Upstairs, 90-92 Manners St
Ph: 473 9562 Open Tues-Thur 11am-10pm, Fri-Sun 11am-3am
Mains from $12.50
Wine list: 3/5
Cost: $66 for two (excluding wine)
It was Saturday night at Daddy O's, the brand new diner upstairs in Manners St, and the joint ought to have been rocking.
A tall, grey-bearded cat was bent double over the piano, tinkling up and down the keyboard and mouthing: "Skoopy loopy koo! Skippitty dippitty wah wah wah!"
I'd love to report that a crowd of beatniks were snapping their fingers and shouting: "Like, dig that jazz, daddy-o!"
But this was 2012, not 1962, and the only daddy-o listening, it seemed, was me.
In reality, the pianist was battling an ever-rising babble of conversation from a large staff party, which reached a crescendo when the boss stood up and shouted out a speech above the music.
Christmas staff parties, ugh! Bah humbug!
I mean, how else do you reach consensus with the lowest common denominator in the staffroom except with low prices, burgers and pizza?
That's our Daddy O: burgers begin at $12.50, while fries are $4. And, stupid old me, that's what I ought to have ordered from the outset.
Instead, I chose what might be described as the aspirational menu, beginning with goujons of dry, over-smoked salmon resting on what appeared to be leather buttons.
While these were called buckwheat blinis, they were light years away from the lunch trolley of puffy, yeast-risen towers that had been wheeled into our staffroom at Le Cordon Bleu just three days earlier.
My guest received what appeared to be an individual pot of baked compost, but which proved to be spinach and artichoke baked in a cheesy cream sauce, delicious enough to excuse the presentation.
Having been stripped clean of every last fibreglass stalactite, you'd never recognise this austere new space as the former Voodoo - a mad, short-lived Cajun-Creole cafe that used to serve possibly the best short rib of pork yet seen in Wellington - smoked over hickory but still succulent and juicy, and slathered with the American chef's own BBQ sauce: sweet, sour, hot and deliciously Southern. Everything, in fact, that Daddy O's version was not.
From their Country Style Ribs arose the sour, oxidised fumes of over-blitzed and under-cooked onion, tasting one-dimensionally of chilli. The coating on these ribs was soft and pudgy, for goodness sake, where it needed to be caramelised, burnished and chewy.
The hand-cut chips were salty and soggy.
Despite having confined myself to a half-rack, the portion size was still way too big, especially with the chips.
That went back half-eaten, but not because it was inedible - unlike my guest's fish taco, which I ought to have refused to even taste, because the tarakihi smelled so distinctly whiffy.
When we mentioned this to our waitron as she cleared, she apologised, and by way of compensation we received a complimentary dessert.
This was a stroke of luck, since we got to taste one good thing of an evening - a coulis-drizzled wedge of rich cheesecake, on a malty, chocolatey base.
Meanwhile, a table of latecomers all ordered hamburgers as well - the big half-pounders, each bun impaled with a serrated knife.
Since we didn't pay for dessert and my bill was well under budget, I decided to go back to Daddy O's at lunchtime midweek a few days later and give them another chance, this time with the burger.
There was yet another big staff Christmas party in progress, this one exclusively male; again, all were solemnly munching burgers. Judging by their stern demeanour, they might have been off-duty policemen.
For while you might call your cafe Daddy O's and offer live jazz, you aren't necessarily going to attract the latter-day hipsters - they who parade around the Cuba Quarter in their beards, funny hats, scarves and stovepipe jeans, yet are coy at being so labelled.
For this reason, they are also likely to be sensitive about the name Daddy O's. "What a blatant attempt to to cash in," they're probably muttering to one another right now over coffee at Black Sparrow.
ONE THING YOU SHOULD TRY
Angus Beef Burger
For this item they scored four out of five: the bun, sliced tomato and leaves of baby cos were all spanking fresh; the burger was well seasoned, served medium-rare and thus moist, with a delicious, honest, house-made aioli.
- © Fairfax NZ News