Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Trip Advisor on trial: testing the ratings …

We continue our tour of the restaurants of Yamba. We’ve run out of personal recommendations now, so I’m scouting the Internet and, in particular, Trip Advisor, for clues. Yes, I know Trip Advisor is manipulable (I’ve seen it done) and I know they mix up caffs with class restaurants and ice-cream parlours, and every darned place in town boasts their ‘certificate of excellence’ (!) … but I’ve been a professional reviewer and critic of one thing and another for enough decades to see through most shams (and they’re usually pretty transparent), so I don’t shrink. So. Yamba.

I’ve eaten at half a dozen places now. The best one (to which I’ve happily returned, for an even better meal) is rated no 4. Then it’s down to no 10. I’ve had coffee at no. 9. Pub lunch at no 26. The reviews for no 3 seemed too chummy. No 2 is at Angourie. No 8 is an ice-cream bar. Restaurant?? No 11 is a burger joint. My friend, Helen, didn’t like no 7. I liked no 17 a lot for lunch. So? Do I trust this hit parade? What to do? Well, how about no 1?

Boardroom and Bar. Well, I’d rather have a restaurant than an office. And the reviews speak of children’s activities … good prices … and other dubious items … this doesn’t sound very ‘me’. But, damme, let’s try.

Well, the Boardroom – which has a nice bar, not a pub one – has been rather too cutely named. The ‘board’ in question is, this being surfing country, a surfboard. OK. Big joke. Not a selling point.
We arrived at dusk, so I didn’t see my surroundings too clearly, but I saw a pub, a gaming room, a TAB, a children’s playground … this no 1 resto is part of a … complex? Yes, it appears it is an offshoot of the Yamba Shores Tavern. Which seems to have quite a few offshoots!

Then we went in. Another world. Spacious, modern, extremely attractively designed … the tables spaced at the most excellent distance from each other, you feel you’re en tête à tête … this is NICE. This calls for a glass of bubbly. My bubbly, served by a sweetly shy young looker, is called Emily. Well, that’s ME won over!

Menu. I was told tapas. Hurrah! Here they’re called ‘Small Plates’. I like this place already. A bouchée is a bouchée in any language. If you want something more substantial there are ‘Share Boards’. ‘Ideal for two’. $34-60. No. We came for our favourite ‘everything in the middle of the table and … go!’ type meal. You pick one, I pick one.

Asian vegetable dumpling with ginger and shallots. Oh yes. Tick that one. I want the Sea Scallop with Thai green apple salad. Paul fancies the Cauliflower popcorn with roast garlic aioli. Empanada ... what the heck does that mean? Oh, tick it anyway … oysters? Naah. I’ve eaten claires fines in Nice … anyway, there is plenty of interesting choice, all described without any stupid adjectives … yes, I like this place already.

The food came just briskly enough to be freshly cooked, and the little parade of goodies went on … and on …
I’m not going to attempt to describe them individually. I made an error in the eating. I had my Empanada, with its chili sauce, first. And the chili stayed with me into the later dishes. Wrong. I’ll do it differently next time. Oh yes, there will be a next time, if somebody will drive me! 

Paul picked the winner. We had seconds of the Cauliflower popcorn. So simple, but so well done. It’s the one I remember on the morrow. That’s good cooking. I had thirds of ‘Emily’ and then – believe it or not – we ordered dessert! Paul had Peanut Butter Parfait with salted caramel (great touch!) and ganache. Ganache is one of those Masterchef words that I don’t understand, but anyway it was most tasty. I had a ‘Helado de Vainilla’ (hey! What happened to the Australian labelling) which was vanilla ice-cream with a glass of Spanish sherry. Most enjoyable, but the sherry – of which I’m a dilettante – was of the port wine variety, and I’m an exxxxxxtra-dry man.

A very nice meal, very nicely served, in a relaxing and elegant atmosphere … what can one ask for more? I think B&B probably deserves its No 1 Yamba-rating, certainly as a dinner venue. But I still have a few to try … now, tonight, I’m heading for no 6.

Oh. Price? $122 for two, including 3 Emilys. 60 euros. Fair value.

Episode the next. Well, we walked up the hill to number 6. Italian. Osteria Martini. Closed. For three weeks. At a period when other restaurants are bulging? Perhaps they’re very prosperous. Oh well, no Italian. Down the hill again, past no 7 (Helen says ‘no’). OK, here’s no 25. The Mexican. Good name. Tells you exactly what to expect. It’s thronged. Young folk, families … ‘no split bills’ advertisement. Ha! … well, I’m hungry, so … here we go. You can only die once.

A sprightly Margarita takes the edge off my doubts as we scan the menu. Oh! The big menu is the drinks one … I may be all right after all. I am not an experienced Mex-eater. I’ve only been to Acapulco once, 2/3 of a life ago, and I have no idea whether what is served up to the outside world is kosher Mexican food or not.

However, I quickly spotted the word ‘ceviche’. May last ceviche (which the Katz Orange chef had confided was really a fish tartare) was the joy of my this summer’s Berlin eating, so that was for me. This one was fresh, light, tasty and ideal for a summery night. Especially with a second margarita. The tortilla chips on the side aren’t really my thing, but who cared. The ceviche was splendid. Paul had a chorizo and onion quesillada (thumbs up) and we ate our meals with some nice black beans and excellent pinto beans …

Price: $102.00 for two, including 4 margaritas (3 were mine). And nearly the last thing we saw was a large table of diners asking for … a split bill.

I’m coming back to sunshine and food of Yamba in a few days, to stay awhile. So I’ll visit my favourite eateries again, and maybe try one or two more. But I have to admit I’ve been to one thrice already. Not for dinner, the Beachwood Café doesn’t do dinner. Breakfast, brunch, lunch, coffees ... I’m just back from a brunch of zucchini and corn fritters … light as a fairy’s frock and ten times as tasty. And a salad. The restaurateuse remembered my aversion to tomato-skins, and without my asking, served me up … skinned tomatoes. Where do you get service like that?

As for the Trip Advisor ratings, they are reasonably fair, as far as I have tested. Beachwood and Boardroom have that extra ‘je sais exactement quoi’, but there’s plenty of enjoyable food here at Yamba, the margins between 5th and 25th are very slight … and I’m happy to say I haven’t had a duff meal, coffee, snack, anything, in five days.

Onwards and upwards!

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