Sunday, May 12, 2013

Eightysix, Canberra

First I was ignored, then I was very inappropriately kissed and cuddled by an insolent restaurant owner, then I was called a bitch, then I was offered a hook up in the disabled toilets, then we were offered champagne and tequila shots on the house and just when we thought it was safe to leave, my dining companion was fondled and propositioned on the way out. I kid you not. I have witnesses and all of this awkwardness took place in a space of two hours within the walls of Eightysix! On a side note, there was the food which made me almost want to run to the kitchen and hug the chef but then there was everything else that went on.... The most bipolar restaurant experience of my life to date! Read on, dear readers.

Eightysix, which opened it's doors three weeks ago, is the newest addition to Braddon's restaurant scene and has been the talk of the town in the last few week. I was rather looking forward to my dinner reservation and taking my foodie friend from Melbourne to Canberra's most happening new digs. Sure, it was happening. But not sure if in the best way. 

When we turned up for our 8.30pm booking on a Friday night there were people spilling out the door of the restaurant. Eightysix does two sittings and those who were dining in the earlier sitting were yet to leave (or in the case of most tables, yet to even finish their bottles of wines or even order dessert!). This left at least twenty of us who had reservations for the later sitting standing uncomfortably huddled together by the door, giving dirty looks to those taking their own sweet time over shared sundaes.

The initial wait gave me the perfect oppertunity to snap up some photos of the impressive space. You know you are at the right place when you see that neon yellow eighty six sign glowing from within. The open kitchen was a frenzy of activity and a great concept. The gigantic blackboard menu that covers the length of wall across from the kitchen is also a great concept, however practicality must be questioned as there is no hope in hell of anyone sitting in one end of the restaurant being able to see everything on that blackboard. 

The rough concrete floors, the dark tables, the bar stools, the Bison tableware and the impressive floor to ceiling wine shelves make everything about the design aspect of EightSix right on the money. The old school RnB that was pumping was also just to my taste and took me back to the good old days. And then there was the rather amusingly dressed wait staff who looked like they had just rolled out of bed; Donald Duck t-shirts, ripped jeans, beanies with pom poms, beards that hadn't seen a razor in months etc etc. Kids these days, huh? 

The first 5 minutes of awkward standing around by the door with my dining companions was enough to take some photos of the interior. Then another 5 minutes passed while the line of waiting customers grew. Another 5 minutes went passed and the too-cool-for-school owner and none of the aloof wait staff who were sashaying around the floor were yet to even glance our way. Having been completely ignored for 15 minutes, needless to say, my patience well and truly wore out and I had to approach the owner to voice my extremely annoyed thoughts. At this point I was given no apology what so ever but told that we will be seated as soon as our table vacates. That is that. Take it or leave. Had it not been nearly 9pm on a Friday night and that I had an interstate guest to feed, I would've definitely walked out at that point as attitudes of such blatant rudeness and disregard to basic customer service is inexcusable, no matter how well your business may be doing in it's early days or how "cool" you perceive yourself to be.

By the time we were shown to our table it was nearly 9pm and I could not hide my displeasure as we were walking to our table. And then the extremely awkward and unwarranted kiss and cuddle happened, which I assumed to be an apology for the wait. I would've preferred words. Much preferred. 

An overly bubbly waitress explained the blackboard menu to us. At that point in the night two of the dishes were "eighty-sixed" but the rest were good to go. And then we were handed a "wine list" or rather a tattered looking few pieces of paper stapled together. Times must be tough, eh? 

The instigator/owner did check in on our table to see if we were settling in ok, which I thought was somewhat of a redeeming gesture but then he announced to the waitress that I "yelled at him" to which she replied "BITCH" and marched off! Yes, this happened. And no, I am not exaggerating. It is fair to say that the staff at Eightsix have a rather unconventional sense of humour and even though I can take a joke and can laugh at myself for almost anything, I was definitely NOT laughing at this point. There is more than a fine line between casual banter with your customers to shouting profanities at them and that line was well and truly abused here. I was left speechless (which does not happen very often) at the truly abominable nature of the situation and decided to busy myself with the wine list as I could not think of what else to do. We ordered a bottle of Spanish Tempranillo, which at first I got told wasn't available. And then it was available. Ok whatever, by this point I needed a drink and I needed it NOW. 

Food was ordered. Thankfully I was positively blown away by every single dish we ordered, which is an absolute credit to the chef for being the saving grace of the night. 

First up was the bream ceviche with a salsa of sweet corn, coriander and chilli, accompanied by crispy cumin spiced flatbread. The ceviche was incredibly fresh and the salsa was full of zesty balanced flavours.  The chilli and the cumin added a nice kick and lift to the dish and the bar was set very high for the rest  the meal.

