No Möet

March 2009

A ring around to a handful of Sydney’s restaurants reveals a sombre cautious mood, but not the carnage feared. What prompted this was that I ate at a couple of high-enders during the month and was shocked by the empty rooms: at one, a very fine place indeed, ours was the only table and we were served by a very nervous chef.

A subsequent walk through ‘Turistia’ — the waterfront area at The Rocks — was notable for an almost complete lack of tourists. That group of restaurants along the waterfront (the Imperial Harbourside, Wolfie’s Grill and Italian Village) were empty but for a couple of tables.

In New York, New York magazine reports there’s a rash of  HALF-OFF SALEs breaking out: Umberto’s Clam House has one and Allen & Delancey are offering half-off wines with a US$38 four-course meal. Discounting, I fear, is the kiss of death in the restaurant business. And when Gramercy Tavern gave out a free voucher worth US$24.07 during restaurant week recently, the queue went to the end of the block.

Meanwhile, down Chippendale way, Sebastian Tyson (Bar Mattino, 96 Abercrombie Street, Ph 9699 1442) reports a drop-off in September “but then it came back. It’s a bit day-by-day — we had one crazy day then the next day was a shocker. I wouldn’t want to be in the top end at the moment. I think we’re in the right place.”

Top-ender Damien Pignolet (Bistro Moncur Woollahra Hotel, 116 Queen Street, Woollahra, Ph 9363 2519) reports, “At the moment it’s OK. We had a very unpleasant patch from August to September, December picked up and January was good, but not as good as February. Nothing is flat out, but if you can pay the bills, you’re all right.”

Up at Avalon, Lucienne Francisco (Chelsea Tea House, Shop 2/48 Barrenjoey Road, Ph 9918 6794) reports she’s “just paying the bills”. Chelsea is doing very well this summer, but that hasn’t made up for last summer which was “so bad I’m still behind the eight ball. Overall, business is down about 30 per cent.”

Back in town on Surry Hills, Alisdair McKenna (Tabou, 527 Crown Street, Ph 9319 5682) tells me, “It’s shrinking, there’s no point in denying it, but I don’t think it’s a bad thing — a bit of wind through the trees and see what shakes out. But it’ll be OK. They’ll always want to go out and eat.”

And that, dear reader, we suggest you do, if you still have a job and even if you go the one-course-and-a-glass-of-wine route. Let’s not abandon our friends the chefs and waiters just because the times are bad. Do your bit for the recovery: eat out.

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