Wood & Coal

The problem with restaurant blogging the way I do is that I go to a restaurant and write about my experience on that night – it is a point in time review.

Take, for example, my review of The Cupping Room’s dinner service earlier this year – they had only just started serving dinners and I wasn’t overly impressed, but they’ve gotten much better since (I just haven’t been lucky enough to return). This is the reason I don’t usually like to go to restaurants when they first open, most of the time they’re still finding their feet and are still collecting feedback to make improvements. I like to give them time to define themselves and work out the kinks.

Same goes for bad nights: sometimes restaurants just have bad nights – they’re run by humans after all. I usually don’t blog about my bad experiences, because – being the optimist I am – I like to think “maybe they’re just having a bad night”. It’s usually only upon a second visit that I’ll write a bad review, if my experience is the same.

With Wood & Coal I have broken both of my rules – I went to a restaurant within two weeks of opening and I am about to give a not-great review from my first time dining there.

Wood & Coal opened about two weeks ago and is located in the North Quarter of the Canberra Centre, underneath Dendy in the location previously inhabited by Babar’s. It is on the corner of the entrance to the centre, and as such half the restaurant is inside – they have an ‘inside outside area’, complete with alfresco dining that looks on to an escalator. The interior of the restaurant is wood-heavy and modern; it is trendy without being over the top.

The new restaurant is owned by Babar’s former owner, John Apostolopoulo, and boasts a Greek influenced, meat heavy, Mediterranean menu (with a few decent vegetarian options).

We arrived at Wood & Coal at 6:30pm and were sat outside outside (as opposed to inside outside) along Bunda Street. My sister graduated earlier in the day and we went there to celebrate her achievements – her and Dad were already a little tipsy. I missed most of the first part of our experience because I had been in the bathroom, but I immediately recognised how good the waitress (Lauren) was with our gregarious group. She laughed and made jokes with us, and was helpful with offering suggestions, and with any questions we had.

We ordered, and our entrees were delivered rather quickly –we had pita bread with Tzatziki, chicken wings and Spartan sausage.

The Pita bread was floury but being cooked on a grill, had a nice charcoal flavour that worked well with the Tzatziki. I didn’t try the ‘Spartan sausage with eggplant paprikash and mustard fruit’, because it was only one small sausage and there was not enough to go around.

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The chicken wings were served with a sweet chilli sauce and were nice, but I felt like something was missing (chilli, for example). The wings had been cut in half which made them easier to eat.

My Mum had decided not to eat the entrées with us, instead opting to wait for her main. Sadly for Mum, it was an hour before our mains arrived. By this point she was very hungry and cold (we were outside, with no heaters) – so she wasn’t having a great time.

Thankfully Mum’s ‘Zucchini fritters with grilled haloumi, shrivelled tomato, lemon jam and rice crackers’ was the first meal to arrive, along with our three bowls of chips (served with fetta and oregano oil).

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Mum wasn’t happy with her meal, she said the rice crackers were really salty, and she preferred the zucchini balls at our local Turkish restaurant. It was well presented, but I didn’t try them so I can’t comment as to flavour etc.

The chips were crunchy and moreish, the fetta giving them a great flavour. They were good, but they certainly weren’t worth $10, especially considering the bowl was rather small. I hadn’t seen the price of the chips when we ordered, but I had expected them to be about $5…it wasn’t until later I realised they were $10. We spent $30 on chips last night. $30!

About 10 minutes later, my Brother-in-law’s ‘Beef hump with caramel soy and beer’ came out.

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I didn’t get to try this one, C said it was really nice, it looks very tender and well cooked.

10 minutes after C’s meal arrived, my sister’s ‘Ricotta gnudi with baby beets, golden beetroot purée, honeyed walnut, goat’s curd and black olive’ was delivered.

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K really liked this meal a lot – I helped myself to a little taster and can confirm that it was delicious. The walnuts, although not crunchy, had a wonderful honey flavour and sweetness that complemented the golden beetroot puree really nicely. Gnudi is a ricotta gnocchi, and the little balls were soft and chewy and moreish – which is why it’s such a pity the plate only had five balls.

