The Arch Rival

What makes maintaining this blog so interesting is the prospect of exploring and finding a bistro, café, restaurant, or some other food-oddity that just makes my day. Hah! a food oddity…

Ground control to chef d’cuisine / Sauce and garnish the protein / Make your menu match the best I’ve ever seen…

…but I digress…

And such was the case the other night when I went out walking through town at dinner time and had planned to grab a Chinese meal along the way, only to find myself a street away at The Arch Rival in Palmerston’s CBD quite by surprise.
I think that along the way my heart over-rode my head and told me that I wanted a steak dinner. For some reason I had in mind that The Arch Rival was a bit of a steakhouse, and as I’m still on the quest for the finest steak dinner in town I subconsciously connected the dots and the night was set.

As you arrive and enter The Arch Rival you are confronted by a large internal seating area with a mixture of booths, open plan seating, and stall seating areas beyond the open dance floor and pool table. Add to this area an extensive sidewalk dining area and you’ve got the potential for quite a large dinner crowd. Or drinking crowd. While walking through the stale beer odour that permeates the venue I saw a sign somewhere indicating that the doors are open on Friday and Saturday nights until 4ish am which put in my mind that there’s definitely a nightclub element to the place. As do the mirror balls, three-quarter wall high movie screen, concert lighting, etc…

First time dining here can be a bit confusing, especially if you don’t know that you are expected to walk through the floorspace to the not insignificant bar counter and collect a menu before finding a table. You will not be greeted and directed to a table, however the staff are friendly enough when you make an effort to communicate with them. The large centrally located drinks bar and order counter reminded me of a western saloon bar, as will the seating arrangements and furnishings – particularly the wagon wheel mounted within the entry partition wall.

I placed my order back at the order counter and then discovered that the table is numbered – unlike the majority of their rivals – and if you didn’t see the number before ordering you will be back to the table yet again. On this visit I ordered the scotch fillet, chips and salad.

Upon returning to my table I noticed how most of my senses were being assaulted all at once. There was a constant din reverberating throughout the seating area from early evening revellers who hadn’t made it home yet from work. The damp, dank air smelt as thick and gloomy as the dimly light seating area did. I’m not sure if interior is old and needs a spring clean, or purposely given that unkempt aesthetic. The Arch Rival has been here for as long as I can remember, and the sagging ceiling tiles, cloudy glass light fittings, pock marked walls and cobwebs on the wall hangings suggest that the venue is past due for a facelift.

If The Arch Rival was a Bible passage, it would be written by the Apostle Paul explaining how became all things to all men. Likewise, what I thought was a steakhouse was also masquerading as a bistro, bar, pub, club, and nightclub, etc. There is a certain vibe and atmosphere to the place, however I feel that management is trying too hard to be everything; all at once. The menu is typical pub grub, along with a few exotic extras on the menu than you wouldn’t normally expect; such as the deep fried mars bar. The image really boils down to more pub than bistro, which may have been largely suggested by the drinking clientele at the time I visited. This thought is also supported by google analytics telling me that the place really peaks – like REALLY peaks – between 9pm and 1am at the end of the week and a menu price structure somewhat akin to other pub food venues.

The meal promptly arrived and this is where the night really got interesting. While the dish was so obviously a steak dinner, it was certainly not what I would have associated with The Arch Rival. The nicely charred steak itself was handsomely presented on a dished wooden platter and propped up on a bed of golden chips. At the other end of the platter was fresh colourful garden salad consisting of all the usual suspects. Sitting somewhere in the centre of the platter was an olde worlde gravy train brimming with sauce. The meal itself looked and smelt wonderful.

Dinner A-R

The steak filled the air with a smokey flame grilled aroma and cut like butter with a hot knife. Speaking of knives, a steak knife was served on the platter to assist with cutting the steak – a thoughtful touch I wished that more restaurants and cafes would do. The steak tasted as good as it looked, with the charring giving the steak surface a lovely firm texture and a wonderful smokey flavour. The steak itself was well seasoned and had obviously been well rested. The golden chips were hot, crunchy and I’m willing to bet were cooked for the meal and not pulled from a bain-marie somewhere. The salad was ever so lightly dressed and looked rather petite and elegant in comparison to the blokey steak on the other end of platter.

Finally, the mushroom sauce was delicious, full of button mushrooms and considering the amount of stock powder that I thought I could taste dancing on my tongue, the sauce was house-made.

All up, this was a bit of a mixed experience. Once the meal had arrived, I never saw a server again: no-one checked in with me or cleared away the finished plates. The wooden platter had warped a little with age and wouldn’t sit flat on the table, choosing rather to spin when loading the fork – a small problem fixed by placing a beer mat under each corner of the platter. And there was a bit of a walk around the other tables required to find functioning salt and pepper grinders. But the meal showed that a lot of love had gone into the cooking, creating taste, and presentation. The portion size was spot on and even though I wanted dessert, I refused the chance to overeat.

This was a steak dinner that – so far – was superior to others I have tried. And at pub prices too; not the mid-range restaurant prices that I have paid thus far.

Who would have guessed that this one-size-fits-all pub/bistro who plays techno and trance music with the odd song here and there from David Bowie’s 1970s catalogue thrown in, would turn out an excellent steak dinner. A real food oddity, indeed.

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