Brian Edwards Media

Bring Your Own Basil (and Garlic and Fresh Vegetables)

Assortment of fresh vegetables and fruitbasil_plant1garlicbraidsetup-77020711  

Now the first thing I want to say is that I don’t want anyone to stop eating at GPK in Ponsonby Road. The food there is good and reasonably priced. We went there today and opted for the $25 ‘express lunch’ – glass of wine, entree and main. Good value. The entrees were fine. For her main, Judy had ordered the snapper, olive mash and salad. I had ordered the Margarita pizza.

The mains arrive. Snapper fine, though the salad is minuscule. And the Margarita pizza? Crisp pizza base? Tick. Mozzarella cheese? Tick. Tomatoes? Tick. Basil? Oh dear – no basil. Chopped parsley instead. A Margherita pizza without basil is like Eggs Benedict without hollandaise sauce. The basil is an essential ingredient. Without it, a Margarita pizza just isn’t a Margarita pizza.

I point this out to the pleasant waiter, who says he will speak to the chef. He returns with the chef’s apologies. The kitchen has run out of basil.

Now here’s the thing. If the kitchen has run out of basil, it isn’t possible to make a Margherita  pizza any more than you can make Eggs Benedict without hollandaise sauce. What to do? Well, you have to ask the customer whether they’d be happy with a cheese, tomato and parsley pizza. And if they wouldn’t, they can select something else off the menu, or go somewhere else.  

Now I wouldn’t have mentioned this, were it not for the fact that this is the third time I’ve ordered a Margarita pizza at GPK and the third time they’ve ‘run out of basil’. I’m reminded of Lady Bracknell’s words to Mr Worthing in The Importance of Being Earnest: ‘To lose one parent, Mr. Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune. To lose both looks like carelessness.’

To run out of basil three times when you have a Margarita pizza on the menu looks to me like carelessness or poor management at best. And this especially since I had mentioned the problem on the two previous occasions and actually brought my own basil on the second occasion just in case.

All this reminded me of an evening with  friends at Stefano’s Pizzeria on Waiheke Island. Another restaurant with a good reputation. The trouble started when the garlic bread arrived. No taste of garlic! We mentioned this to the waitress who informed us that the restaurant had ‘run out of garlic’. An Italian restaurant without garlic is like McDonalds without hamburgers.  Garlic bread without garlic is like… well… bread. And almost all the food we had already ordered relied to some extent or other on the presence of garlic. It tends to be like that in Italian restaurants. As it happens we lived no more than five minutes away from Stefano’s Pizzeria and offered to pop home and return with lots and lots of fresh garlic. Our offer was bewilderingly declined and we had a garlic-free meal, our first (and last) in an Italian restaurant.  Judy theorised that perhaps Italian restaurants don’t crush their own garlic, but get it out of a jar. I hope she’s not right.  

I really  don’t mean to be picky and neither of these experiences could match in horror a visit we made some years ago to a recently opened and extremely expensive ‘upmarket’ restaurant in Lower Hutt where the final insult of a truly ghastly meal was being served Watties tinned diced vegetables with the inedible fillet steak and flaccid fries. We should perhaps have been suspicious when there was no one else in the restaurant and the maitre d’ appeared to be doubling as the waiter, chef and owner.

When we complained about the Watties tinned diced vegetables, he informed us that his chef had gone on honeymoon and left him in the lurch, that there was no-one else to do the cooking, that he had never cooked before in his life, and that it really wasn’t fair to take it out on him. He was doing his best and he would certainly not be taking anything off the bill. He also rejected our suggestion that a restaurant without a chef was like a cheese shop without cheese, a boulangerie without bread or Paris without the Eiffel Tower, and that the thing to do was close the restaurant until his chef got back. If he did that, he said,  he would go out of business within the year. He was wrong. He went out of business in three weeks.

As for GPK, the maitre d’ has offered to deliver a Margarita pizza to our home one night this week, free of charge and with basil. Seems reasonable. Though I’m warming to the parsley variation.

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17 Comments:

  1. “We went there today and opted for the $25 ‘express lunch’

    Does GPK take the Entertainment Book, so that you get a two-for-one deal on the $25 ‘express lunch’?

    Do they serve a thick cut of New York prime rib in au jus? My partner and I, are particularly partial to that. Let me know. Might just be worth a bus trip over to Ponsonby.

    • “We went there today and opted for the $25 ‘express lunch’

      Not sure I follow you, Uncle. It this comment by any chance ironic? If not, perhaps you could explain what you mean.

  2. The all-too-often-overlooked Margarita pizza is a standby for me, especially when I go to a restaurant the first time. It is a simple but delicious dish that requires no huge skill, but it is my litmus test. If the restaurant cannot make a good Margarita, I don’t trouble them again to try anything more elaborate. If you can’t do the simple things well, don’t try to tell me you can do the fancy stuff.

  3. Yikes! A Margherita pizza without basil? That’s like…well, garlic bread without garlic! And to serve it with parsley instead…what an abomination! That’s so bad it’s actually funny.

    I haven’t had that particular misfortune, thank heavens, but recently I have had an annoying spate of dining at restaurants that only tell you that menu items are not available *after* you place your order. You are welcomed, seated, given the menu, told what tonight’s specials are, then spend a pleasant 5 or 10 minutes considering the menu, and make your choice – only to be told: “sorry, that’s not available tonight”. Which wouldn’t be so bad if the same thing didn’t happen for the dessert course, and with the wine list. Come on restaurant managers, get your act together – if an item isn’t available, tell us *before* we order, or print a new menu. (And for heaven’s sake, buy more basil and garlic!!!)

