Jolley’s Boathouse has been part of the scenery on the River Torrens in Adelaide since I was a child. I had not been there for years, but thought it would be fun to revisit it with my daughter, for a long reunion lunch, especially as it advertises itself as the ideal venue for a special occasion.
The weather was dire, the sky emptying itself prodigiously into the river, which was nobody’s fault, and while it stymied my plan for a post prandial stroll along the riverbank, it was actually pleasant to sit, cosy and warm within, looking out over the water, the black swans and the motor launches known as ‘Popeyes’ that cruise up and down from the Zoo to the Festival Theatre.
We arrived early, but our hostess welcomed us in (albeit grudgingly) to sit with the menu and a G&T. Jolley’s has a terrific contemporary Australian menu with a lean towards the Moroccan/Mediterranean, created by Chef Tony Carroll, who apparently selects the finest local produce to accompany a wide range of Aussie and international wines. It seemed – used as I am to Asian prices – quite costly for lunch: more Sydney prices than I was expecting, perhaps naively, but all the more reason to anticipate splendid results.
We loved the look of everything on the menu, and took our time to order. My daughter finally chose the twice cooked duck leg with cabbage, peas and hazelnut salad, while I opted for the seared scallops and meatballs on celeric purée. I think she made the better choice – there was certainly more of it – and I was decidedly taken aback at the price I paid for 2 scallops and mash: Aus $21.50! Delicious though they both were, this seemed a preposterous price to pay.
After much debate, we finally decided to share the middle-eastern lamb shoulder, described on the menu as ‘slow braised for twelve hours and served with roast pumpkin, dates and cous cous with a Fattoush side salad’. At Aus $76 I expected it to be – to quote Mary Poppins – ‘practically perfect’. It was truly disappointing. We could not peel the meat from the bone as advised. Instead, tough and undercooked, and lacking any kind of sophisticated presentation, we were forced to saw at it. The salad was, well, lame. Fattoush is a traditional Levantine bread salad made from toasted or fried pieces of pita bread (limp and uncooked in this case) combined with mixed greens and vegetables according to season and taste. No taste in winter apparently.
Despite a lengthy consultation with the manager on the state of the lamb, we were not offered an apology, exchange, a reduced cost or even a free drink, although they did pack it up so I could take it home to cook it a bit longer, after advice that such a tough piece might not be improved with further cooking! I know, I would normally argue the case, but my kids are getting sick of me speaking out, even politely, in restaurants, so I reluctantly behaved in honour of our special outing. It was sad, though, as it was supposed to be a real treat. The setting, the nostalgia and the menu were all promising, but they failed to deliver and in the end we felt no inclination to stay on for dessert or coffee. Or to return. And apologies, I didn’t take photos, as I told myself it was not worth writing about. So I won’t…