Thursday, September 2, 2010

Maginnity's, Wellington

**edit** The head chef contacted me and offered Mr Cake and I a meal to make up for the rant that follows; you can read that review here

Today's blog post does not come to you from happy-land. It comes from grumpy-and-annoyed land. Mr Cake and I arranged to meet with a friend for lunch and it did not go well.

First, before I launch into my rant, some disclaimers:
- though we had booked, we booked for three people, and two other friends joined us, which did result in a some rearranging at the beginning
- our friends arrived maybe 10 minutes after we did
- we didn't say we were in a hurry
- a large part of our meal ended up being comped so it wasn't a full-price affair

We chose Maginnity's using our usual method - a flick through the Entertainment Book - and based on its proximity to both our workplaces (less than five minutes walk). It looked pretty nice from the website, and the description of the beautiful period dining room pretty much had me sold. I even did my research and found a review, which was pretty positive - you can read it here, if you wish to hear a happier story!

I arrived on the dot of 12.30, and was shown to our table, coat taken, and asked if I wanted a drink, which I didn't, as I prefer not to drink with lunch generally (makes me want to take a mid-afternoon nap!), and I could see Mr Cake and our friend walking across the road outside anyway. So that was all as expected. The others walked in and sat down and our friend said another mutual friend of ours was coming, which was a really last minute development, so when we managed to attract the waiter's attention we asked if he could set an extra place. That was also no problem. We ordered two bread plates while we were waiting, and a few minutes later our friend arrived, with his fiance, so a little more reshuffling was required. However, this was still all right. Once we were all settled we waited quite a while for our bread to arrive, and they still hadn't taken our order for mains - which was a little concerning.

Not long after the bread was put down - in fact before we started eating it, but after I took my photos - they finally took our orders. This got a little confusing - they had to come back to the table and double check what we had asked for. The bread itself was fine but unremarkable - the focaccia had a nice salt and rosemary topping (as focaccia generally does!), and that's about the extent of my praise there. It was definitely good to get some food, though!

Mr Cake was already a bit concerned by this point as he is pretty busy at work at the moment and couldn't afford to spend too long away from his desk - but it didn't occur to us that the food could take too much longer so we just sat tight.

The restaurant was fairly small - only seven or eight tables all up - and mostly full, including a table of seven - but it is a stunning wee restaurant, right in the heart of the city, so this didn't seem too surprising to me. However, by about 1.15pm we were getting pretty worried. All of us were working, and though an hour, or even slightly over, is acceptable, it's not a good look to be out of the office for too long - and even if that doesn't matter what about our grumbling bellies?

When we realised that the mains for the table of seven were only just arriving (and they were already well installed when we arrived) we began to stress. About this point the waiter assured us our food was next. After taking dessert to another couple he came to our table with five wine glasses and offered us wine on the house - however, none of us wanted it; we were, after all, nearly due back at work, so we all politely declined. He commented that perhaps we could have coffees afterwards instead and left the table - to which I commented that it was unlikely anyone would feel they had time for coffee! To his credit, the waiter did make an effort to correct the situation - however, we all felt it was more a sense of obligation that lead to this, and there was no graciousness, nor did he at any time explain the delay.

At 1.30 Mr Cake felt he had to leave, so asked the waiter if his food could be given to me to take home (fortunately he had forgotten we were to have lunch out when getting ready for work this morning and had packed his lunch as usual, so did have sandwiches to eat at his desk - but still, terrible to spend an hour waiting for food and leave without getting it). Shortly after he left our food arrived. They had added two complimentary side dishes to our order, which was a nice gesture, but again lacked the grace to make us feel much better (except that our food was now in front of us, finally).

