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