Last Wednesday night Sheila and I went to the Rathskeller at 1205 Quadra Street because I was in the mood for some German food in a traditional atmosphere.
This restaurant has been at that location for decades now. It is an institution in Victoria, though I last went there in the mid 1980s. We tried once before to have dinner there but caught them on a day they are closed.
The setting has the look and feel of a local restaurant one would find all over Germany and Austria, it is very authentic for that, though the waitresses in dirndl dresses is a bit much. So far so good.
We got our menus and noticed two things, high prices and a large menu. The prices were higher than we expected with most entrees being in the $17 to $25 range, this is above average in Victoria for a meal and moving into the high end. Well made food with fresh ingredients costs money and can mean you need to have higher prices, this is what we attributed it to.
I also noticed the menu was long, it had a lot of choices on it. A long menu sets of alarm bells for me because most restaurants do not have the traffic to sustain that many options. There were a number of things on the menu that require a lot of prep to have on hand or require long cooking times. With pages of options and likely less than 100 covers a night, they either have to throw a lot of food out each night or they cut major corners. The long menu and high prices almost made us leave, but it has been a crazy couple of weeks with two parents in hospital and dieing of cancer. We stayed and it was a mistake.
Sheila ordered the Weiner Schnitzel and I ordered the Hungarian Goulash.
My Goulash came with a brown gravy that was salty, I could not sense anything other than the salt in the sauce. I did not not see an pepper or onion pieces in the sauce and certainly could not taste any paprika. The meat was a combination of tender and well cooked and tough. All the pieces were dry and clearly had not been cooked in the sauce for any length of time. I let the waitress know the sauce was very salty, she offered to get me something else, but time was not on our side to wait for another entree. She did not seem to believe me the sauce was salty even after Sheila told her she had tried it. The chef and her did try some of it in the kitchen from my plate, or so she said, and she admitted it was a bit salty and maybe "too much of the beef base" got into my dinner. There it was, they do not make their own sauce, but make it from one of those overly salty and awful cheap restaurant supply powders.
The veggies I had were frozen peas and carrots that had been microwaved. The spaetzle did not look like they were freshly made and did not really look right. They looked like little extruded logs of dough. I expect a good spaetzle to be airy and light, to melt in my mouth and these did not.
Sheila had more success with her schnitzl. The meat was tender and perfectly cooked. But this came with fried potatoes that were watery. Clearly the potatoes had all been cooked earlier and then kept in a warming tray. They were inedible.
The waitress still charged me for my meal, she also did not ask why Sheila did not eat the potatoes. She did bring me a complimentary raspberry vodka shot, unfortunately since she did not asked there is no way she could have known I hate flavoured vodkas.
For the price we paid I expected perfect traditional German food made fresh and to order. That does not happen there.
I would have expected a restaurant to go an extra mile to figure out what went wrong and then not to charge me for their mistake. When anything at all is not right, a smart and competent restaurant will accept responsibility for their error. This did not happen at the Rathskeller even after they admitted they had made the mistake. Tom Colicchio has a quote in the Top Chef cookbook about it being his responsiblity to make every meal perfect because if he does not he will ruin someone's evening.
There is no chance we are going to go back to the Rathskeller, shitty food on top of a shitty day. I can understand why the focus on tourists for much of their traffic since then they do not need to worry about repeat business. I will wait for my next to Germany for decent German food.