    • I haven’t had that particular misfortune, thank heavens, but recently I have had an annoying spate of dining at restaurants that only tell you that menu items are not available *after* you place your order.

      Exactly. Precisely what happened to us at GPK. Though, after my first experience, I should have had the wit to ask, ‘Have you got any basil?’

  4. Our family party of six had fulfilled our booking by arriving at one of Auckland’s ‘Metro Best in Class’ restaurants last week. Three of the party ordered the house specialty lamb shanks only to be advised after the waiter had departed to the kitchen two shanks only were available.

    So let me see now, as a restaurant owner you are basking in the glory of being a ‘Metro No. 1′ yet you don’t stock the larder?

    And of course we shan’t mention the cigarette smoke wafting through the rear door left open to the courtyard. We had to ask that it be closed.

    So much for dining fashion.

    • Our family party of six had fulfilled our booking by arriving at one of Auckland’s ‘Metro Best in Class’ restaurants last week. Three of the party ordered the house specialty lamb shanks only to be advised after the waiter had departed to the kitchen two shanks only were available.

      Oh dear! It would be interesting to hear from blog-readers other fine dining disasters.

  5. Having read the blog and followed the comments I am thankful I have a wife who adores cooking.

    Most times when we do eat out our reaction is generally that the meal would have been better and a lot cheaper prepared at home and we do have basil in the cupboard.

    Curiously the last time we enjoyed a meal out was a week spent in Rarotonga when we tried a different restaurant every night and there was not a single disappointment; the food and service were superb. One of my most memerable meals was at the Icon restaurant at Te Papa soon after it was open. It has stuck in my mind as being an outstanding meal. Then the restaurant closed for lack of demand. So much for good service!

    • Curiously the last time we enjoyed a meal out was a week spent in Rarotonga when we tried a different restaurant every night and there was not a single disappointment

      Interesting. Raro is our second home. We’re about to make our 12th trip there. Lots of good restaurants, reasonably priced. Our favourites: Trader Jack’s and Tamarind House, but there are lots of others.

  6. Perhaps this begs the start of BYO ingredient restaurants.Or a sandwhich Board outside advertising the availabilty of Parsley or Basil or lamb shanks.Or just a closer relationship with your suppliers.If it was me I would duck out and beg steal or borrow the appropriate ingredient.Surely this must be on the border of misleading advertising claims.

    • Perhaps this begs the start of BYO ingredient restaurants.

      BYO food restaurants. Great idea. All they sell is the booze.

  7. 7

    Clifford Gretano

    I believe, that if the restaurant haa “run out” and you can’t get what you want , then your alternate choice should be at half-price.

    • I believe, that if the restaurant haa “run out” and you can’t get what you want , then your alternate choice should be at half-price.

      Reasonable suggestion.

  8. “Trader Jack’s and Tamarind House, but there are lots of others.”

    Tamarind House was the best of the best; would unreservedly recommend it.

    Sails is also excellent. The food at Trader Jacks is good but I found it rather crowded and noisy; a tribute to its quality no doubt.

  9. We had a lovely meal at Vinnies recently, though the staff there love to tell you all about your dish once they have served it to you, and we wished they would just go away. But the enthusiasm was infectious.

    Other really amazing meals were:

    André L’Escargot in New Plymouth, what a find, we had no expectations, so had a absolutely wonderful time there – http://www.andres.co.nz

    Ambeli in Wellington, wow, again unexpectedly good. We were naughty and ordered a 1972 Tokai… unforgettable evening during the artfest.

  10. A group of good friends flew down, on Friday, to Wellington, on a culinary expedition. We are all foodies. There is a dentist, a lawyer, financial controller and three travel agents (Jennie, the wife of the lawyer, owns nice shoe shops in the Chancery on High Street, and on Lampton Quay).

    Last night, we went to Logan Brown, on Cuba St. Because we are a group of nine, Logan Brown only offers a truncated menu. The reasoning being: that, the abbreviated menu is necessary for pacing in the serving of the dishes at the same time.

    One of my mates was disappointed — even though we knew of this, beforehand — and made his feelings known on the comment form. He wanted the duck comfit but he couldn’t have it, so he was annoyed.

    Within 24 hours, Steve Logan sent him an email, reiterating his restaurant’s policy. So, Kudos to Logan Brown, for responding. But we’re still bemused as to why the restaurant couldn’t relax the rules, when the place wasn’t all that crowded.

    We went to cafes for breakfast and lunch. This evening, we went to “Red Ginger”, an Asian fusion restaurant, on Tory St. Really good value, highly recommended.

  11. It strikes me that there’s a common theme running through all of this; “Take it, or leave it, there are others out there that we can sell it to” that is becoming commonplace and rife within New Zealand commerce and contractors.
    Whatever happened to “Quality” and “Pride in one’s work”? ethics and standards that up till now have been a symbol of New Zealands “Can do” ethos.
    Instead, we pay top dollar for shoddy workmanship, and evince no degree of responsibility when our workmanship, or lack of, is called to question. The national issue of “Leaky home syndrome” is an exellent example of how this nation is settling for mediocre workmanship, a malaise that reaches to the top of our nation. I refer of course to our “Honorable” politicians.
    As long as we allow “Mediocre” to rule, as long as we allow that phrase “All care, but no responsibility”, as long as we allow those who are responsible to us as our nations servants, to adopt an attitude of denial and un-accountability, we will reap what we deserve!
    Perhaps, we should all demand “Basil” on our pizza, and refuse to be intimidated with “We’ve run out”.
    Too many excuses, no effort made to mend the mess.
    There’s an election coming up soon….perhaps it’s time that we, “Demanded” excellence of work, accountability for one’s actions, and refused to accept anything inferior…
    Food for thought…………..???