Had Mr Cake's waygu steak not come in a tin-foil package it would have looked like the dish on the left, which our friend ordered. Steak knives were not brought to the table and on trying and failing to cut into her steak with her table knife she requested one, and was told she shouldn't need it. On insisting that the steak was actually quite tough the waiter brought her one and said he would comp her meal. He did first offer to have the chef cook her another, but by this stage I think even he knew that was unlikely to be acceptable. On cutting into it she discovered it was closer to being medium-well done than the medium-rare she requested, with only a tiny bit of pink remaining. Mr Cake's medium rare was closer to what it should have been, as after he microwaved it (I know, sacrilege!) to have for dinner, his was still pinker than hers. I ordered the fish (I still don't know what sort, though I neglected to ask so I suppose that's my fault) with mussel beignets, fennel salad and orange butter sauce. The fish was fine (possibly nice even, but I think we were all more than a little bit jaded by the time we got our food), and I did like the mussel beignets, but the fennel salad was just sliced fennel, which is nice for the first two mouthfuls... And the orange butter sauce was true to its name, but I really felt it lacked dimension - it was almost sickly, it tasted like, well, orange and butter. The green vege side was pretty nice - described in the menu as sauteed greens with garlic and almond, the veges were yummy, nicely cooked, and nuts do dress up your average vege dish.

One of our friends is vegetarian and the veggie dish on offer was a risotto, which turned out to be pretty average. He happens to have started a new job this week and so four days in (and not working too close to the restaurant) he was also acutely aware of the time, and left after wolfing down half his meal. The rest of us ate pretty quickly and paid the bill - they comped Mr Cake's steak (just as well) as well as our friend's one; the side dishes; and the bread. I loaned our Entertainment card to our late-arriving friends as though much of the meal had already been comped a) the reason we'd chosen the restaurant was to take advantage of the deal, and the 'free' food was all to compensate our poor experience and b) I felt pretty bad that one of them had left after eating only half of his dinner. I felt a little guilty at the time, but both Mr Cake and I ended up staying late at work tonight to catch up, and I imagine our friends did too, and because we spent half our lunch worrying about how long it was taking we didn't enjoy it much, either. As we were paying the waiter ringing up our order (not the one who served us) told us they had not been able to cope with the number of people in the restaurant. This information would have been useful earlier - even if it had made no difference to the speed we were served at we at least would have known where we stood, and we could have made it clear we had a time constraint (though I do think a central Wellington restaurant serving lunch should have some idea that corporate-ly dressed people are likely to be in the middle of a workday!).


So, awkward, frustrating, annoying, and disappointing - I would need a very compelling reason to go back there! It is a shame as the building is lovely, with beautiful plaster moulding on the ceiling and a lovely chandelier - but sadly that's not enough to make up for what I felt was abysmal service.

Make me feel better: what's your worst dining experience? And do you think it was reasonable of us to use the Entertainment Card anyway? I promise a happier post tomorrow! ;-)


  1. Early explanations can make a huge difference to the whole experience. Engage the diners in the problem early and they will have sympathy, dont wait until they are stressed and grumpy.

  2. Sage words indeed... Take note, servers!

  3. I have eaten at Maginnity's 3 times - twice for lunch and once for breakfast. The breakfast and one of the lunches were lovely, but my most recent experience - for Wellington on a Plate - was disappointing. There was a wait and the meal wasn't as described (although delicious anyway). I did get a nice reply to my email about the discrepancy (no bacon! sacrilege!).

    I'd recommend trying again (at least once), but it may be hit or miss if the service depends on the number of diners.

  4. Thanks, mrlew1 - good to hear they get it right some of the time. I am apprehensive about going back but you give me some hope so perhaps one day!

  5. I hope it's not creepy or weird to post this (although it is odd as a comment on this post), but I do hope your family is OK down in Christchurch. (possibly weird and/or creepy b/c I don't know you.)

    Anyway - please post/tweet soon so we all know you and they are ok!

  6. Not creepy or weird at all! About to post about it, though it's not very food-oriented - but they are all fine, no major damage. :-) Thanks for thinking of us!


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