Last week occasioned a reunion with a long-term buddy, Noel’s Nephew. In the way-back-when, we both fancied ourselves singer-songwriters, barking our wares in the public bar of a noisy Dublin 2 boozer of a Tuesday night to a largely indifferent clientele who regarded our presence as an intrusion on their TV sport-gazing. We were an ill-assorted pair. Me with my coruscating witty lyrics, hailed by chants of “Ooh, aah, Billy Bragg’s da!” from the plebs in the audience; NN with his exemplary guitar technique, mellow melodies and James Tayloresque looks. How I hated him. Still, time heals all things as the song (not mine, Frank Loesser’s) says and I was looking forward to catching up. Meeting up for a pint, I was glad to discover the guy fancied a meat fest and “somewhere not too noisy where we can talk”. I had dined in Asador just before Christmas, as the guest of another critic and figured it would fit the specification.
Asador is located in Haddington Road, Ballsbridge in a location that used to house a mediocre Asian fusion restaurant whose name escapes me. The room is l-shaped with a short leg and a long one. Against the outside wall on the long leg are ranged attractive curved-ended modern banquettes; modern paintings hang and the floors are pine throughout. Lighting is sympathetic and, wonder of wonders, sporting enough lumens to facilitate reading the menu. At the far end is the open kitchen where chefs tend the restaurant’s namesake, the 7-foot long, custom-built adjustable in height stainless steel fire pit they term, in the menu, an asador.
Actually, I’m not sure this is the correct term. In Argentina, where grilling humongous quantities of beef over an open fire is a national sport second only to watching Messi and Aguero, the asador is the chap who tends the grill. The occasion and the cooking method are called asado. The grill itself I’ve only ever heard referred to as a parrilla. Maybe it’s different in other Spanish-speaking countries.
Whatever, you say asador, I say parrilla, the principal is the same and the whole shebang’s success depends only on two things – the skill of the chef and the quality of the meat. Here the main man is Eric Mooney who formerly worked for the One Pico group and the Michelin-starred Bon Appétit and Chapter One. So far as the meat is concerned, both the menu and Asador’s website give ample assurances about the integrity of their sourcing. Friends Shane Mitchell, Rebecca Murray and John Quinn are behind the operation and Shane was out front pulling strings on our arrival.
I had scanned the menu before making the booking. If you are tempted to do likewise I’d recommend you consult the restaurant’s website www.adasor.ie. The version on menupages.ie contains more typos than ‘The Grauniad’ on New Year’s Day, with gnomic treats such as ‘sauteed plasm’ and ‘cmilielion mayo’. For the first time in years, I ordered chicken wings. They were ‘of merchantable quality’ and came accompanied by a sticky barbecue sauce and a liberal quantity of crunchy celery sticks. Noel’s Nephew, bent on trying something new, took the grilled halloumi with flatbreads and Greek salad, a well-contrived dish that made a pleasant change from the ubiquitous goat cheese offering.
The menu advised that “Theatre is our signature. Witness our chefs work the ASADOR as the smoke and flames embrace your meal.” All very well but from where we were seated you’d need a good pair of 10 x 50s to do so. I didn’t mention this to the waiter because I needed his and Chef Mooney’s cooperation. Having eaten here before, the only thing I wanted for the main event was a kingsize portion of the baby back ribs. First of all I had to negotiate a price. The waiter’s opening bid caused my eyebrows to hit the 7th floor, at which he realised more compromise was needed. After a short haggle I got what I wanted, a sticky, succulent, melt-in-the mouth meat carnival. Meanwhile my buddy had plumped for the spatchcocked chicken with crumbed bacon, shallots and a rather fine potato gratin which, if I’d realised it was there, I would have asked for instead of the skinny chips. The wine list, though it showed signs of some thought, didn’t overly excite. In truth I thought the prices just a tad high. My thought were still homing in on Argentina so I specified the Trivento Malbec, fast becoming a restaurant commonplace in Dublin.
Come time for dessert, Noel’s Nephew pinched my trick and nabbed the selection of ice creams. For me, it had to be the chocolate fondant. We were told it would take fifteen minutes, which I took as a good sign. I should now explain my love/hate relationship with chocolate. I love chocolate, it hates me. I have an exceedingly low tolerance of sugar and can only eat chocolate if it has a high proportion of cocoa solids, the cheap stuff destroys me. Fortunately I can assess quality at first bite as my stomach is by now the gastric equivalent of a mass spectrometer and so I am rarely incapacitated. This fondant proved very good indeed; one stab of the fork releasing a gush of cocoa-laden liquid of the proper, rich sort. A real grown-up dessert and plaudits to the pastry chef. Factor in a waiter who, at coffee time, knew what the word ristretto meant and I for one was going home a happy bunny.
I had been watching the waiters watching out for each other all evening, a most impressive performance. We sat down at 8.45, by now it was nearly midnight. The restaurant was full, unusual for a Dublin Tuesday and the clientele, mainly female, in parties of six and seven, looked like they were superglued to their seats. Throughout, staff showed no expressions of anguish or ennui. The boys were bouncy, as up-on-their toes as they had been when we came in. It was clear that this was true professional service, of a kind disappearing from many places – and yes, it must be a demoralising time to work in the industry but these guys rose above it. Well done, whoever trained them.
Verdict: there are many restaurants in Dublin offering a flesh orgy and Asador is up there with the best of them.Finally, the waiters’ spirit of cooperation must have rubbed off on us. Noel’s Nephew and I split on Waterloo Road but not before promising to collaborate on that big hit. Remember, you read it here first.
Asador, 1 Victoria House, Haddington Road, Dublin 4. Tel: 01 254 5353