Next up was scallops with black pudding and celeriac puree. One word: wow! The scallops were tender and juicy, the black pudding was rich and delicious and when combined together this was an explosion of amazing flavours that I just wanted more and more of. 

Third dish was the ricotta gnocchi with vegetables. Ok, I will admit I was hesitant about ordering this dish but gave in to my dining companions wishes. Gnocchi and veggies? That sounds anything but impressive. I was forced to eat my words (along with mouthfuls of delicious gnocchi) as this dish was deceivingly delicious. The gnocchi was pillowy soft and light and the vegies were anything but boring. Love your work, chef!

Our last main was "ghetto" beef. The what? Yep, that's what it was called and well, with a name like that we were definitely curious to see what this was about. This was yet another knockout dish. The beef was cooked to perfection and the accompanying mint sauce and parmesan cheese worked perfectly with the dish and we demolished it in no time.

Ok, on to dessert. We had heard many good things about the ice cream sundae with peanut brittle and popcorn and this lived up to all my expectations and then some. The crunch of the peanut brittle and the cone, the chewy stickiness of the popcorn with the sweetness of the caramel and the creaminess of the sundae was just absolute heaven.

The last dish of the night was the ginger brulee with quince chutney which was the perfect palate cleanser. Cracking into the perfectly caramelised top was a pleasure as was the mouthfuls of creamy brulee that followed. 

Six faultless dishes should have made this night nothing short of amazing. Yet continuing on the bipolar nature of the night, we managed to have a quiet word with the instigator in question about the bad first impression, how situations like this could be avoided and about his vision for the restaurant. Despite how good the food was, I for one, do not appreciate the way we were treated from the start and will not stand for that level of "customer service". A simple acknowledgement as we entered the restaurant and an even simpler apology for the extended wait would've been sufficient to avoid bitter first impressions. And it goes without saying that unwarranted physical contact and verbal offense is downright unacceptable. As we voiced these thoughts, for a mere 30 seconds it seemed that we were having a breakthrough moment of adult conversion, but then the bipolar switch clicked and a proposition for a hook up in the bathroom followed "since we were now friends". And again, I do understand that sense of humour is a rather individual thing, but under no circumstances is it acceptable to subject a total stranger to such uncomfortable situations and definitely wasn't laughing at any of this. 

And then the bipolar switch clicked again and we were offered champagne and tequila shots on the house as a goodwill gesture, which was all well and good. By this point we were well and truly ready to call it a night but then the final absurd event of the night took place which was the unprovoked fondle and proposition that happened to my dining companion where she was forced into an entirely hideous embrace and got locked inside the restaurant by the instigator in question whilst she was attempting to leave. Yes it really did happen. And yes it could've been funny had it not been completely inappropriate. 

So the verdict: 10/10 for the food. As for the rest, while I do appreciate the restaurant owners' aspirations to create a brand for himself as edgy and memorable, I strongly believe that there is a right way and a wrong way to achieve that and being brash and crass towards paying customers is not the right way. I will let you make up your own mind. How would you react if this series of events happened to you at a restaurant? Would you laugh it off? Am I being overly sensitive? I would love to hear your opinions so please leave a comment. 

Eightysix on Urbanspoon


  1. Oh my gosh we went there for breakfast and at first the service was kind of interesting but then it just got annoying. Plus two of us (out of four) were really unimpressed with our meals. I can kind of see what they are trying to do but I think they are missing the mark - no plans to head back anytime soon when there are so many good restaurants in the city.

  2., I've had my fair share of propositions but there is a time and a place, and reading that made my skin crawl. That is so completely inappropriate, not to mention the fondling!

    The question is whether the food is good enough to overlook being treated like that. I'll just say there's a reason why I fly Singapore and not RyanAir...

  3. Oh, I just went on the eightysix facebook I know the guys you are talking about.

    Canberra hospitality: "We are way to cool to be hospitable, you will be served how and if I feel like it and you will be grateful to pay for the privilege, PS we don't open on Sundays"....whaaaaaat?

    I heart Canberra.

  4. She was locked inside the restaurant?!

  5. Yes, what do you mean she was locked inside the restaurant??

    Whether you were sensitive or not, the service staff should have been more respectful towards you and tried harder to please. The 'bitch' thing surprised me, it's way too familiar language for any stranger to use, let alone a hospitality worker!

    When I was there, a waiter got rather close and personal with me as well. He sidled up next to me, (I was seated at the bar), and went to put his arm around me. I wasn't offended, just surprised at how close he got. My automatic reaction was to jump slightly and he got the message & quickly retracted his arm. It was a little awkward.


