The Vintage Fork lunchtime "Butler Steak" and vegetables. Photos by GRAHAM HICKS/EDMONTON SUN

Vintage Fork
11153 Saskatchewan Drive, Rutherford House, University of Alberta
780-427-4113
Vintagefork.ca

Tues, to Fri. 9 am to 5 pm
Sat. and Sun. 9:30 am to 5 pm
closed Mondays

Reservations accepted, parking out front
No listed delivery service

Food:  4 of 5 Suns
Ambience: 3 of 5 Suns
Service: 2 of 5 Suns

Lunch for two without tip or beverages: $40 to $60, depending on the day of the week

By GRAHAM HICKS

There’s a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde aspect to Vintage Fork, the lunch/tea house on the main floor of the University of Alberta’s historic Rutherford House.

On the one hand, the food is very good. The reviews on Google, Yelp etc. have been generally positive.

On the other, serious criticism has been voiced by food bloggers about slow and inattentive service.

On our noon visit, sadly, Mr. Hyde was running the shop.

Despite the small number of diners — one party of 10, another of four, and the two of us — despite the fact the basement kitchen was staffed and two servers were present, service was abysmally slow, incompetent and disorganized.

Waiting half an hour for the first course at lunch? Come on! And then another 20 minutes for the main course?  Then yet another unacceptable wait for dessert, being a choice of pre-made pastries and scones?

The ambience was not as perplexing as the wait, but still odd.

Rutherford House is a beautiful historic home/museum, the fully restored residence of the first Alberta premier and then University of Alberta chancellor Alexander Cameron Rutherford. The lunch/tea room is at the back of the main floor, in an enclosed, heated porch.

The house itself is formal, the enclosed porch a peaceful, relaxing space.

The porch presentation, however, was completely spoiled by unfinished tables covered in brown butcher block paper! The customer is greeted by a folded linen napkin and a fork. Nothing else – no tablecloth, no other cutlery – is present.

The food is good, but the format is … odd.

Vintage Fork offers a pre-set, four-course luncheon menu with no choices — soup, salad, a main and dessert. The menu changes by the day, as does the price — $20 on Tuesday, $25 on Wednesday and Thursday, $30 on Friday, $35 on Saturdays and Sundays for high tea.

Perhaps this is a variation on airline “demand pricing” coming to restaurants, but it’s a strange one.

The pre-set menu on our visit consisted of a creamy tomato soup, an interesting spinach salad crowned with a small scoop of avocado-maple sorbet, a “Butler” steak main course, and a choice of pre-made pastries for dessert.

When the tomato soup finally arrived, it was very good – rich and creamy, reminiscent of the famous tomato-vodka soup of the original Café Select. Too bad the server/manager brought just one spoon for the two bowls. She had to be chased down to get another.

No bread, biscuits or wafers came with the soup. When we asked for bread, the server suggested we use half the toast which was to come with the main course.  OK …

The creamy tomato soup hit the spot on a chilly August day.

The salad, when it finally arrived, was excellent.  Placing sorbet on spinach greens was a creative and original touch by chef/owner Salar Melli – who appeared not to be in the kitchen this lunchtime.

The main courses finally arrived at 12:53 p.m., 53 minutes after we had sat down.

The plates had been sitting around. The five dice-sized cubes of tender beef (on our diminished crispy toast) had lost their heat. The veggies were tired, but the steak glaze was tasty enough. The portions were miniscule, but at $20 for a four-course lunch, something has to give.

Meanwhile, the waiter/manager swooped in to take my plate, when my wife had nowhere near finished hers.

Avocado/maple sorbet on spinach greens made for an inspired Vintage Fork salad.

The desserts we chose were excellent mille-feuille pastries – filo-like pastry layers filled by fresh custard. Known for its weekend high teas, pastries are a Vintage Fork in-house specialty.

No coffee, thank you. We didn’t have another 20 minutes to wait for it.

Vintage Fork is exasperating.

Why such inelegance of table service and décor, in such an elegant setting?

Why such poor and inattentive service, when the food was very good (other than the lukewarm beef) and reasonably priced? Why have absolutely no choice for a lunch-time menu? Why have weird sliding prices depending on the day of the week?

Despite the University of Alberta location, parking is not an issue.  Rutherford House has five-or-six parking spots on Saskatchewan Drive, right in front of the mansion, for customers only.