A. Baker is the hot new restaurant/bakery/bar in the hot New Acton precinct. We’re in the area for the very first of what promises to be many Hustle and Scout markets. It’s busy in Hustle and Scout, and we’ve had our fix; now, we’re hungry. The idea of A. Baker isn’t new – it’s been announced with popular 10 Yards Pop-up restaurants throughout the year – but what it’s now in its permanent home, and has been open for a few days. I haven’t been able to get to any of the Pop-up restaurants, so can’t wait to see what the fuss is about.
We walk in at 5.45pm, and it’s buzzing with conversation and a room packed full of staff. We’re not quite sure where to stand to get some attention, so plant ourselves in the middle of the floor, where stairs lead down to a bar. Some other people enter and, after looking around and not attracting any attention, head downstairs… before joining us back up top.
A waiter eventually meets us in the middle of the floor, and asks us if we’d like to take a seat. I’m a little put off already, so we take a second before responding. The waiter moves on to the couple next to us, instead. When he turns back to us, I’ve sucked up my trepidation and say we’ll give it a go. But, there are no free tables. There are spare seats on the large table in the middle of the floor – in fact, it’s completely empty – and we agree to take a corner.
We’re seated. And then we’re abandoned.
Our waiter doesn’t come back with menus. No one does.
As I’m sure you can gather from the lack of seats, it’s insanely busy, and it’s not even 6pm yet. Regardless, it’s no excuse for not even giving us menus. We’re left to just sit there. It does give me plenty of time to observe the decor, fellow patrons, and the staff. The decor is pretty extraordinary. It’s a cool venue. The walls are still scorched, but there are some considered touches. I’d describe the design as thoughtful nonchalance.
Some people have drinks. Some people have no drinks but menus… and have clearly determined their orders. I watch some staff members chat and mingle. The room might be packed, but the staff aren’t busy. One of the chatting group of staff then does a token walk around our tables, and we’re not the only customers to try to catch his eye. He doesn’t stop to check in with anyone before he returns to the cashier.
Another couple take a seat at the other corner of our large table. They’re given menus, so at least the poor treatment isn’t inconsistent. Boyfriend is on his third, “We should just go” and I’ve tweeted about it when, miraculously, someone finally appears beside us. She brings us menus, and apologises: staff are run off their feet. I’m absolutely sure some staff are, but there’s plenty of staff who are showing us otherwise.
Despite the sizzle and hiss from the kitchen, she advises we can’t order from the menu before 6pm (it’s 5.55). That’s fine. She offers us olives, or pistachios as she takes our wine orders (the second plus of the evening: some lovely Canberra wines; I order the Collector Marsanne which I enjoyed at The Artisan last month). As we turn the menus over, it becomes clear that the olives weren’t complimentary apology olives – they’re $9. I’m not annoyed by this, but it might have been nice to have been told the price.
The olives come with the wine. The olives are lovely, but there are plenty of tiny ones which are more pip than olive, and are more plate filler than edible (I know I’m being picky). Sourdough bread and butter also comes out; I think this is actually complimentary. Once 6pm hits, the couple who got seated after us get their orders taken before us, but we’re not too far behind. We’re advised that the portion sizes are a little on the smaller side, and we might want to get a few dishes or some sides. At $28 for a main meal, we take the risk.
And, I don’t think it’s even 5 minutes before our orders are served.
The warning was right – the meals are small. I’ve got the spaghettini with lamb liver, free range egg yolk, silverbeet and parmesan. While it’s small, it’s packed with flavour. There’s plenty of silverbeet which makes me feel like the meal is healthy. The spaghettini is the same in texture and amount as mi goreng or Maggi 2 minute packet noodles, and could easily be passed as such, but the flavours are really there, and the despite their similarity to the microwave noodles, the spaghettini is not a mismatch. I only wish there was more.
Boyfriend’s Goulburn river trout, with pumpernickel, beets, radishes, mustard and pickles is equally good, and we both virtually lick our plates clean. (Remember, these are large plates. Small plates are also available. I can’t imagine what you actually get in a small plate!)
The time between ordering and finishing eating is no more than 20 minutes; we’re done at about 6.25pm. We ask for the bill.
And wait. And wait. And wait. No one comes back. The waitress who said she’d get the bill goes off and does other things.
Boyfriend approaches the cashier and pays there. We’re out at 6.39pm, according to the bill.
A. Baker does do great food. I get that it was their first week, but giving your customers a menu as they sit down (or at least immediately after) is Customer Service 101 – it’s not something you should need time to get right. They’re busy – and this is great – but was it really not expected after all the hype? I’m glad that the most critical thing (the food) is phenomenally good, and that the second most important thing (time between ordering and getting the meal) is exceptional. But so much else distracts from the experience. It’s a real shame.
Three days later, A. Baker responds to my tweet: “Sorry we slipped up on your visit to A. BAKER. Week 1, many notes taken and hopefully we’re up to scratch next time.”
I’m grateful for the apology, but there’s only one thing wrong with it: they’re responding to me, but they don’t actually respond to me. They respond to someone else who was responding to my tweet (who hadn’t visited). It sums up the whole experience for me: their focus is on food; there’s a complete lack of attention in terms of customer service.
Have you been to A. Baker recently? Has the service improved?
Date: Saturday, 21 September
Cost: $85 ($9 olives, 2 x $28 mains, assume $10 for each glass of wine)
Worthwhile factor: Food – highly worthwhile; Customer service – not worthwhile. But, I’m willing to give them another chance. This review is over a week old, so maybe those issues are on their way to being fixed.
Want more? There’s not a lot on the A. Baker website at the moment. A. Baker doesn’t take bookings. Her Canberra has a copy of the menu. For balance, one of my favourite bloggers had a much better experience in the same early opening days.
- Taste and Test at Sage Dining Rooms (inthetaratory.wordpress.com)