Spencer Guthrie, you will remember of course, is the place we tried to get into on the infamous Tuesday night outing with Uncle Carl when we ended up at Bloodwood instead. And got a bit cheerful.
This time we are staying within the Spencer Guthrie comfort zone. It is Friday night and King Street is buzzing as usual, but the only other people in the restaurant when I arrive (right on time, I’d like to point out), are the four blokes in the up-the-front kitchen. As I was led down the back to our table I realised how small Spencer Guthrie is. You don’t really get a sense of it from the street but there is just a row of two seater tables lining the corridor past the kitchen and a small room out the back with tables for a few larger groups. I was offered a drink while I waited for Strop and Wendy, our self-invited guest for the evening. I decided on a glass of Riesling, as I had already downed a few beers in my slow journey from the station to the restaurant.
I had run out of amusing things to tweet, and was wondering if I should ask for some bread or olives, when I got a text message from Wendy: What number is it? Good question. I had no idea and all the staff were up the front deep in conversation, so I decided to take a walk and stick my head out the door. I’d either see the number or perhaps spot a perplexed looking Wendy and be able to guide her in. Or maybe the staff would ask me if I needed help.
No sign of Wendy, but there was the number 399, up high on the window. By the time I got back to the table to send off the coordinates, Wendy appeared at the door. And by the time she had sat herself down, Strop appeared. Then it was time for the drink indecision.
“What are we eating?”
“Where’s the menu?”
“No, that’s the drinks list.”
“It’s dark in here isn’t it – pass that candle over.”
“I’ve got a torch in the car.”
“IPA? What’s that?”
“Do you even drink beer, Wendy?”
“Why yes I do.”
“What’s a Negroni?”
“What’s that your drinking?”
“The Riesling, it’s good.”
Somewhere in amongst all these questions I ordered some bread and olives, and the menus appeared. The restaurant was filling rapidly by this time and the noise levels were building.
Eventually Strop and Wendy settled on cocktails (Negroni and Champagne) and we got stuck into the bread and olives while we nattered about travels and family and friends. The bread was excellent (baked on site with fennel), but there was something a bit frugal about the three thin slices and the little dish of olives – especially for an appetiser we were paying for.
It wasn’t until the waiter hovered expectantly nearby that we stopped Catching Up and started to seriously consider the menu.
It’s a fixed price arrangement, for either two or three courses: $55 or $65. Within each of the of the courses (a bit cutely named: To Start-To Follow-To Finish) there are four choices. Intriguingly, the menu doesn’t discuss how the dishes are cooked, it just lists the ingredients. In order of quantity presumably. Strop and Wendy weren’t going to put up with this level of blatant ambiguousness though, and immediately began extracting a detailed description of each dish from the waiter. There were a couple of heavily French-accented pauses along the way but he got through the menu in the end, with Strop and Wendy helpfully filling in the gaps where necessary. “He’s nice, isn’t he?” Wendy said when the waiter was safely out of earshot.
Once we knew the choices, we were able to proceed straight to the food indecision phase.
“What are you going to have?” Wendy started.
But I was onto their little game now. “The ocean trout and the beef.”
“Really? That was quick,” Wendy said, disappointed that I had short circuited the game. Eventually she chose the asparagus and the kangaroo, while Strop went for the mussels and the mulloway.
The food was excellent and it looked fantastic served on big white plates with lots of carefully arranged splodges and scatters of the more obscure ingredients from the far end of the descriptions. They’re not big servings but that is not what this place is about. It’s about flavour, and ingredients, and interesting combinations. By the end of the mains I still had plenty of room for dessert, especially as the first one combined chocolate, mandarin and fennel. My choice was made, but Wendy and Strop still had to work their way through the dessert/sharing indecision. Our bottle of Riesling had failed to last the distance so we enquired about a dessert wine. The only one available was a Muscat, “We had a botrytis, but that ran out on Wednesday,” the waiter explained, not exactly apologetically. Luckily the Muscat did the job very nicely.
My dessert didn’t disappoint with a cigar of chocolate mousse and splodges of surprising mandarin and fennel (I think) puree. Wendy and Strop’s dessert came with caramel ice-cream and champagne granita on a bed of what seemed to be coffee muesli. “Mmmm,” said Strop, “Could be a bit more caramelly.”
The place was still crowded as we were leaving at 10pm, and more people were coming in. Spencer Guthrie deserves to be thriving even if it isn’t open on a Tuesday.