Thursday, November 20, 2008

Dis-service gets me worked up

Being Australian, I often bristle at the idea that Australians don't somehow understand good customer service and that staff are too often so laid back they're walking on their hands. Tell me it isn't so, Eliza!

But as my recent experience at a well-known Chinese restaurant in Ebisu proves, we've got nothing on the Chinese! Here's how to get me going:
  1. Ignore me for 20 minutes after I arrive (not so bad, you think? I was a party of 20. That's a world-class ignore).
  2. When we both speak Japanese pretty well, pretend not to understand me until I order something expensive.
  3. Serve the last table first, and the first table last.
  4. Ignore 3 requests for Fried Rice and pretend that Chuka-don is fried.
  5. Ask me to pay, when it's obvious that some-one else is the host and has already said in three languages that they'll be paying.

I think what I encountered was an elite athlete event for the Chinese Dis-service Team. Other teams should be on notice that the Chinese team is determined to repeat their gold medal Beijing performance and is already in rigorous training.

My Stern friend tells me that they're actually on their best behavior here in Japan - in China with his daughter who speaks fluent Mandarin, the restaurant staff argued about what dishes she wanted to order!

And it was a great pity ... the food was excellent, the company stellar, and the price reasonable. But on the day that Tokyo repeats as the most Michelin-starred city on the planet, it was a reminder that good service is at least a quarter of the dining experience!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Enough is enough!


Why on earth do perfectly good eateries try to turn themselves into "brasseries" or "trattoria"? There is considerable merit in running a place with plenty of regular customers without trying to reach for a Michelin star. There are over 100,000 places that say they're in the food business in Tokyo - some will be better than others, some will be worse.

I enjoy going to Petit Tonneau in Azabu Juban - it's a sort of little tabac place that makes reasonable food. Even tasty sometimes. But when they start to rattle on as if it is a fine dining establishment, I begin to feel queasy.

The regional dishes are fun, and interesting. So far, so good. But that's where it stops, guys! My recent pissaladiere of caramelized onions, lardons, and anchovies (I think) was almost false advertising - the pastry was undercooked, the onions were not caramelised, the lardons were lean bacon cubes, and the anchovies were conspicuously absent. The Chablis (not Premier Cru or Grand, but just chablis) was over-priced at Y8000.

I'll say it again - I enjoy going there and having my steak frites etc. But it ain't ever going to compete with Joel Rabuchon.

I'd love to know when the last time Chef Phillipe Batton visited this establishment and checked on what the mostly non-French, non-Japanese staff were doing to his reputation. Actually, I think he was there in his business suit on my last visit. At least, someone who looked like him responded to me in French when I thanked the staff in that language.

p.s. Click here for the etymology of the word "restaurant" - short summary is that it comes from a vegetable soup which was restorative (fresh veges, go figure!). Dear old M. Boulanger established his soup kitchen in Paris in 1765 - until that time, most french food was pretty stodgy and dodgy. Lots of preserved stuff, salt etc, mostly meat. Thanks goodness for that Medici girl!