A Restaurant Review and an Asparagus Risotto.

Asparagus Risotto (1 of 1)I usually don’t do restaurant reviews. There are a number of reasons. The ‘Great Unwashed’ get to leave their reviews, for what they’re worth, on Trip Advisor. This is a good place  for a slighted diner to vent their swollen spleen and to force some standards on offending eateries. Some counter by sneaking a positive review or ten into the Trip Advisor system to get what they believe to be a semblance of balance.  Perfect it is not. In my opinion, it’s corrupt and undependable.

I have seen no need to add sarcasm to the clatter of offended diners out there. That is until today. But, I want to do it differently, I won’t share the name of the restaurant. Social sharing can lead to disaster for a downtrodden owner and unemployment for the inattentive chef. That may be a good thing. But, I’ll stick by my guns. I will send a link to this post to the restaurant owner. They can take it up with me in private, should they wish. 

The servers

Firstly, let me mention the serving staff. They were hyper efficient. No sooner had we ordered than our starters arrived. We were in no hurry but, their military like precision did little to make us feel relaxed. Each time we sipped our wine, our glasses were recharged. We were also repeatedly asked if we wanted to order more sparkling water. We didn’t.

Side note on cheap tricks: Our sparkling water was served in 250ml bottles. No other size being available. This represents chicanery of the lowest form. Serve larger bottles for goodness sake. Don’t expect us to reorder and reorder undersized and overpriced water. It’s a silly, low shot that does you no favours. 

Our starters – Queen Scallops

The five Queen Scallops were served, on a large plate with two half baby tomatoes, a twisted slice of lemon and a milk-thin dill sauce. By my best reckoning, as we ate on a Friday evening, the scallops were first cooked at some time on Thursday. Their leather-like exterior, when sliced, revealed an overcooked, lifeless interior. The near flavourless mollusks weren’t rescued by either the tomato or the dill milk. I ate what I could and left the rest. The Wife (who was with me) had too been attracted by the scallops and had an equally disappointing experience. On the side of this travesty, our bread was served with a jar of extruded butter substitute. This in an Irish owned restaurant. Ireland, the home of Kerrygold. Pitiful. 

Our main courses – Two of the Worst Ever

The copywriting of the menu was the best thing about the meal. The wife opted for duck. It arrived, better in description than reality. It was a big portion, breast sliced and spread to showing how over-cooked it was. The leg perched atop a large lump of potato. The balancing act completed by a branch of thyme sticking out of the leg. The duck was probably cooked a full day before the scallops. How else can one turn good meat into a semblance of bailing twine wrapped inexpertly around a stick? 

I had ordered the Asparagus Risotto with Parmesan Shavings. This was indescribably badly cooked. Indescribable, but let’s have a go; I have never before eaten a risotto that was cooked on cream. The glutenous mess was clawing and not helped by the slabs of Parmesan heaped on top. The other adornments for my risotto included some chopped red, green and yellow peppers, two half tomatoes, a branch of dill and a physalis fruit. Yes, a physalis. What the hell was the chef thinking? 

I like my risotto ‘al dente’. However, the rice has the ‘bite’ of small lumps of hardened clay. It was underdone by a good twenty minutes. My mood was partly rescued by a half decent bottle of Chardonnay and an Irish cheeseboard. Bizarrely, we were served real butter with the cheese. 

Why did I not complain? Partly because I had promised the Wife that I would be on best behaviour and partly because I was dumbfounded by the dire standards. 

Asparagus Risotto – A Lesson for the ‘Professionals’

For the elucidation of the professional team that put our dinner together, here’s how to cook an Asparagus Risotto with Parmesan Shavings. Please forgive my bungling amateurism, you guys are, of course, the professionals. 

Asparagus Risotto (1 of 12)

A nice mix of French and Italian ingredients. The stock is homemade.

Ingredients

  • 300 grammes of risotto rice (Arborio in this case)
  • 1 litre (2 pints of chicken stock)
  • 1 bunch of asparagus
  • 1 onion
  • 1 clove of good garlic
  • A block of Parmesan cheese
  • 1 glass of white wine
  • Some olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to season
  • A few small knobs of butter

Break the asparagus spears by bending them as I do in the photo.

Asparagus Risotto (2 of 12)

She’s about to go!

This will guarantee the spears snap in the right place, leaving the woody ends removed without any need for guesswork.

Asparagus Risotto (3 of 12)

This method works, every time.

Slice the onion and the garlic, nice and small.

Asparagus Risotto (4 of 12)

The garlic is very good. I love that slight green edge to it.

Soften the onions and garlic in some olive oil slowly bringing them to translucent. This is best done by turning the heat down to lowest, placing the lid on the pot and leaving them alone for 10 minutes or so.

Asparagus Risotto (5 of 12)

You can’t hurry this (or any part of the process).

While the onion is preparing itself, slice the asparagus into small pieces, reserving the tips for dressing. Grate a couple of hands full of Parmesan. Shave a couple of slices too. 

When the onion is cooked, add the rice and stir well to cover the rice with onion / oil.  

