Review: 'Asador serves average food and does so with scant charm so I doubt that I'll return any time soon'
Asador, 1 Victoria House, Haddington Rd, Dublin 4. (01) 254-5353.
Talk to any good restaurateur about the true meaning of hospitality, and they'll tell you that at its essence is making each and every customer feel that they have made the right decision in their choice of restaurant, that they are welcome, that they are in safe hands, that their decisions as to what they will eat and drink will be respected rather than sneered at, and that they are being treated on a par with every other customer.
Good service is about treating the young couple who have saved up to celebrate a special occasion no differently from the deep-pocketed moneybags who can afford to come in for dinner every night of the week.
Of course restaurants have regular customers for whom they will strive to go that extra distance, the people for whom a table will be found at the last minute, and who may be offered a drink on the house from time to time, but the treatment that one customer receives should essentially be no different from that meted out to anyone else.
It's been a long time since I felt that I wasn't being afforded equal treatment to any other customer in a restaurant, but that's what happened to me and my guest at Asador a couple of weeks ago.
Look around most restaurants on a mid-week evening and you'll notice that the majority of the customers are women. It's a fact that women go out to eat together in groups more than men, who are more likely to go to the pub. But in restaurants that have a significant corporate clientèle, this is not so evident, and in Asador on the night of our visit there were plenty of tables of men eating together, and they had that corporate look about them.
My guest had booked an early dinner slot and when she arrived was shown to one of the tables along the wall at the end of the room nearest the entrance. The Asador - or barbecue grill - from which the restaurant takes its name is at the far end and, because there is an open kitchen and the excitement of watching the chefs work, this is where everyone wants to sit. She told me that she felt as if she had been put in Siberia, and requested a move. "But the restaurant is fully booked," a member of staff told her, gesturing at a room in which fewer than half of the tables were occupied.
She pointed out that she had booked too, and was moved - grudgingly she felt - to a table mid-way down the room, still some distance away from the action. When I joined her, we could hardly hear each other because of the music - '90s rock, from memory - blaring from the speaker directly above, and it took a couple of requests before someone turned it down.
One of the things that I sometimes do in a restaurant is to play dumb, to see how the staff respond to customers in need of a guidance. So I asked our waiter for help in the selection of wine.
My guest had already ordered a glass of white, but I'm a red drinker. Could he, I asked, suggest a pinot noir-style red from the list of a dozen or so house reds available by the glass and carafe, as I wasn't able to spot one that I recognised. "What style of wine do you like?" he wanted to know. "Pinot noir." "We don't have a pinot noir house wine." "I know. Could you suggest something similar?" "We do," he said, flicking to the back of the list "have a pinot noir." He pointed to a Gevrey Chambertin towards the back, priced at around €80 a bottle. "That's a bit more than I had in mind," says I. And I swear that he rolled his eyes. Eventually we settled on a St Emilion that was soft and more than acceptable, but still.
Anyway, what about the food? I started with the Smoked Beef Tartare which arrived in a little dome that, once removed, released a fabulous aroma of apple wood - unfortunately that was as far as it went because the dish tasted of nothing much. My guest liked her pleasingly presented salt-baked heirloom beetroot salad with Ardsallagh goat's cheese, pistachio and orange vinaigrette, which was nicely composed.
You really have to eat steak at Asador, it's their thing, and so we had two - a fillet and a rib-eye, both good, flavoursome pieces of meat, although mine was cooked rather more than the medium-rare that I ordered. The accompanying bearnaise didn't have the full-on tarragon flavour that I like, and we didn't finish the fries, which is the real test. Creamed spinach was delicious, nutmeg-scented, but a mound of onion strings grew cold and unpleasant before we had a chance to make any impact on them and so were wasted. They only cost €2 but still, the portion is too big. Instead of dessert, we opted for an espresso martini and a brandy Alexander.
You can forgive mediocre food in a restaurant, if the service is good, but you won't go back to somewhere that practises offhand service, even if the food is excellent.
Asador serves average food, and does so with scant charm, so I doubt that I'll return any time soon. Our bill came to €180.40 before service, of which the food element was €90.95.
On a budget
Asador offers a two-course pre-concert menu for €21.95. For that you could choose soup of the day and an Asador burger, but the steaks attract a supplement.
On a blowout
On the night of our visit there was a special of Irish Piedmontese beef priced at €140 for two people. From the à la carte dinner menu, the BBQ meat platter for two is €69. Add starters, desserts and wine, and you're looking at €100 per head.
The high point
The low point
Underwhelming service, and the sense that there was a two-tier customer experience.
6/10 value for money
Whispers from the gastronomicon
The inaugural Food On The Edge symposium organised by Galway-based chef, JP McMahon, of the Michelin-starred Aniar, was the highlight of 2015 for many. This year's FOTE was launched at a reception in Matt Orlando's Amass in Copenhagen this week, with a talk by Peruvian chef, Diego Munoz on fish and sustainability. Chefs already signed up to speak in Galway this October include Nordic chef, Magnus Ek of Sweden's Oaxen Krog, and Christian Pulglisi of Relae, also in Copenhagen, which received its first Michelin star in 2012. Tickets are available on foodontheedge.com