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A grand night out at Boffins

By tom_battams - 4 April 2011 9

It’s difficult deciding what to write in a bad review of a restaurant. Nobody wants to read a self-righteous rant that lists everything that went wrong in ungrateful and indulgent detail, but there is still a responsibility to accurately describe the trinity of rudeness, incompetence and clumsiness that a restaurant can occasionally manage to concoct. In the following, I will do my best to keep my comments constructive and fair.

The venue is Boffins at University House. It is a delightfully situated, well patronised and ambitiously priced establishment that provides every impression of brisk and attentive excellence. The menu (which can be viewed online) is eclectic and modern, featuring tantalising appetisers such as rockmelon mousse with prosciutto and crostini, freshly shucked oysters with vodka and watermelon jelly or a rich twice-baked gruyere and courgette soufflé. Prices are high, though no more than comparable fine-dining spots, and the wine list is comprehensive with a local flavour. The setting is subdued and classy, although new furniture and carpets might be a good idea in the future, as the existing fixtures were installed in 1975.

We booked for two at 7.30 and arrived around five minutes late on a busy Saturday night. A brisk waitress with a librarian’s demeanour informed us, apologetically of course, that although we had booked, our table had unfortunately been given to a regular diner and one would not be available for us until another couple were finished. However, such a couple was very close to departing, so if we wouldn’t mind taking a seat in the foyer with some menus for a short while, she was sure we could have a table shortly. More bemused than disappointed, we accepted her offer and two menus, and took our seats. The soup of the day (cream of pumpkin and coconut) looked especially good, especially since it had not been listed on the online menu.

After an acceptably short interval, a couple did leave and we were shown to their un-crumbed seats. Two more menus and a bottle of cold water were presented to us, as well as a wine list for our perusal. The only other staff member on the floor was a young waiter. Interestingly, the special menu was notably different to the one we had seen moments earlier, but it was an entirely forgivable oversight. Less forgivable was the fact that, after being seated and watered, we were promptly forgotten by both floor staff, who appeared quite overwhelmed by the demanding requirements of other diners for bread, wine and their dinners.

Nevertheless, we flagged down the waiter after approximately fifteen minutes of intimately familiarising ourselves with every possible dining option on the menu. We ordered our meals and sagely placed a wine order at the same time to avoid enduring the timeless, unhurried and relaxed atmosphere any further. We were, by this point, relatively hungry. To the restaurant’s credit, our entrees did arrive swiftly, though sadly they did so prior to the arrival of our wine or bread, so we were obliged to politely remind the waiter that these steps typically occur in the reverse order. He apologised and returned promptly with my wine, but regretfully informed my partner that the wine she had ordered was unavailable. He did offer some advice for an alternative to her initial order which she gratefully accepted, though a short time later he returned to inform her that this option was unavailable as well. Evidently, according to the waiter, the manager’s failure to inform him of the limited options on the wine list was the cause of this unfortunate situation. Undeterred, however, my partner placed an order for her third choice and braced for more bad news.

Happily, her concerns were unfounded this time as the third-choice wine was available, and a generous glass was poured with an apologetic assurance from the waiter that this had never happened before. We were prepared to believe him, and said as much after reminding him for a third time that our bread still had not come. He hurried away and returned with a delicious, freshly-baked roll which would have easily fed four, and apologised again for the delay. He then cleared our entrée plates, and we informed him that we were very happy with our meals. We were similarly happy with our main meals when they came as well. I ordered a roast spatchcock and my partner a rare fillet of lamb, and they were excellent.

While we were eating our main meals, the waiter took the opportunity, after some friendly banter with some other patrons about the lateness of their meals, to have his own dinner. This was undoubtedly a bad decision. There was still a significant amount of work to be done on the floor, and his officious colleague was other engaged re-setting vacated tables at the other end of the restaurant to pick up the slack. Consequently, our plates weren’t collected until another fifteen minutes or so after we had both finished. Nevertheless, they were promptly replaced with dessert menus which we studied closely, because we were considering ordering sweets. My partner thought the bitter chocolate crème brulée promised to be a satisfying conclusion to the meal, and I was intrigued by the blackberry clafoutis and the iced coconut parfait, though that was largely because I did not know what they were. It was getting late by then though, so we decided against dessert and simply ordered a tea and a coffee from the waitress.

