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One Man’s Gnocchi

Oscar Foulkes February 21, 2011 Restaurants No comments

Eleven years ago I attended an intimate performance of Via Dolorosa by John Maytham at Pieter Toerien’s Theatre on the Bay. Nothing I’ve read, nor anything I’ve watched on TV, has done a better job of explaining the Israel-Palestine conflict to me. John was brilliant, as he always is when he puts his radio mic aside once every couple of years to address the world’s great issues in one or other theatre production.

Pieter Toerien – operating without any subsidy or public funds of any kind – has a record of more than 40 years in theatre, which is remarkable. Without any disrespect to John’s Via Dolorosa, he’s been successful because of a keen sense of what shows will put bums in seats. Generally, that involves a whole lot of feel-good, and not too much challenge.

Since early-November, Dish has been operating the restaurant at Theatre on the Bay (I wrote about the wine list here). Apart from any other consideration, the main issue we’ve encountered is the limited time to serve pre-theatre dinner, especially when guests arrive at 7.35 and expect to be served two courses before 7.55 (we advise arrival by 7.00).

By way of a little marketing we invited a selection of theatre and food writers/bloggers last week. I was at home, but as I follow a few of them on Twitter, I made sure to watch the Twitter stream, and was heartened to see the first positive comments from @SamWilson1. Then @RelaxWithDax weighed in with rave about the gnocchi. Sam immediately countered with a comment about order envy. It was like watching the big game on TV, but scary too, because I knew before the chef did whether they enjoyed their meal, or not. As did the thousands of people who follow these tweeters.

On the night there were other raves about the gnocchi, which is served with a little truffle oil, an almond cream, mushrooms, green beans and confit beetroot. I think it’s a great dish.

However, it’s had more send-backs than we’ve had for any other dish on the menu, which I think is a product of the way the gnocchi is cooked. You see, after it’s been blanched we sauté the gnocchi in a pan to give the outsides that lovely golden caramelised finish which is so tasty. It’s admittedly not the mainstream way of serving gnocchi, but it’s certainly out there, and a lot more flavourful than boiled dumplings swimming in a bowl of sauce.

When we had gnocchi – also sautéed – on the menu at Vaudeville we had similar issues. I therefore think it’s time to take a leaf out of Pieter Toerien’s book; future Theatre Bistro menus will attempt to be the culinary equivalent of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musicals or Defending the Caveman. Sadly, there isn’t room for gnocchi from ‘the fringe’. Having said all the above, the possibility remains that the kitchen messed up, delivering a sub-standard meal, in which case the plates had every right to go flying back to the kitchen.

Of course, how one likes one’s gnocchi is subjective. And, regardless of which side one finds oneself, neither side is right or wrong. So, we’ll accept this as a high-risk zone (also from the perspective of the kitchen producing perfectly fluffy ‘pillows’ of gnocchi) and move onto something else without getting unnecessarily emotional.

One area that does have an empirical basis, however, is the measurement of a glass of wine, which is stated in the wine list as 150ml. I come at this from a wine perspective, so we insist on using proper crystal glasses, which have a bowl size of over 400ml. No amount of explanation, nor measuring devices, can divert guests from their firmly-held view that we’re giving them less wine than they paid for (the glass isn’t full, after all).

At some point in the evening, however, the guests need to go back downstairs, which is when they find themselves wondering why they are not negotiating the stairs so well after two “small” glasses of wine (300ml, after all, is not that far away from half a bottle).

The problem is very easily solved, of course. All we need to do is change to those horrible little clunky glasses that do wine such a disservice and fill them to the brim. What’s standing in the way is principle; that Sidedish Theatre Bistro will not deviate from serving wine in proper glassware.

Which raises the question: if something as trivial as glassware can make someone this intractable, how can there ever be reconciliation between Israel and its Arab neighbours?

Click here for the March 2011 menu.

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