Hospitality Talk: The pub menu – from pub grub to… where?
What is it about pubs these days? No longer content with pub grub, they’re reaching out to other markets. And customers now, I guess are picky, and spoilt for choice.
It’s true, isn’t it? We have so many dining options that making a decision about where to dine is hard to do. And then when we get to the Shoreline Hotel, newly renovated and spic and span, we are presented with a pretty large menu as well. Another decision? Oh my.
And here’s the rub: which is what this review turned into – who chooses the menu (and delivery therein) of the food? Is it the chef? I would hope so. But what chef would have a special section for “On the Stone” where we are served a more or less cook your own alternative without much thought?
My family don’t want to eat out and cook their own, thank you. They can do that at home. And while the volcanic stone is a nice idea, sort of an Australian take on the Japanese Ishiyaki, who on earth would expect a diner to cook an eye fillet, with virtually no fat, on a hot stone?
You get my drift? Not yet? Okay, here’s what happened.
We head to Shoreline and admire the major renovation, which has turned what was a kitsch boring suburban pub into a pretty smart dining area. It’s big, with a busy vibe, so obviously they’re doing something right with the new iteration.
We are seated with menus by a very pleasant waiter, and peruse the large, pub-style menu. Which I still think is too big but is probably manageable for a decent sized kitchen. The menu suggests: ‘Starters’ of which there are 6 options, but they’re all pretty hefty so we move on; 4 Salads; ‘Something Fried’ from Chicken Schnitzel to Seafood Platter (6 options); ‘Off the Grill’, with a mix of steak cuts and fish; ‘Roast’; ‘From the Pan’ with pasta, gnocchi and a Mac and Cheese Brisket; and a choice of 7 sides and 3 sauces. This is definitely not the pub grub of the past.
They also have different price points for Seniors which amuses me. But that’s a good thing, and encouraging seniors to eat out can only benefit everyone. People love a discount, and a bargain. But I haven’t got on to the “On the Stone” section yet, with a choice of Pork, seafood, and two fillets. They proudly state that the Stonegrill (patent mark here so some clever marketing person is making a motza somewhere) “offers a unique and interactive dining experience…. Blah blah… enhancing the full flavour and tenderness of all food with no added fats and oils.”
Is that PR speak for ‘our kitchen is busy with this extensive menu so if you would kindly cook your own bloody steak and veg, we’d be ever so grateful’?
I choose the Beaumont Eye Fillet, small (150gr) and I get a choice of side and sauce, which is not bad value at $30, so out comes the stone, white hot, the steak and stuff on a plate, and I proceed to cook at table.
I look around, and there’s no butter or oil to create a barrier between the meat and the stone, and so on the steak goes… and sticks. Like glue. And getting under it to turn it is a struggle. Not surprised of course and the steak wins! It’s fallen in love with a hot stone and it’s not leaving.
I drag and tug at the meat to turn it, and it resists vehemently, leaving a large chunk on the stone. A waiter rather reluctantly brings me a pat of butter to moisten up the other side, and over we go. Better luck this time, and the rest of the dinner is pretty much stock standard pub experience with a bit of gloss.
The sauce I order sits forlorn beside the steak, waiting for it to cook and congealing slowly, the pumpkin is pleasant with a balsamic reduction drizzled over it, but again, by the time the steak is cooked, and the mushrooms, it’s room temperature at best.
My dining mate, Donna, had the ‘fresh herb and parmesan crumbed fish served with chips and rustic style tartare sauce’, which at $25 is again good value for a big meal, but the raw slaw with a drizzle of mayo is fairly ho hum. In fact, dry, and all you can ask is why? I think if I see this poor excuse for a salad anywhere again I am going to take it into the kitchen and demand the chef eat it.
And there’s a memory. Many years ago, in Noosa, I was served the worst lobster Thermidor in the history of the planet. The poor shellfish had obviously been frozen, thawed, refrozen, and cooked, and returned the favour by being stubbornly tough and tasteless. It was like trying to eat cardboard. No exaggeration. Inedible. I asked for the chef to come to the table.
The chef arrived, shaking, and didn’t want to try his handiwork. I insisted, he put a morsel in his mouth, but couldn’t chew it, and raced to the kitchen to spit it out. Point made. Later that week, a customer dived into the river outside and swam to the opposite bank to avoid paying the bill. Why were we not surprised at that little adventure?
But the food here at Shoreline is far from terrible. In fact, reasonable, but there’s some serious thought that needs to go into the menu and the dishes. Donna can’t really taste the parmesan, and herbs on the crust are lying low, and so we move on to the “Ice Cream Vice Versa” which is a large and rich serving of 4 scoops of ice-cream covered with chocolate shavings and coconut. Not bad. $9.
One thing I noticed was the total absence of oysters on the menu. Not in the seafood platter, not as an entrée, not a one, anywhere. Being that this place is near the water, is called Shoreline, in a town and state renowned for its oysters, we found that curious.
The bar is so high now, in the food industry, I feel for chefs and pubs aiming at that middle market. What to do? Keep the parmis, the salt and pepper squid, or go for more adventurous fare? And how to cater for all the permutations that customers are demanding? It’s tough, and I feel for you, but a dry, mandolin’d red cabbage salad? Nup. And Ishiyaki has sauce. And oil. For a reason. Just saying.
Shoreline Hotel, Howrah / Dining Room open 7 days for lunch from 11.30am and dinner from 5pm / www.shorelinehotel.com.au