Saturday, 26 January 2013

Three of My Restaurant Pet Hates

Three of My Restaurant Pet Hates
I think its all getting a little silly!

Firstly, I have to admit, when I started in the food business almost 25 years ago it was all new to me and I mean all new. I made the decision to open a coffee shop in Dun Laoghaire. I left my job in the electronic manufacturing business found a little premise and with the help of my dear friend Frank Bergin who sadly passed away, we fitted out the coffee shop and six weeks later it was opening day. Problem was I had no idea what I was doing! My Mother is a great cook and came to the rescue; she volunteered to come in for a few hours every day to make the soup and the pies.  I just had to sort everything else out.

A week earlier I had contacted an old friend of mine, Alan O'Reilly. I think it would be fair to say that Alan is one on the highest regarded chefs in the country and all round nice guy. We had known each other from the time we were kids. We even got to represent Ireland together in junior Ten Pin Bowling. Alan arrived on opening day to show me how to make some very nice salads. Ok then he said while straightened his apron, have you got a chopping board, no problem I said, mixing bowls please, no problem as I put everything in front of him. Get me some Iceberg lettuce he ordered me and with great enthusiasm I ran to the fridge, I returned and handed over the Iceberg. He fell around the place laughing, you moron he said, that’s white cabbage. That was my first lesson, 25 years later and I’m still learning, I’m just not the food cabbage I used to be.
Ireland, like me, has come an awful long way in the last 25 years in terms of food and restaurants. I believe we now have some of the best restaurants, the best food producers and some of the best chefs in the world. I often go into town and try a restaurant on spec and more often that not the food is very good. We are spoilt for choice but in our quest for even more greatness I think we sometimes get a little silly with food ideas and presentation.

Steak on a stone
“For the first time in my life I was actually afraid of my dinner”

The first time I ever came across steak-on-a-stone was on a lad’s holiday in Fuengirola, Spain. It was 1982, I was 20 and this was my first holiday abroad, everything was new and exciting. We sat in this wonderful steak restaurant in our sleeveless t-shirts (I heard one of my own kids refer to this type of t-shirt as "wife beaters" nice, now I can't believe I ever owned one) white as snow with our tans cut off just above the elbow. Steak on a stone was the house specialty and that’s what we ordered, we were all seriously impressed.   

So 28 years later I find myself sitting in a Dublin restaurant ordering the culinary masterpiece that holds so many found memories for me. It arrives and the waiter stretches across the table, I raise my hands to take the board and he retreats saying “no sir, I’ll put it down, its very very hot”. He places it in front of me and again warns me not to touch the stone, he was so serious he made me nervous. For the first time in my life I was actually afraid of my dinner. I certainly didn’t remember being afraid the last time, but then I was younger and a lot more reckless. By the time I was finished eating the steak-on-a-stone my arms were tired from holding my elbows at eye level in fear of needing a skin graft. The steak was awful, the whole experience was awful and my fond memories of Fuengirola 1982 were destroyed forever. The Fuengirolans were way ahead of their time on this trend and some 28 years ahead of the Irish. As for me, “bin there dun dat”

Chips in a Bucket
“I’d love a bucket of chips”

·        Why would anyone serve chips in a bucket?

·        Who decided chips in a bucket is a great idea?

·        Do chips taste better from a bucket?

·        Have you ever heard anyone say “I’d love a bucket of chips?

·        Do tourists return home and tell their friends “you’ve got to get over to Ireland, they serve chips in a bucket"?

Personally I just don’t get it, I think we've all gone mad.  

Dinner in a bowl
“Please, I’m not a Dog!”

There is nothing nicer that a beautiful fresh summer salad in a bowl, a bowl of home-made pasta carbonara, a bowl of hot Irish stew or even a Thai green curry. So there are lots of wonderful foods that need to be and should be served in a bowl. But that is where it should end. I recently ordered a steak sandwich in a pub and oh no, yes, it was served in a bowl. I was in a very nice restaurant in Dublin city recently, there were fourteen people at our table and all starters and all main courses including a baked cod dish were served in bowls.

I have just typed “food in a bowl” into Google Images. If you’re a chef designing a menu please stop what you’re thinking and go type those words into Google Images, you’ll get the idea!

To be continued…………………

(in the meantime, buy the best Irish produce, cook it well and let the food do the talking!)

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