Four and a half years ago, a Queenstown restaurant offering a half price discount for diners who arrived at 5:30pm inspired an innovative tech startup. First Table is now a service operating in over 1000 restaurants across seven countries, which offers diners 50% off the cost of any food they purchase and restaurants the ability to control both when they offer discounted bookings and how many of them. Here is our editors experience of giving this service a try:
Photo: First Table
You will have noticed under the Eat, Drink, Stay section of the Wellington App there is a new tab called “First Table”. After being asked to write this review, I went there to check out what was on offer. I was pleasantly surprised to see over 50 options available, covering the whole spectrum of cuisine. A tough choice! However, because most First Table dinner reservations are for around 5:30, you’ll need to find a restaurant in close proximity to your office if you’re dining on a weeknight, or leave work a tad earlier. This made my choice slightly easier as my partner works on the Terrace, meaning whatever restaurant we chose had to be within about 15 minutes walk from there. We ended up going with Portlander Bar and Grill on Featherston St.
My main concern with dining at 5:30 was that we would be sitting in an almost empty restaurant. The atmosphere is just as important as the food for me, and it is very unpleasant to sit in a restaurant with no background noise. I’m glad to say that this was not the case at Portlander. There were 6 groups of diners and the hum of conversation meant you didn’t feel like you had to whisper.
The waitstaff were extra attentive with relatively few diners, and our entrée’s were on the table by 6, along with a glass of red and a bottle of beer. A perk of paying half the price, was that we could spend more on drinks than we usually would. To start, I ordered the Harrington’s brisket pastrami, and my partner ordered the gin-cured Akaroa salmon and beetroot – this was the standout of the two, bursting with flavour, and the gin giving the salmon a delicious kick.
Our mains arrived at the perfect time, with a good 10mins in between meals to relax and rehydrate. The Palliser Station lamb was a standout dish, especially the ball of pulled lamb, coated in what looked like panko breadcrumbs, and then deep-fried. The Portlander’s lamb dish changes daily, as the chefs apply a “nose to tail” ethos. My partner had the Prime Angus New York Strip steak, cooked medium rare. This time around it was my dish that came out on top – the steak, while very nice, just didn’t have as much flavour as my lamb ensemble.
We decided that it’d be foolish to pass up half price dessert, even as our stomachs were already pushing at our waistbands. If you loved lolly cake as a kid, then you really do need to go and try the ‘Lolly cake ice cream’. The Classic Dark chocolate and orange tart was too much for my partner to finish, after such a hearty main course, but delicious nonetheless.
We took 15 or so minutes to sit and savour the last of the wine before we got up to pay. In line with the rest of our experience, the process of applying the First Table discount was no hassle at all for the waiter and we left the restaurant two hours after we first arrived. At no stage during our First Table experience did we feel rushed to order or leave. We were able to savour our meal and each other’s company at a leisurely pace, with attentive service and a great atmosphere.
If you want to take a risk on some new cuisine, eat somewhere that would usually be out of your price range, or make eating out more of a routine than a luxury, then I cannot recommend First Table highly enough.
-TWA / Sean Stack