“ Address: 21 Dumbarton Road / Stirling / FK8 2LQ „
There are people out there who don't enjoy eating. It is simply a necessity and a chore. I am not one of those people. I love food and I love cooking. Eating isn't a chore, it's a luxury that I take full advantage of whenever I can. There is a good reason I have a gym membership! The only downside to cooking is the dreaded clean up afterwards. Having spent my younger years as a kitchen porter, doing dishes is one of my most despised household tasks. Not to say that I won't do them, just that I'll take any opportunity I can to NOT do them. Usually that opportunity presents itself in the form of eating out. Yay!
There are few restaurants in Dundee that meet my standards. Not only does a restaurant need to be able to cook a steak properly, it needs to look good, have decent service and prices and not be frequented by total scum (of which there is a high population kicking about this city). As such I tend to lean towards slightly better areas of town when choosing to eat out. Papa Joes is slap bang in a small area of town that is decent. As such I've been there a few times.
===Who Is Papa Joe?===
He was an Italian dude who was born in 1899 and opened his first café in 1933 in Scotland. That's as much as I know. He must have been quite a collector though as the restaurants are full of statues, plaques, pictures and various other completely random olde-style memorabilia. It's quite a quirky little place, cluttered but neat. The address is 15 Whitehall Street, Tayside, Dundee DD1 4AA and the phone number is 01382 202520 if you wish to make a reservation. If you're eating at a weekend you'd be best to book in advance as it does get quite busy. There are two other branches in Scotland one in Stirling and one in Dunfermline. All branches are open 7 days a week, 12 till "late". The website (www.papa-joes.co.uk) has the menus available for your perusal.
Getting there couldn't be easier as it's right in the centre of town. There is a Taxi rank at the top of the road and bus terminals for most major routes right outside the door. If you are driving there are a few car parks close by and if it's after 6 you can usually get parked on the street outside it for free. If you are coming in from outside Dundee, it's less than a five minute walk from the train station too.
Usually when I do a restaurant review, I start with the food. Not this time. I've been to Papa Joe's at least 15 times over the last few years and I've been meaning to review it for a while. Why haven't I? Quite simply put is that for the last couple of years the service has been going drastically downhill. I wanted to give it a bit of a chance and wait till we had a good experience again before reviewing. Roll on my birthday. Thursday December 27th 2012. My partner had ever so nicely organised for me and 17 of my friends to go for a meal, booking the table two weeks in advance. The first eyebrow raising moment was when he was told he would have to put down a deposit of £5 per person for the booking. Having never had to do this on my birthday before (most restaurants are happy for the custom on the 27th especially when it falls during the week) I told him to tell them to shove it. Unfortunately, ever the fantastic guy that he is, he went down and handed over £100 of his cash. He asked if rather than taking the deposit from the bill he could have the deposit back on the night (it would make working the bill out easier if people didn't show up) and was told rather abruptly "No". A bit strange I thought.
The 27th arrived and I walked in to see that most of my friends had already turned up... and were sitting at different tables. This was the smallest turn out I've had in a while and they've never split us up before. Straight away I asked a waitress if the tables could be moved. As there were only about three other tables in the restaurant with groups at them I thought that was reasonable. As it stands there were about 50 tables that were empty. Off she popped to check with the manager. I seethed a little. A couple of minutes later a different waiter came across to ask for drink orders. I advised we were waiting to see if the tables could be moved. He went off to speak to his manager and came straight back. The answer: No. Apparently the kitchen can't handle a table of more than 16. Bizarre considering we'd all still have been there regardless of what table we were at.
The manager then came across himself and decided the best way to handle this was to be rude. I told him as we weren't told about not getting sat together when we booked, we'd be getting our deposit back and going next door. He looked at me like I had three horns on my head and exclaimed sarcastically "Next Door!??". "The Chinese" I responded. The sarcasm oozed as he rolled his eyes and said "Oh it's just that it's actually an empty unit next door!" finishing off with a smirk. When one of my friends pointed out that we'd all sat together before he sassed them with "I think I know my table capacity, I've been the manager for 8 years". If he has, I'd certainly never had to deal with him before, despite previous years having a manager grovel due to our main meals taking 20 minutes to arrive and giving us the three rounds of drinks so far for 20 people for free without even having to ask for it!
As I got my things and rallied my friends, the manager stood at the till waving a £100 fan, sighing and tapping his feet. I've never met someone who would happily turn down over £700 worth of custom and have the cheek to be rude about it. Needless to say, no food was eaten that night in Papa Joes and I've already reviewed the Chinese buffet that we ended up in previously.
===The Food, The bad and the Ugly===
So now that you know why I'll never be going back to what once was my favourite restaurant, let's explore the food.
