But I was here to lap up the luxury of a mid-week escape with my husband, sans children, so I really wanted to love Samphire as I was prompted to do when connecting to the suite’s internet. (For those with kids just be warned the TV streaming does not work with Apple devices – only Android. Not that you’re in Rotto for screen time.)
I kicked off our stay with a blissful 90-minute salt compress massage, at a special rate of $130, admittedly outside the resort at Karma Spa in town. We also discovered the highlight of our culinary adventure – The Lane’s Cray Dog: a crayfish burger that was cooked to order and oozed garlic butter with the right amount of jalapeño mayonnaise, all for $20. Heaven!
So the night we were told by the resort to line up and have our pre-ordered cocktails and seafood platter – costing $150 in lieu of signature restaurant Lontara being closed – served at the main hotel with every other pub customer, we did a double take.
Surely they could have afforded us the luxury of having it in our suite with our private ocean views?
But no; that was only if we wanted pizza, so instead we were greeted by a flustered waitress who was struggling to keep up with seating, dishing resort patrons’ platters, and remembering their choice out of the only two cocktails on offer. It made me yearn for the pre-tablet tradition of taking out a notepad and pen.
“It’s our responsibility to give the staff the tools to deliver on that and as a group we all agree that policy should not get in the way of commonsense sometimes, especially if it means delivering great service and again that’s an operating flaw that we are working through at the moment,” Warwick Prendiville later told me.
Later, when the poolside menu app failed and the friendly staffer hosting solo across the mostly concrete lake jovially asked patrons just to yell out their orders, it became clear there was a disconnect between expectation and what our money was actually buying.
I need to pause here to say that in the middle of a pandemic these are infinitesimally small problems to have – ones I would be more than willing to wash away on a blissful Rottnest ocean tide.
But like any tidal erosion, our stay kept getting eaten away at by ongoing issues and here’s the sticking point: when your Premier effectively locks you into holidaying in your state and implores you to spend like you would on overseas travel, knowing what our otherwise hard-earned cash would buy abroad, you’re reminded why we don’t do this traditionally and feel appalled for future international visitors.
It was made worse by the fact that there were recognisable hospitality faces seated at Lontara last Wednesday, with Sydney-based celebrity chef Matt Moran finding it difficult to rave about the service beyond a nod to head chef Will Meyrick’s delicious smoked ocean trout betel leaf entree.
WA hospitality guru Andy Freeman of Hadiqa and Flour Factory fame was also holidaying on the island with extended family and left unimpressed by Lontara’s mish-mash of wait times that fed some of the kids but left the adults wanting.
And an ex-manager at one of the Prendiville Group’s other hotels privately complained to us about how they had booked at 8pm on the Sunday and only got served by 10.20pm, by which time they were intoxicated and no longer hungry.
Mr Prendiville is “nowhere near satisfied” with services they are currently providing and they were in the process of appointing a new general manager.
“It’s just the absolute perfect storm out there in terms of access to staff and access to internationals and people that have experience in the industry,” he said.
“Trying to scale up Samphire during the pandemic and with all the staffing restraints for what is typically a seasonal business that does attract backpackers without that base to work off it has been very hard and unstable for personnel levels. everyone is working very hard to rectify these issues.”
He said an “unbelievable amount of work” going into fixing problems and agreed training and confidence of staff needed to be improved given how busy their opening has been.
“Over 30 per cent of staff that we have on site this week are contract staff that we have to bring in from a third party that really don’t have experience on the venue and that is the extent of the problem we are seeing at the moment and that is on us as the management but I think the environment is making it very tough to achieve that consistency.”
But let this be said, despite the slow delivery – and I mean at least 30 minutes between dishes – Meyrick’s menu was outstanding and the loss of him as head chef only speaks to more problems ahead.
For the first hour my husband and I were sailing away on the delights of a roe-popping betel leaf, $8, and perfectly caramelised scallop, $12, each. Much later followed by plump, quandong-enticing crispy pork belly squares, $25, and mains of lip-smacking crisp lamb ribs done in shrimp paste and sweet fish sauce, $28, and the showcase of crispy spangled emperor with pineapple in tamarind, $44.
Made all the more soaring by a very worthy WA wine list, ranging from $44 to $170 magnums, and superior cocktails, $18-$21; as opposed to the hotel’s more casual offering on Monday night.
Everything could have been forgiven there and then had this been solely in the teething weeks of a new venture with staffing issues – but Samphire Rottnest has been open since October last year.
And its problems do not look like slowing down, with its beleaguered rooms manager Shashank Vasta trying to do his utmost to compensate frustrated customers, including us – who were refunded a night’s worth of accommodation.
Mr Prendiville says Meyrick’s Lontara concept will continue even if he doesn’t remain on as a consultant.
WA, we can afford to do better.
And I’m sorry Samphire but we’ll save money on the back-to-basics, sand-filled Rotto beachside villas we have come to love and trust.
Aja Styles is a senior writer for WAtoday.