Recently my sister Emma and her fiancée Josh bought out the other half of the restaurant that Josh is a chef at. Feast, as its called, is a good wee restaurant and I’m not just saying that out of family loyalty: it was listed in Cuisine magazine’s 150 restaurants to try and received a great write-up in Fashion Quarterly. They already had a couple of craft beers, but Josh wanted to expand the range. As Em has taken over the front-of-house duties and was re-evaluating everything from the artwork to the fridges, it fell to her to investigate their options.
First she went local. As they are in Cromwell, they tried the Arrow Brewing Company beers and quite liked them. Stocking local beers something I’d really like to see more restaurants consider. Yes, Auckland restaurants often serve local brews – Lion’s brewery is, after all, located in Otara, while DB is not far away in Otahuhu. But it would be good to see great local beer on the same level of importance that local wine and food is given. An oft complaint of my Dad’s is eating out in Blenheim, being offered a dozen wines produced within a 50k radius but not a single one of the great local brews. I’d even extend ‘local’ to ‘Made in NZ'; how frustrating is it to be offered Heineken and Carlsburg next to a New Zealand wine ?
When trying the beers from Arrow, Em and Josh came up against another issue: 500ml bottles. I gather Josh originally thought 500ml bottles would be too big, but after the two of them went out to dinner and shared a bottle, he revised this opinion. This is also another thing I wish more restaurant decision makers would do: actually try things. Personally, I really like sharing a bottle of 500ml over a main – after all, don’t many people order an entire 750ml bottle of wine? And more importantly, how can you know the answer if you haven’t tried it?
So far, my sister was going about selecting her craft beers is a rather sensible manner. Then Dad and I got involved. It started with an email from Dad, saying he knew they were thinking of local beers for Feast, but Hawkes Bay Independent Brewery do a range in classy 330ml bottles, especially for the restaurant market. ‘I know your sister will say ‘aaargh green bottles’,’ he wrote, ‘but they are really good beers’. To which I predictably said ‘aaargh green bottles’ and accused Dad of being superficial about beer labels.* Em, with her FoH hat on, admitted while I might be right about Dad, but ‘we need to think about it ‘cos our beers are on display and people pick with their eyes sometimes.’ She’s right of course; beer labels do need to be attractive and recognisable. But I think I’m right as well: you don’t want to reward someone for trying a new beer with a skunky mess. In many cases though, I don’t think this will be a problem; New Zealand craft beer labels are generally very attractive and consistency is rising.
Then, much to my disgust, my darling sister attempted to sell me her leftover Moa Methode. She’s got nothing against the beer’s taste or their horrid advertising – she simply hates pouring the bottle-fermented beer that delights in frothing over. She can do it – she is after all, an experienced hospo worker. But newer or less experienced staff can’t. Bottle-fermented beer is a more extreme case, but it is important for staff to have a reasonable knowledge of which beer glass to use, how to best pour that beer and even simply knowing which beers the restaurant has to offer.
The point of this rather rambling post is not what restaurant should be doing – I’m in no way qualified to offer such an opinion. Instead I hope to offer what they could be thinking about and what questions they should be considering – more importantly, that they should be considering craft beer. I’m quite proud that my sister and future brother-in-law are giving craft beer a proper go in their restaurant and happy that they feel there’s a demand for it in small town New Zealand.
If you’d like to check out Feast, they’re located in Shop 7, The Mall, Cromwell, open Tuesday to Saturday.
* He’s still yet to try any Green Man beers, simply because he doesn’t like the labels.