Usually when I go to papa Joes it is due to the fact that they do/did a rocking steak. They have a little chart on the menu of what each stage of cooking should look like so you know if they have done your steak properly. I usually ask for medium rare and nearly every restaurant in Dundee has managed to cock that up for me. It's not a huge deal if it's slightly under or over for me... but if they hit the mark, it's perfect. Up till about last year Papa Joes were hitting the mark consistently. Then something happened and the last three times I've had steak (different cuts each time), it's been slightly overdone. My friend who went on my recommendation has had a couple of experiences where they've given her possibly the worst cuts of fillet steak known to man, full of chewy bits and one that her chef son swears wasn't even fillet. Throw in a run in with the same manager we had the displeasure of dealing with and my friend and her family won't be going back either. Personally I've always had an acceptable steak but then I'm not hard to please.
If you want you can get additional sauces for £2.55 a pop. I done this once and never again as the pepper sauce is far too peppery and I don't really like Diane sauce.
Price wise the fillet steak at Papa Joes has jumped in the last year from £15ish to £22.95. Is it worth it? I'd have to say No, not now. You could buy a bit of steak the same size from a butcher for around £6 and cook it yourself and get the same results better if, like me, you've been cooking steak since you were 12 due to your favourite family tradition of Steak on a Friday night!
===Take a hike===
As the prices of the steak have taken a hike in the last year, I've also dabbled in other, cheaper dishes. The steak fajitas come in at £12.95 and come served sizzling on a hot plate. Strips of beef (pink in the middle when I got it, yum) covered with onions and peppers and three little pots, one with sour cream, one with salsa, one with guacamole are presented next to tub containing wraps. I find that there are never enough wraps to successfully finish everything presented to you, which usually means I'll be left picking at my plate after the wraps are gone. It's quite a big dish so if your table is a little short on space, beware: it can get awkward.
Taste wise, they are fine. I wouldn't rave about them as they don't have as much flavour as I'd like in a fajita but they are nice. Everything tastes good, it's just that nothing smacks you in the face with "delicious".
===Scotland the Bland===
Another visit, another dish. Being skint I went for one of the much cheaper options of Bacon and Goats Cheese Chicken. At least it was cheaper at the time. Now it will set you back £12.95 and you will get the following: "A breast of chicken stuffed with goat's cheese and lemon thyme wrapped in streaky bacon and oven baked. Served with French beans in garlic butter and mash potatoes."
Sounds delicious. Unfortunately the chicken was dry and flavourless; the goats cheese much the same. The bacon wasn't even smoked. Who on gods green earth uses unsmoked bacon for wrapping around chicken?! To top it all off they popped my pet peeve into the dish. From a young age my mum was determined that I couldn't tell the difference between real mashed potatoes and Smash. As I continually told my mum (and wasn't wrong once), Sorry, but it's glaringly, ridiculously, obviously different. The mash... was not mash. It was Smash. And if it wasn't smash it was whatever restaurants who can't be bothered making the easiest dish on the planet order in as mash potato substitute. I left hungry and disappointed that day as I couldn't afford a starter or a desert. Out of the table of five on this occasion no one else enjoyed their meal either. Can't remember for the life of me what they had though.
While the menu is actually quite neat, it has a bit of a bizarre layout. There are seafood and salad selections hidden after a short drinks menu. There is a really great range in the place which is part of the reason I've been so often. Everyone can find something they like on the menu. There's a substantial veggie section and they even do burgers. Just make sure you have a proper look on it!
===Starting to look good===
Continuing with the theme of being totally jumbled (or arse for tit as my mum would say), I'll now delve into the starters.
Generally I have the bruchetta to start (£4.85) and it's came in a variety of different looks depending on the day. It used to come rather neatly on a plate with a few leaves, a little oil, and some mozzarella balls kicking about. Everything nice and subtly flavoured and tasty. The last few times it looks like it's been shoved through a production line, having to search under greasy salad leaves to find the bruchetta and having that horrible oily cough afterwards. When it hasn't just been un-lovingly shoved on the plate, it's actually quite delicious. Unfortunately the shoved version seems to be the more likely event as of late.
The garlic mushrooms are acceptable, breaded and deep fried. There doesn't seem to be anything garlic-y about them other than the garlic mayo that comes with them, however. More recently I had to actually remind them that the mushrooms came with a garlic mayo and then waited 15 minutes while they got it from the kitchen. Still, a decent starter for £4.85 assuming you get your full dish.
