Tag Archives: Service

Buenos Aires Grill

Who was it that said “Always leave them wanting more”? Whoever, it’s an adage I’d commend to restaurant proprietors. Particularly when the coffee was as dire as it was at the Buenos Aires Grill last night.

My guest’s simple request for a white coffee conjured up one of the grossest cappuccinos ever; a veritable tower of froth, standing high above the cup as if supported by scaffolding. My own espresso was over-run, thin, scalding and wholly lacking in that reassuring cap of essence that the Italians call “crema”. Okay, okay, I know I’m more than a tad obsessive about coffee but let me ask you what’s the last thing you consume before you leave a restaurant? I imagined my guest, football-loving, globe-trotting Red, hours later, snuggled down in her Ryan Giggs duvet, having nightmares about drowning in tepid foam.

Trouble is, the crap coffee experience isn’t unique, it’s ubiquitous. I don’t understand it. To make good coffee you don’t need a PhD in Practical Chemistry, just an espresso machine, a grinder, fresh quality beans and a modicum of training which coffee and machine suppliers are only too willing to supply, gratis.

What’s more, at BAG we were also subjected to the worst waiting experience since Salome performed silver service on John the Baptist’s head. No one offered to take our soaking wet coats, so we draped them over spare chairs. The waitress, one of two working the room, handed us the carte. As Red had been away inflicting her ‘Scholes 18’ replica shirt on a less than curious New World for over a year, some champers to mark our reunion seemed appropriate. €75 for the real deal was, I felt, excessive to lavish on a Man U fan but €29 worth of Argentine fizzer seemed sufficiently festive for the occasion.

The waitress, after confessing that she had never before opened a bottle of ‘Champagne’, spent ten minutes wresting with the cork. We watched, fascinated. It proved an unequal contest. She retreated into the kitchen to use a corkscrew, then came racing back to pour before the wine spumed out. She just about made it. Fawlty Towers, how are ye? Afterwards the wine sat in the ice bucket just out of reach. She never once came to pour refill our glasses. Our request for water was met by the provision of one glass between the two of us. I’m not blaming the girl; she had a pleasing manner and was, I imagine, being paid bobbins. I’d put the blame fairly and squarely on the restaurant who should ensure staff are adequately trained to do the job.

Buenos Aires grill, located up at Christchurch, adjacent to the Radisson Hotel, is in essence a steak house that also has a fair bit of fish on the menu. The owners have spent some money on the place, with decent furniture and quality linen and cutlery – except that the pattern chosen had those forks that spin through 180 degrees in your paw if you relax your grip. With big windows, the dining room feels a tad cold and uninviting. The menu gave a nod towards Argentina with a parrilada, a massive meat junket for two. Otherwise BAG is as MOR as, say, Shanahans or FXB. Free of any hi-falutin’ cheffery such places stand or fall on quality of materials and presentation.

For starters we shared rubbery calamares and crab cake (billed as ‘crab cakes’), which were pleasant but more ‘crab cake lite’ – devoid of the maritime zing that lumps of crab meat invest. Red copped for a chubby slab of cod which, apart from the burnt breadcrumb topping, she said was tasty enough. I took the T-bone, which disappointed. With Argentina’s reputation for raising superstar steers, I was expecting something a bit special and it just didn’t happen for me. The beef was okay, but no more, flavour lacking, texture stringy, cooking imprecise. Furthermore I made the mistake of ordering the steak with an Argentine speciality, chimmy-churri sauce. This turned out to be a horrible herb-laden vinaigrette which just about killed any chance of assessing the wine which anyway I felt was more suited to a sunny day on the pampas than a pissy-downy night in Dublin.

Both dishes came with a fat tranche of pommes dauphinoise, not indicated on the menu. Had we been so advised, I wouldn’t have ordered a side of chips. Red’s salad was a pretty average selection of leaves. I was happy with my generous bowl of spinach. She enjoyed the almond tart dessert, despite its arrival coinciding with that of a text message advising that Porto had nabbed two away goals. I had ice cream dulce leche, described by the waitress as ‘caramel’. The texture of Ringsend shore at low tide, it took a degree of fortitude to plough through three generous scoops.

The bill came to €114.95. Another €20 would, elsewhere, have purchased some smart cooking, prettily presented. I can glimpse what Buenos Aires Grill is driving at but I’d like to see more hands-on, more flair, more balls, more of the Argentine experience too. At the moment it’s a throwback; time-warped, a replica of the kind of carnivore heaven that, I imagine, flourished when ‘the Pillar and the Met’ were still standing. Dublin in the medium-rare old times, you might say.

The damage: €114.95 ex-service for 2 x 3 courses, wine and coffees.

Verdict: Food mundane. Service terrible. Décor, expensively tricked out but underwhelming. Good value lunch menu. Interesting Argentine wines.

