COMMENT:

For a long time, I didn't have a great record when it came to Japanese food. For someone brought up on meat and three veg in Mt Roskill it always seemed more like a science experiment than a meal.

It didn't help that one of my early efforts to come to grips with Japanese food involved a 10-course feast at a Japanese restaurant in Sydney as a birthday treat for my wife. It all ended suddenly at the lobster course.

The front half of the crustacean had been severed and placed on its end so that the beast's "nose" was pointed skywards. All very attractive until its antennae began moving. I can handle raw food, but I do like it to stay still.

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I've had to learn to like it. Once I was invited to lunch in New Orleans by a local. Instead of po' boys or turtle soup I was taken out for sushi. In Louisiana, like everywhere else in the world, sushi is the default choice.

A more consistently held personal aversion, despite the great food to be found within its walls, is anything to do with SkyCity, ever since I came to the conclusion that that building and the activities it encourages represent a net loss to the community.

But I was prepared to overcome my reservations when my wife told me that a five-course feast with matching wine was being offered at the centre's Japanese restaurant for a bracing but not extortionate $170 per head. Plus it was nearly her birthday - yet again - so what could I say?

I rang to make a dinner booking for four.

Sadly, it was not possible to book for dinner for four, because, it was patiently explained to me, this was not a meal. It was an event.

And because it was an event, I could make a reservation only if I paid in advance.

I've been doing some reading on negotiation lately, learning about how to get what you want in any situation through a variety of subtle techniques. But it's difficult to get your subtlety on when your mental field of vision has become a sea of blood and your ears are filled with a roaring sound equivalent to a volcano erupting.

I may have even spluttered.

I explained that I had never been asked to pay in advance for a meal and would really rather not have to this time. It seemed a dangerous precedent and not one I wanted to encourage in the local hospitality industry.

The woman to whom I was speaking – and who, unlike me, was never less than polite and pleasant during our conversation – consulted a superior and came back with a compromise.

They would accept an unpaid booking, but if a paying customer came along in the meantime I would be bumped.

At this point my dudgeon reached its apex and I did what any man would do and handed the whole thing over to my wife, although but not before providing an email address to which the bill could be sent.

Just as this wasn't a meal, it was an event, what came wasn't a bill, it was a voucher.

"Thank you for choosing to purchase a food and beverage voucher," it said.

As you'll be well aware, choice barely came into it. I had been the subject of a very polite and, of course, perfectly legal attempt at extortion.

I can put up with occasionally mediocre food, rude service and unimaginative offerings.

All these are part of the gamble that is dining out. But I'd really prefer not to be treated like a patsy.