===Pass the Parcel===
Another starter I had grown fond of was the goat's cheese parcels. I love cheese. We go way back me and cheese. I'm not quite sure why it's listed as "parcels" as there is only one. Either way it is quite delicious goats cheese wrapped in a crispy filo pastry shell. You'll get various bits of salad and a red pepper jam that go with it and they've never once messed it up. Fantastic! It comes in at a similar price to the other starters at £4.95
One starter I have had a few times is the loaded potato skins. They come in a variety of flavours, I've tried the bacon and cheese and the chilli beef ones and they are ok. There wasn't enough bacon or cheese in the bacon and cheese and I think they used unsmoked bacon again (oh god why?!). The chilli beef ones were without issue. This is a very filling starter so if you are planning on doing three courses maybe avoid it. It's good if you are just popping in for a snack though! Depending on the flavour the price ranges between £4.55 to £4.85, either way a decent price for a filling starter.
The nachos are something else all together. Get the chilli beef nachos for £5.25 and you'll get a plate worthy of being a rather filling and tasty main meal. Get the cheese nachos and you may want to ask for your £4.75 back. They will be slathered in a cheese sauce that tastes similar to cheesy wotsits. Sickeningly sweet and cheesy and just a little gross.
Once you have battled your way through your main meal, you will more than likely be too full to stomach a dessert. One thing I will say for Papa Joes is that even though the service and presentation has plummeted, the portion sizes are big and filling. Another great thing about Papa Joes is the desserts. Ranging from £3.95 to £5.55 there should be something everyone will like and all of the stuff on offer is absolutely delicious. I'm pretty certain they buy the desserts in frozen from somewhere (I've had a little bit of less than defrosted cheesecake), but whoever supplies them are great.
Their raspberry and white chocolate cheesecake is my favourite cheesecake of any restaurant I've been to. Their Chocolate lovin' Spoon cake has neither spoons nor lovin' included but is still absolutely luxuriant and delicious. The Caramel Apple Grannie Pie is both grannie friendly and doesn't fail to get your taste buds tingling. All of the Ice cream sundaes are perfection especially the Oreo one. If they were to be judged on desserts alone, then I'd be tempted to give five stars. Brilliant.
The bar is stocked with a very decent range of spirits and beers and even a few alco-pops like Smirnoff ice. This always makes me a happy bunny. They will happily serve slammers if you ask and have a fantastic margarita filled slushie machine producing the best strawberry margaritas in town. They will set you back £3.50 for each glass and the other spirits and beers will cost much the same. A touch on the pricey side, but by golly the margaritas are good! There's even a large wine list available if you prefer. Mostly the drinks are a little pricey, but at least they have an acceptable range.
===Skip to the loo===
Toilets are one of the things that can make a big difference to the experience for me. I know, I'm strange. I just hate untidy or unclean toilets. There is absolutely no need for it. Thankfully Papa Joes toilets are nice. If you are disabled there is a toilet on the ground floor, if not then it's off to hike up two flights of stairs. The stairwell is warm and inviting and decorated in keeping with the rest of the restaurant. The toilets are large and generally clean and tidy (there has been the odd occasion where certain members of the public have forgotten that you still need to aim for the loo even though you are in the bathroom but that's hardly Papa Joe's fault!) The women's toilets are much the same as the men's minus the urinals. I can say this with absolute certainty having spent at least an hour in them once trying to coax my drunken spewey friend out of the cubical so we could go home.
As you may have already realised, the service in this place varies greatly depending on who you get. Sometimes it's fine and goes with no hitches. Other times you'll be waiting twenty minutes between your starters and your main courses. Occasionally you'll get a manager who cares about repeat custom and you may get money off your bill or some free drinks. Other times you will get a manager who seems to think it's funny to wind people up and turn down half a grand on a quiet night. The food used to be cheaper and good service made it a place I couldn't recommend more. Now that the prices have bumped up and the service is jaw droppingly awful it's turned into a place I simply couldn't recommend. There are plenty other places that do equally good food for cheaper and with better service. The last few times I've been it has been a task just getting the attention of a waitress. At times I've been tempted just to wave like a crazy person and see how long it would take to get seen to.
It really pains me to say but my verdict is simply don't waste your money. Especially considering there are two very good buffets on the same street, a Nando's round the corner and countless other bars and pub selling top notch grub less than a minutes walk away, it's just not worth the inflated price. It also isn't worth having some jumped up idiot smearing your celebrations with a black mark. What used to be a five star restaurant has plummeted to two stars, saved only by the desserts and the surroundings. Even then it has only JUST grabbed two stars instead of one. The service is lacking and as the years have trundled on the kitchen staff have become a bit lackadaisical. With a price tag of around £40 per head for a three course meal and a drink it's pricey for Dundee. I'll be going elsewhere from now on and I'd recommend you do the same.