrary to mine then it is possible you have surrounded yourself with “Yes” men or that you are delusional.

    Neil’s reply to my second email
    Hi Aine
    I would be happy for you to send this correspondence to whoever you like. The only proviso is you send your first complaint letter with it.
    I shall send it on to Rob Broadfield the head food critic of the Western Australian and he can make his mind up about what we do and how much energy we put into our staff. Yes things go wrong from time to time and will so for as long as we have humans involved in this business.
    You see with 99% of complaints I simply get the apologise and customers back with my compliments and hope that they experience the real Rockpool Bar & Grill and remember that experience. Usually it works quite well.
    But I only use that with people who know how to complain properly. I had no where do go with your letter.
    They can complain about the service, food, drinks, decor, prices anything to do with their dining experience that I can then hopefully turn them around.
    However with you bitter vitriol about me, my staff and my companies training and recruitment methods is a completely different matter.
    When you get personal like that without knowing what we do or who I am is completely out of hand and you should be ashamed of yourself as a human being.
    So if you want to hold me up and say this is not the way to deal with a complaint then so be it, but I will certainly be using you as a shining example of how not to complain and how one behaves without dignity.

  12. Well, Aine, I’m not sure why you thought this correspondence was relevant to my Broadfield post, but it may be of general interest to people landing on this page. Neil Perry has given the OK for it to be forwarded wherever you like, so I’ll leave it up.

    As far as I’m concerned, it’s a good demonstration of how NOT to write complaint letters, and how NOT to respond to them!

    Personally, I have no interest in high-end expensive yuppie joints like Rockpool, so your apparent angst over your experience there is of mild entertainment value only, as far as I’m concerned.

    Down with foodie hipness and elitist restaurants the majority of the food-interested population can’t afford to try.


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