A trifle cheeseparing

by Pat Churchill on October 11, 2014

Complimentary: free, gratis, on the house, free of charge

It has quite a ring to it and it’s good to get a “complimentary” gift. On my recent birthday I received a balloon-bedecked email from Melbourne restaurant Mr Mason, along with an offer of a “complimentary meal” – “for bookings of two or more guests.”

How nice. I accepted the offer and made a booking for The Spouse and me.

It was all very pleasant. An interesting menu. Not large but appealing enough to make choosing quite an exercise. Same with the wine list

The young French waitress knew the menu well and described, explained and answered any questions.

A good dining experience. A pleasant celebration.

Confit salmon, duck breast, chocolate souffle - the food was fine Confit salmon, duck breast, chocolate souffle – the food was fine


Then the bill arrived.

I certainly wasn’t expecting free drinks. But the only thing complimentary on the account was a main course. They did say “complimentary meal” not “complimentary main course”. One course does not a restaurant meal make, at least for me.

It was sad to end a pleasant evening on a sour note. I imagine the staff don’t enjoy it, either

A couple of days later another email popped up: a thank you for dining at the restaurant and a request to fill in their feedback form.

I promptly obliged. Really, everything was good – except for their interpretation of “complimentary meal.” I thought I should mention it. If I had been given a complimentary flight by an airline, I wouldn’t expect to be slipped an invoice for occupying a seat once I boarded the plane.

Sadly, there was no reply from the restaurant. I guess they want to hear only praise, and not criticism. In fact, I did applaud the staff and the food. No complaints there.

It may be a question of semantics, Mr Mason, but I think you let yourselves down by being niggardly. Don’t overpromise if you don’t plan to deliver.


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My bloodless coup

by Pat Churchill on September 19, 2014

About 20 years ago we did a substantial renovation at the then family home. At the end of it I had my dream kitchen. I decided it was time I had a knife block for my expensive kitchen knives. In those days it was a modest collection and so I bought a modest knife block.

Over the intervening years, the knives went forth and multiplied. A bigger knife block was called for. By then we had shifted home and country. I thought it would be easy to find a knife receptacle in this food-loving city, but though I scoured Melbourne, I failed. Sure, there were knife blocks aplenty but they all came with resident knives. I had enough knives. I didn’t need any more. I wanted an empty knife block.

After a frustrating exhaustive search, I gave up looking. Then one day, while mindlessly wandering round an arty overpriced gift store, I came across a knifeless block. All it contained was a collection of very fine black rods designed to hold and separate the kitchen knives. I bought it.

The idea was good until the knife block began malfunctioning a few months later. Maybe I keep my knives too sharp, but after a while even a few knives wouldn’t fit in snugly between the rods. The block started spitting them out. There’s nothing like a sharp cook’s knife clattering onto the bench and taking little chips out of the beautiful worktop in our near-new home.

I began my knife block hunt once more. Same old story. Even shops purveying professional chefs’ supplies couldn’t sell me an empty knife block apart from the capricious black rod variety.

I decided I might have to commission a wood-worker to custom-make a knife holder, but I wasn’t ready to give up yet.

I chewed Mr Google’s ear and sent him off looking for an “empty knife block”. He kept finding useless little blocks that would hold only five or six knives, or more capacious ones but with dumb labels on the slots like “showtime” or “rocker”.

No one can say I lack patience but meanwhile another knife flipped out of the existing knife block, sending The Spouse tut-tutting and running his fingers over the pitted patch on the bench. He was starting to sound like a curmudgeon. He had to be silenced. He was on shaky ground loitering too close to the knife collection.

And then, in the depths of the internet, miles beyond the Hollywood starlets, scrummy mummies and wayward sportsmen and I found exactly what I was looking for. Amazon had an empty block that would house a score of knives from a battery of small paring knives to a substantial cleaver, kitchen scissors and a sharpening steel. And only $27.90 – half what I had paid for the useless block I was replacing.

My bloodless coup

Sticking the knife in

It was very satisfying to see my favourite knives slide effortlessly into the block – and stay there. It was equally satisfying to open the rubbish bin, throw the old block where it belonged, and smugly announce to The Spouse “I’ve already done it!”

Kitchen knives are very personal things. They need to be immediately accessible from our work area. They are no use (not to mention, dangerous) sitting scabbardless in a drawer.

Treated with respect, they will last for years. And we need to choose the knives that best suit us and not invest in a designer set in matching block. You can guarantee at least a couple of those designer knives will never get used. Leave those pretty boys for non-cooks who use boning knives for opening the box of coffee capsules or as a proxy screwdriver.

In a world full of space-occupying “essential” kitchen gadgetry, I still cannot understand why real necessities like empty knife blocks are so hard to come by. A niche market waiting to be exploited?

Fortunately I’ve managed to do a fairly good cosmetic job on my damaged benchtop – but that’s another story…

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