Rating **1/2

Buenos Aires Grill, Unit 2, Castle Way, Dublin 8 Tel: 01 475 9616

One Pico

 

Some years ago I lost my senses, opened a small café-cum-restaurant and went cheffing for a living. I never made any money but the experience has proved useful enough in my present role as restaurateurs know I’ve been there and, on those rare occasions when I do put the boot in, it’s not for lack of understanding.

 

When I set out to find suitable premises for my new venture, friends were prompt to remind me of the old adage “location, location, location”. Of course that’s all very well if you have the money to afford the location of your dreams – a chunk of the ground floor of Brown Thomas would have done nicely – but if you haven’t you have to cut your coat according to your cloth. Heart set on opening up in Dublin 2, 4 or 6, I looked at quite a few premises, some fit for the purpose, others palpably less so. One place I looked at had an ingenious USP; it was called “Bernie’s Cosy Corner”. “You’ll only have to change one letter – just drop the ‘B’”, Sibella sniggered.

 

I was reminded of this some years later when Eamonn O’Reilly moved his restaurant, One Pico, from a Camden Street then more down-market than of late into a swanky premises in an alley off Molesworth Street vacated by another restaurant. The latter was called Polo One. “He’ll only have to change two letters,” was my remark on hearing the news.

 

One Pico has hung on in there ever since, offering a far-better-than-average version of fine dining without maybe enjoying the acclaim that others have enjoyed. At the same time Michelin, Zagat, Frommers and Conde Nast have all included One Pico in their publications. Perhaps Eamonn’s restaurant, like prophets, is more celebrated abroad.

 

I bust a gut to get there on the dot of 1.30 (even after 22 years in Ireland, the old English punctuality dies hard). Really I needn’t have bothered because I knew, in my heart of hearts, that Esmeralda would be late. Sure enough, as I walked into the restaurant, the mobile rang. I used the ensuing twenty minutes for exploring a glass of Picpoul de Pinet, sommelier Arnaud Legat’s recommendation for a pre-prandial tipple.

 

The fragrant Esmeralda, as dining companion, would be at the opposite end of the spectrum from the likes of Foodmad. The latter is wont to dissect every morsel, to notice every nuance of integrity or the lack of it. Ezzie, on the other hand, is one for ambience and the like, caring not overly about food and, by her own admission, knowing less. We go back a long way, to a time when an employer decided to imprison the noisiest (me) and the untidiest (her), or maybe it was the other way round, in the same room. She’s great craic and offers more in the way of eye candy than Lefty and Foodmad lumped together. She has an eye for a bargain too and when she saw that One Pico was offering a three-course lunch for under \20 she immediately warmed to the place.

 

My crab, sweet peas and saffron risotto was brilliantly executed. Risotti can be fairly bland; this one was anything but and the quality shone through. The texture was terrific – a correct halfway staging post between rice pudding and soup. Esmeralda took the celeriac and thyme soup, which came prettily presented with young spinach and a tower of braised venison, the flavour of which made a pleasing contrast. In her own words, Ezzie is “a sucker for duck” and rapidly appropriated the duck leg confit, braised red cabbage and a carrot and star anis purée, leaving me to console myself with the pheasant breast. This flavoursome kit came with a wonderful chestnut and bacon stuffing which I’m going to try and replicate at home when ‘Porkgate’ is but a distant memory and a rich sauce of ceps, truffles and cream. Esmeralda only drinks red – I’ll deffo have to get her and Sibs out together, the Jack Sprat and Missus of wine imbibers – so we consulted Arnaud who suggested one from Languedoc, mainly Mourvedre with a touch of Carignan, which pointed up the rustic, natural flavours of both duck and pheasant.

 

On to dessert. I’m by no means a Christmas person but the plum pudding and hazelnut chocolate parfait with its brandy sabayon certainly cheered up my non-festive season. We also took a selection of rather good ice creams. The amazing value of this lunch must be now clearly be apparent. We were in self-congratulatory mood for picking the perfect venue for our reunion so indulged ourselves in a Cointreau frappé and an Armagnac, accompanied by, surprise, surprise, a rather good espresso, which, looking back, they missed off the bill.

 

A word on service. My mother, a catering professional of the old school, could recognise good or bad service five miles away, without recourse to binoculars. Halfway through the meal I got the feeling that, were she still with us, she would have been nodding appreciatively at these guys, who got the balance between civility, friendliness and formality just right.

 

The Damage: €99.35, ex-service for 2 x 3 courses, 1 bottle, 1 glass of wine, 2 post-lunch drinks.

 

The Verdict: Get there. This has got to be the best value lunch in town and certainly a candidate for the best lunch exclusive of price. Food, ambience and service, all faultless. Interesting wine list, including some fine Americans. Special commendation for the loos from Esmeralda who is notoriously pernickety about such matters.

 

Rating: 4.5/5

One Pico, Molesworth Place, Dublin 2 Tel: 01 6760300