  6. Thanks for your comments everyone.

    Megan: Missing the mark big time in customer service for sure!

    Mallymoodle: I agree. Nothing makes up for being treated this way, not even the food. This is worse than Ryan Air.

    Natalie: Exactly! This restaurant truly believe that they are doing us paying customers a favour by letting us eat there. It's like we should be bowing down for the privilege. Pftttt!

    Nish & Sigrid: Yep, she was locked inside. As in all three of us left together, she was the last in line, her path was blocked by the owner who grabbed her, forced her into the said hideous embrace, whispered extremely inappropriate things to her and and then locked the door to stop her from leaving! Obviously she was caught very off guard otherwise I can assure you she would've kicked him somewhere he deserved to be kicked!

  7. Wow. That behaviour your friend had to experience was just vile and unacceptable. Thank you for this review - we shall certainly give this place a miss. Also, maybe you should put it on Tripadvisor to add more coverage on this place and its dubious "customer service".

  8. Hmm, when I went there for a work lunch, I was impressed by the decor, food and the handwash in the bathrooms..haha. At first I liked the new style of service and then things got a little awkward. The owner started calling me babe and I was friendly; but inside I thought he probably did this to everyone. Seeing the comments above answers my question! I thought the music was a one-off but looks like I wasn't hearing things. I thought the music was awesome but probably wouldn't suit everyone (since I was the only one in the restaurant singing along). Maybe the music would be OK just for a drinks session but not lunches, dinners. I think if you read too much into the service one would get offended but I guess this is what these people are going for - something different. It's not going to impress everyone though, and it is a very mixed image. There is a difference between being different and being rude though, so they could work on refining the service and their image and draw a line between customer service and borderline harrassment/offensiveness. I guess the Canberra market is also a bit more upmarket and expects service like that of fine dining e.g. Aubergine if the food is going to be fancy and pricey; or for a middle-class type restaurant, friendly but not rude service. Interesting to hear everyones thought! Nice blog :)

  9. i loved loved loved the food and wine here but also found one particular guy (presumably the owner) really inappropriate. he went from paying my friend some lovely (if slightly ott) compliments to asking whether i had a boyfriend (borderline) and then whether the sex was any good (asked several times) then, i think trying to make up for my obvious shock, he moved over and gave me a kiss! i don't mind a bit of banter with my dinner but i really felt this was out of line.. the story about your girlfriend is awful.

  10. Mama Anarchia: Thanks for reading and for the suggestion of including this review to Tripadvisor. There seem to be plenty of similar unpleasant experiences listed there by other reviewers so I may as well add to it!

    t.cup: Thanks you for your comment. Three months after this experience when I re-read this review I still shudder at how awful the whole series of events was!

    Kim: Wow! I can't believe this guy is still carrying on like this! It's just downright unacceptable and dare I say could get him in some serious trouble if he keeps abusing the line of customer service this way!

  11. I absolutely love 86 and their unconventional "hip" attitude and humour. It's a breath of fresh air after all the stuffy upper middle class styled restaurants popping up everywhere lately. The majority of the staff previously worked at Ellacure and I very much enjoyed how friendly and boisterous the staff were there, and now in their own place they've stepped it up a notch. Living upstairs from them makes me wish I could afford to eat there all the time, with jokes such as when asking for a coke being asked if I want it white or black. This is a place to go and have the staff treat you like you are best friends, not treat you like a customer.

    The service and food are both excellent if you're happy to enjoy a very youth culture atmosphere, however I can understand someone who just wants traditional vanilla service and the food to do all the talking could be offended by the unrestrained staff. Personally I'm glad to see somewhere like this that takes itself less seriously, and have booked my fiancée's 25th dinner banquet at eightysix. I hope they keep their vibe and aren't toned down like everywhere else in Canberra.

    1. Interesting thoughts. Call me old fashioned but I personally don't appreciate being physically and verbally abused when I go to a restaurant. But if that's your idea of "youth culture" and "hip attitude" then by all means I hope you enjoy it! :)

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  13. Wouldn't get away with that act in Fitzroy .... and oh dear - scallops and black pudding .... the whole menu sounds very 'Belluci-fied'!

    1. Wouldn't get away with that act at most places around the country I'd imagine! Thanks for reading :)

  14. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. Mate, thank you for your highly insightful contribution to this post. If calling my friends and I ugly makes you feel better about yourself then go right ahead. Judging by your Google+ profile and that nonsensical comment, both your beauty AND brains are highly debatable so I rest my case.