When MSG (aka Monosodium glutamate commonly used in Chinese food as a flavour enhancer) is added to a dish, the initial reaction is “hmmm, tastes so good!” It’s only when you leave the restaurant and you have this unmistakeable thirst or even worse; a throbbing migraine that the latter reaction is “they must have put MSG in.” Disappointment, especially in this day and age when there are limitless real flavours and ingredients you can add to effectively enhance the taste of a dish.
Ironically I liken my experience of new Potts Point, Sydney showpony “Ms. G” to its namesake MSG. We Sydneysiders are a fickle bunch. Quick to try a new restaurant/bar/cafe, quicker to pack inside like sardines so there’s no option but to try and remain effortlessly chic and absolutely not squashed or sweaty as you cosy up next to a complete stranger and their skin whilst trying to hold your ground of 2cm squared and balance a cocktail and smile at the same time.
Saturday night in Sydney; 7.30pm. Let’s go to Ms. G. It’s the new Hemmes place with the chef from Lotus at Potts Point; it’s meant to be fab!! Upon arrival to its Victoria Street location, it all looks good. What must have once been a stately Victorian terrace in its day has now been gutted and warehoused into a thriving and buzzing money machine of 5 levels where plenty of people were already seated and in the throes of eating, drinking and revelling in their Saturday night sensations. People were spilling out on to the pavement, confident lasses held pens and clipboards trying to manage a growing list of names and contact numbers against a ticking clock and me and Mr EatLoveGo (ELG) barged our way through, heading up to the top level bar where friends were already patiently waiting, names on the list, passing the time sipping cocktails. “They said a table will be ready at 9pm”. Hmmm, a 90minute wait for what was supposed to be THE food to be had – that’s reasonable I guess for somewhere that has a no-booking policy, right?
Upstairs the atmosphere was going off; literally. 3 flustered bar staff were attempting to serve a growing number of patrons. Seat options were either a sunken wall lounge or low wooden stools. Others wanting to rest their feet were perched on the funky looking compacted boxes tied with string-serving as makeshift tables for drinks as maintaining more than your own personal space became a little luxury leaving your grasp. Mr ELG stepped up to the bar responsible for the next round of drinks for the group. Slowly swallowed by more and more patrons, Mr ELG disappeared into the crowd edging closer and closer to the bar and buying his round when I heard someone say “Where’s Mr ELG? Is he still at the bar getting drinks?” 45 minutes had gone by and it was obvious that Ms. G needed to get more than 3 staff manning this bar as the round had still not appeared. 15 more minutes passed and I finally saw his hand reach through the crowd with each of our drinks being passed through one by one. Mr ELG himself finally appeared; flustered being an understatement and I began to see those nasty effects of MSG starting to take its toll. To top it off, one of our group had gone downstairs to get an update from clipboard-girl and what was originally a confident “you’ll be seated by 9pm” had become “there’s still about 8 groups in front of you and it’s unlikely you will be seated before 10pm.”
Hmmm reasonable I think not and a clarity on what inevitably makes us so fickle. All it takes is just one hint of bad service or an unreasonable wait time of over 2 hours to eat or 1 hour to quench your thirst and a foul taste is left in my mouth despite a want and desire to try the newest destination in town. Running a successful restaurant that ticks all the boxes from the first day is a tough gig. I grew up with a Dad who opened many. Some worked and some didn’t. It’s not enough to have a great location, gorgeous interior, a tantalising menu, a damn good wine list and enough bodies to take the orders. Essential ingredients for success at any restaurant/cafe/bar are also the friendly and attentive staff who are honest and gracious, a point of difference to survive in our fickle, harbour-loving landscape and may I ask; who invented no bookings anyway? As someone who loves to eat and dine outside of my kitchen; I would rather hear “We’re fully booked” to “um…it’s about a 2 hour wait; give me your mobile number and I will call you when a table is ready.” Certainty is much better than hopes being dashed when no one bothers to call at all especially when you’re still at the pub down the road waiting for the phone to ring and the stomach is still rumbling.
As we left Ms. G, famished but en route to a place that took a last minute booking, conversation turned to its long-standing neighbours on Victoria Street Jimmy Liks and Mezzaluna. We all agreed Jimmy Liks has such yummy food and great cocktails and “it’s still packed after 10 years; geez they must be doing something right” and Mezzaluna has “such a great view and yummy Italian food too”. It was refreshing to realise that some destinations surpass the fickle hill and last the distance despite their neighbours changing names and paint colours every season.
I don’t know if I will go back and try to get an elusive table at Ms. G again as there are so many more places that keep popping up in Sydney town and unfortunately I am fickle just like the rest of them. For now though, I think I’ll call A Tavola, a favourite that has surpassed and is a stayer that takes bookings!
Ms. G @ 155 Victoria Street Potts Point NSW 2011