A faux-German beerhouse in a Newmarket mall goes big on portions but falls short on flavour, writes restaurant reviewer Kim Knight.
Level 4/309 Broadway, Newmarket
Ph: (09) 222 0542
WE SPENT: $220 for four
WE THOUGHT: 11 - disappointing
The word "gross" entered my lexicon at high school.
Teachers were gross. Pimples were gross. The idea that your parents once procreated was very gross.
Gross was a catch-all - and it was catching. To encounter grossness was to FEEL gross.
At The Bavarian, I put down my knife and fork. The schnitzel was chewy, the capers were acrid and I'd love to know when the oil in the deep fryer had last been changed.
"I'm going outside to organise a climate change protest," muttered Nicola. She'd just spotted the Munich Brewer's Platter for two. A tower of sausages, pork belly, pork knuckle and schnitzel. Jenga with meat. I've honestly seen fewer sausages at a Bunnings Saturday barbecue.
The Bavarian is "German-inspired" via an Australian restaurant chain. There are another 31 of these restaurants across the ditch and, give or take a few minor regional variations (Bondi Beach gets a "vego" mushroom burger), it's the same meat-beer-chips-and-crispy-pork-bao fest.
Confused? Far be it for me to question the presence of bao, Parmigiano and three-cheese ravioloni on a menu devoted to Deutschland dinners, because on a Thursday night on the top of the new Westfield Mall in Newmarket, the punters couldn't get enough.
Our allocated two-hour eating slot expired at 8.15pm. I queued to pay and collided with people queuing to get in. "Lonestar must be quiet," observed Bridget but that's unfair to Lonestar, where the food is as Flinstonesque in stature but, in my opinion, way more edible.
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Pull up a chair, loosen your belt and settle in for the long-whinge. Deep-fried camembert ($18) was tasteless. Mac 'n' cheese balls ($10) were dry and dotted with individual spots of blue cheese dressing that made then look like they needed medical treatment. The dish came with "smoked bacon" - pulverised crumbs that pitched me down a dark hallway of nostalgia. Does the Rawleigh's man still sell faux bacon bits?
At 220g, the wiener schnitzel was the smallest of the seven $32 schnitzels on offer (the Texan is 340g of chicken, plus chili con carne, cheese and chips). The menu said crumbed but texturally, this was more like a batter. I love a crispy caper. The ones on my plate had been incinerated. Imagine the fossilised peas you sometimes find when you clean under an old-school coiled stove-top element. Now soak them in butter and plonk them on top of something flavoured with yesterday's fry-up. Sides? I don't know how you make a coleslaw greasy but someone had worked this opposite of a miracle.
I sought respite from my neighbours' plates. Nicola's fish of the day ($29.50) was delicious - huge portions of tarakihi had been cooked to perfectly flaky and dunked in a rich, buttery sauce. There was a pork knuckle ($28 for a half portion - "famously" crispy but otherwise unremarkable) and a plate of cheese kransky sausages (three, plus potato salad and sauerkraut for $25.50). It's virtually impossible to wreck a kransky but the potato was divisively too dry for some at the table.
Of course we had the "haus-made" pretzel ($5). Hot, salty and deliciously soft, it came, inexplicably, with a pat of pre-packaged butter; a little plastic tear-top container akin to that on airline meal trays, hotel breakfast buffets and other places where the sheer volume of food being shifted has an inevitable effect on quality. Excess packaging? Food waste? At least the doggy boxes were cardboard.
We didn't order a beer (small, medium or large - add a shot of Bushmills for $10!) or a schnapps (the Friesengeist is 56 per cent alcohol) so perhaps I just missed the point. The service was stellar and I hugely admired the upper body strength of the waitstaff who lugged litres of ale at a time.
It was not my cup of ale but everyone around us was having a ball. They'd negotiated four levels of shiny, sparkly mall to cram convivially around picnic tables and consume small tsunamis of meat and drink. Value for money? Consider the Schnitzelmeister challenge. It's $80 for a six-stack chicken tower layered with napoli sauce, cheese and ham and, if you eat it in under 60 minutes, it's on the house. What kind of a restaurant banks on the fact you won't be able to finish its food? An experience best summarised, I think, in a single word.