We knew something had gone amiss, however, when the bill came before either of our hot drinks. A coffee was listed but no tea, and of course neither coffee nor tea had been delivered to our table. The waitress had resumed her place-setting, while the waiter had not yet finished his dinner, so we began to worry that they would not come at all. After waiting another ten minutes for the elusive tea and coffee, we decided we’d had enough and took the bill to the bar to be settled. I asked for the coffee to be struck from the bill since it had not come, and was informed by the librarian-waitress that, unfortunately, owing to the fact that she thought all orders had been completed, my coffee had been drunk by her. Nothing was said of the tea. Laughing together at her miserable incompetence and by extension that of the entire establishment, I paid and we took our leave. My final thought as I accepted my change from the apologetic waitress was “are those tears in her eyes?” I suppose I will never know.

What’s Your opinion?


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9 Responses to
A grand night out at Boffins
tonkatuff82 10:34 am 12 Apr 11

My wife and I had our wedding reception at University House in December last year. The reception was fantastic, the wait-staff rude and hopeless.
My favorite part of the evening occurred in Boffins though. While I fixed a slight hitch before the reception began, the fantastic events manager took the bridal party to Boffins for champagne, which they were begrudgingly given. After fixing the problem, the EM told me to go and have a beer in Boffins as well. Presumably the same ‘librarian-waitress’ informed me that I would have to wait for my beer “until the other paying customers had been served”. Stupid me thought that with a 15 grand bill, I was the highest paying customer in the entire venue that evening.

Kerryhemsley 4:30 pm 04 Apr 11

EvanJames said :

Sadly, yes, this muddled service is quite common. It always strikes me that at restaurants in Sydney, you get amazing service and very ordinary (and pricey) food. In Canberra, you get amateurish service, but good food. At least the service was somewhat good humoured? They weren’t nasty and horrible. Just hopeless.

What has Sydney got to do with this?

Obviously don’t go to the right restaurants

astrojax 1:59 pm 04 Apr 11

can second the recommendation for sammy’s – had lunch there saturday and was re-impressed; hadn’t been there for a while and realised how much i should have missed their shantung chicken!

to boffins, yes, it is a stuffy sort of ‘olde-worlde’ don’s study, bookish atmosphere but all a little contrived for mine. and, yes, while the menu is vaguely interesting, there are many other establishments with a little more inventiveness and flair. and slightly better service!

i did like the term “ambitiously priced”…

dtc 12:34 pm 04 Apr 11

tortfeaser said :

Summary: typical service in the Canberra style from students rather than professionals at an overreaching venue. You need an editor more than a restaurant.

that’s what I thought on reading this – you got good food that was slightly slow and some mix ups. No one was overtly rude or anything. No poisoning or overcharging. You never know – they could have been short staffed that night for some reason.

You want quick service go to Sammys. The food is on your plate almost before you order it.

Mysteryman 11:48 am 04 Apr 11

A common tale in Canberra. There are only a few places that I go to regularly because of the overall poor service in this town.

georgesgenitals 10:27 am 04 Apr 11

This is why I don’t bother with fine dining in Canberra, because the service usually sucks. I generally save it for when I’m overseas (typically at least once per year, and lately a bit more than that) for places where the service matches the food.

EvanJames 9:49 am 04 Apr 11

Sadly, yes, this muddled service is quite common. It always strikes me that at restaurants in Sydney, you get amazing service and very ordinary (and pricey) food. In Canberra, you get amateurish service, but good food. At least the service was somewhat good humoured? They weren’t nasty and horrible. Just hopeless.

tortfeaser 9:48 am 04 Apr 11

Summary: typical service in the Canberra style from students rather than professionals at an overreaching venue. You need an editor more than a restaurant.

Fiona 8:44 am 04 Apr 11

Unfortunately, aside from having my booking stolen, that sort of out of order and forgetful service happens way too often in Canberra.

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