The restaurant biz is rough. The last list of dead restaurants rattled me. Rarely, but reassuringly, there are restaurants that survive for years and continue to blossom.
East Taste Cafe, in Gouger Street, has been shining for 10 years. The dishes here possess a quality that is rare in Gouger Street, where chef-roulette is a popular pastime. They are consistent. Michael, the chef and partner, went bung. This happens often to chefs. Cheffing is very physical; something that is glossed over on endless television shows glorifying the trade. Luckily Michael morphed into a waiter, with, naturally, impeccable food knowledge. Why does Marco Pierre White put up with being photographed glaring like a serial killer clutching his weapon of choice, a cleaver? Does he really truly believe in Coles? Or has he gone bung? We should be told. There are many lurks that lead to restaurant success. ‘Employ’ your close family of 27. Have an extremely high turnover. Sell ‘covers’ maybe twice or even three times, during a service period. All fabulous tips for which you should pay me immense sums of money. Doing them is the trick. Breakfast? Almost impossible as an earner. If you want bacon and eggs with a couple of memorable touches – beautiful bread, service (any sort will do), decent eggs, bacon that can be crisped without going black because of the amount of sugar in its making. Pleasant surroundings. Great, not just good, coffee. You, the restaurateur, provide that singular brekkie. You make, say, three dollars a customer. Then shave wages, rent, fresh produce, and the mysterious ambiance that makes your place memorable and inspires loyalty both in customers and in staff. Humph. You might as well stay in bed. I know of quite a few yeast starters (worts) that produce stunning sourdough bread that have been nurtured, passed on, given names and pedigrees, jealously guarded, fussed over, for 60 years and more. Only a few are now in regular use in Adelaide. There goes breakfast toast. Go to the Barossa or Hahndorf and many more are hiding in home kitchens. Did you guess that Ann Oliver would be standing guard over her wort? Tick. Advance to the next level. Michael learns his customers’ tastes quickly. If you have been to East Taste a few times leave the ordering to him. A midget crayfish won’t appear with a tab for $230. Your trust might be tested by a recommendation of a cold starter of jellyfish, shredded chicken, cucumber, lettuce, carrot, tomato and, wait for it, Thousand Island dressing. Do it, if you think you can overcome your fear of the deathless words ‘Thousand Island dressing’. No-duck-this-time-either Duck-Woman was drumming her fingers in a tattoo that told of the sorrow only the duckless know. The salad was much, much better than that combination of ingredients had any right to be. Ducklessness was forgotten for a moment. Tension, fear, relief, joy, even a splinter of crazed laughter. All for eight dollars. What a salad. Honey black pepper chicken wings had skin that bubbles, like roast pork. Mussels with chilli black bean are $18. About as much as you can spend. A large serve of tender mussels is matched perfectly by the bold flavours of the well tried combo of chillies and black beans. A fumble around the rice and noodle section trying to remember the off menu rice I wanted was completed by the mind-reading waitress. Salty fish fried rice? This must be the new ‘special fried rice’ for us unsophisticated dills who can’t take our rice neat. If you hit Gouger Street regularly you will know Fai. Fai hasn’t been seen for a while. I feared a sticky end. On cue, Fai did a Fai on me. After a torrid day battling the bookies I started with a double vodka. “You drink too much. Make you sick.” There are waiting staff who can sprawl at your table. Some, okay, only Fai, can criticise your drinking habits at your first drink. To do these things, and pull them off, takes chutzpah and good judgment. Know the rules. Then break them. If you are one of the gifted few you won’t get the sack. The suave doyen of doyens, the Emperor of Chesser Cellars, Primo Caon, cuffed me over the back of the head in the middle of lunch service. Did I rush off to find a policeman? From a not ordinary Chinese wine list try Redbank 2012 ‘Sunday Morning’ Pinot Gris from King Valley, Victoria ($32) and Pirie 2011 ‘South’ Pinot Noir from Tasmania ($32). Both these wines suit summer and many of the chilli hot dishes. The ‘South’ Pinot Noir tastes like a lot more than $32. A properly dominant cherry flavour finishes with strawberries and even rose petals. Extraordinary. Pinots are supposed to taste like that. If East Taste Cafe has slipped off your radar – put it back on. EAST TASTE CAFE 119 Gouger Street 8231 0268 Hours Friday lunch: 12pm-3pm Monday to Thursday dinner: 5pm-1am Friday to Saturday dinner: 5pm-2am Takeaway available easttastecafe.com.au