It became clear around this time that none of us would be getting out meals at the same time, and we became confused. Nowhere on the menu, outside of their ‘tasting menu’, does it mention sharing plates or staggered dining – as far as we knew we’d all ordered main meals…they were just coming out 10/20 minutes apart…

My Dad’s ‘Beef ribs with capsicum glaze’ came out next, which I decided to forgo to save room for my own meal, which I assumed would be coming next. Keep in mind, this is 30 minutes after our mains started arriving – I’m glad I had snacked on the chips and my sister’s gnudi. Dad liked his ribs very much, though.

And then we waited. And waited. After everyone else had well and truly finished their dinner, my brother and I sat empty handed, our meals nowhere in sight.

We sat for about another 20 minutes before flagging down our waitress, who went to check on our meals. This happened a few times over the next half hour – poor Lauren was fighting with the kitchen about our meals and she was very apologetic. She was trying so hard to be helpful, unfortunately the kitchen let her down. She mentioned something about our meals being on the end of the docket and being forgotten, but that she would do her best to get them out to us asap, and that they would be free.

We were offered coffees and desserts. The dessert did sound pretty amazing, and I’ve heard good things about their dessert menu from other bloggers…but by that stage we were cold and as we’d been sitting there with no food for about half an hour, we weren’t in the mood to eat anything else at Wood & Coal.

One of the waiters came over with a bowl of chips that another table had rejected and offered them to us free of charge, but we said no again – we’d already had three bowls of chips, we really just wanted our mains. We decided to give them until 9pm before we walked… and then – two and half hours after we’d arrived – at 8:57pm, my meal arrived.

I’d ordered an entrée (or “small plate”), the ‘Milk bun thit’: charcoal spit meat of the day, yuzu mayo, pickled carrot, cucumber, coriander and chilli. Also, “thit” is pronounced “tit” – a never ending source of amusement for us, and for our waitress.

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If I hadn’t have waited two hours for these tiny burgers, I would have loved them – although at the same time, having waited so long, they were one of the best things I’ve ever eaten. They tasted like banh mi, one of my favourite sandwiches, which delighted me. The bread was sweet and milky but also crunchy from the grill, the vegies were fresh and crispy and the mayo was creamy and tasty. There wasn’t much meat on the bun, but I think it was pork. I managed to fit a whole burger in without being full at all – perfectly sized for my post-op tummy.

The waitress told us our last two meals were comped, and my Dad went in to pay while I was eating – just to get it out of the way, so we could leave asap -and the guy behind the counter tried to tell Dad that we’d received all our meals. My brother obviously had something to say about that and his starving stomach noises would have told them otherwise.

And then, well after I’d finished my meal, my brother’s dinner finally came out. My brother had ordered the Pork spare ribs with Cajun spice.

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I didn’t get to try this, as I was full from my Thit – but my brother said it was really good, and from my seat the meat did look tender with just the right amount of fat. Considering it had been about 40 minutes since we flagged our missing meals, I’m not sure how it took them so long to put some meat on top of a sauce and place some alfalfa (which they seem to have in excess stock, cos it was with everything) next to it. Most places that serve slow cooked meat have the stuff ready to go…but who knows.

The service at Wood & Coal was straight up fantastic, all of the waiters and waitresses were lovely, with a special mention to our waitress, Lauren. She was cool under pressure and really, really, helpful – she had our back and went to bat for us in the kitchen when they were trying to make excuses about why our meals weren’t being taken care of. We would have walked away, and kicked up much more of a stink, if not for Lauren.

I found Wood & Coal to be a tad on the expensive side, but the food is of good quality. Wood & Coal’s food delivery system is all over the shop, regardless of our two missing meals, and to be honest nothing we tried really blew me away – but it’s certainly better than it’s former occupant, Babar’s. The menu has more variety than Smoque – which I have seen it compared to a lot – and the atmosphere is a bit more up-market.

It’s position underneath Dendy will encourage people to go to this prime positioned restaurant for dinner before going to see a film – but I would say do not go to Wood & Coal if you are going to a film afterwards. I’ve heard numerous stories about long wait times for main meals, and I experienced it for myself last night. BUT saying that, I heard from a friend who was at the restaurant on the same night as we were (although somehow we missed each other) that they were quick with her meal when she announced to them that were off to a film – I guess you can get lucky.

I do hope that Wood & Coal are just still experiencing teething problems, because I like to see local businesses flourish, not flounder. Hopefully they’ll take on board the feedback from myself, and multiple other sources, and improve on their issues – there’s a lot of potential here.

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