Asparagus Risotto (6 of 12)

Stir until everything has a covering of oil and the rice begins to

When the rice has absorbed the oil it will feel a little gritty as you stir it. Turn the heat up to about one-third and add in the glass of wine. When the rice has absorbed the wine and the alcohol has evaporated, it will feel gritty again. Add a ladle of stock and stir it until this has been absorbed.

Asparagus Risotto (7 of 12)

The first of a few ladles of stock.

Repeat this process. You will spend up to forty minutes at this process. Thanks be to goodness for wine. Swilling a glass while preparing a risotto is one of life’s greatest pleasures. As the rice approaches being cooked, do something the professionals didn’t do, taste it. If it tastes like chewing a piece of wallboard, it is not cooked. If it starts to taste creamy and with a slight bite, it’s as done as it needs to be. Season as needs be. Add the sliced asparagus and a final ladle of stock.

Asparagus Risotto (8 of 12)

The asparagus only needs to be warmed. It will cook enough in the 5 minutes.

Stir it in. Add three or four knobs of butter and sprinkle the surface with Parmesan.

Asparagus Risotto (10 of 12)

Stop looking at it. Put the lid back on!

Replace the lid. Turn the heat off. Let The risotto rest for 5 minutes. Remove the lid, stir and serve, decorating with a shaving of risotto and some of the asparagus tips.

Asparagus Risotto (12 of 12)

The work of an amateur. As good as is possible, trust me.

The difference between my novice effort and the pathetic output of the team of professionals is a shocker. Mine really was a delight and I strongly encourage you to try it. Yes, even if you are a chef in the restaurant I refuse to name.

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Latest comments
  • Ha ha – I was in a Chinese restaurant recently where they couldn’t provide a spoon! When I complained the best they could offer was a dirty one.
    I did see an article about a French blogger who had a dreadful meal and wrote about it in detail. The restaurant sued and the judge sided with the restaurateur:
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-28331598

      • I only blog about the good ones, but I left a bad review of the Chinese place on Trip Adviser, as did my dining companion 😉

  • Oh dear, I guess the establishment took your best quality hard earned cash without question. In these litigious times you need to be careful but I think providing odjective feedback is important

  • Risotto, the dish that has slain many a Masterchef contestant and yes, many a chef. Bravo Mr B. Asparagus or mushroom risotto done ‘correctly’ can be one of the most delicious dishes you will ever consume. (And yes, also the worst. I am pretty sure you aren’t sitting around waiting for the restaurant owner to contact you.)

  • We are fortunate to live a 5 minute drive from a farm. The first thing that pops up in spring is their wonderful asparagus. We watch it grow. We watch them cut. Then we line up to buy. Can’t beat it. Norma then makes Asparagusg Risotto from an old Italian recipe damn close to yours. No restaurant can touch it.

  • You know I will hunt you down and force this information out of you? In the meantime I’m delighted you posted a risotto recipe. I’m a big fan. And I like risotto too.

      • So it’s the Royal Marine? For definite? Just call the place and time and me and my minder will be there. I’m really looking forward to it now! Which is a terrible state of affairs for someone like me. Pessimism is my armour.

        By the way, I’ve just copped that I’m not getting any notifications from your new site, so I never know when you reply to my comments. Excuse the radio silence if you get any (chance’d be a fine thing)

          • I might even be there before you. I plan on leaving town early because of the bus strike. Have to find out my minder’s schedule too. I’ll be back.

  • It must be a bad month for risotto… My chicken and mushroom risotto the other day from a ‘genuine’ Italian and very expensive restaurant shared many of the unappealing traits of your experience, but had the added ‘benefit’ of causing a nasty attack of gastro. The friendly service and the conversational and yes, Italian, owner didn’t make up for that…

  • Ha! good post… BUT on a completely different note, how about doing one on the photography in your posts, sometime? I am always envious of the quality of your photography and really want to get better. Also … I often show pix with one of my hands holding a piece of food… in some of your shots I see two hands… Do you have some sort of interesting physical feature?

  • That’s a shame the restaurant emptied your wallet for such garbage. I have no doubt in my mind that your asparagus risotto is one of the best in the world. I know, because I know you don’t like to eat crappy food. 🙂 All the best to you Conor. Now I need to figure out what kind of salmon recipes I’d like to make out of all that salmon my hubby caught. If you have a favorite of yours, do tell!

    • Hi Kathryn, if you have a ziplock bag and a thermometer, you could make the most buttery salmon you have ever tasted. The texture is amazing. Season a slice of salmon and put it in a ziplock bag. Submerge the bag in water such that the air is pushed out and then close the zip just before water enters the bag. Check whether the bag sinks. If it floats, there is still too much trapped air so you should try again. Bring a pot of water to 109 degrees F. Put in the salmon and monitor the water temperature so that it stays between 108 and 110 degrees for 10-15 minutes. Open the bag and serve. You have now cooked sous-vide salmon without any fancy equipment! (By all means use a foodsaver instead of the ziplock bag if you own one.)

  • How come you do not write thrillers for a living? You had my concentration most of this description!! Well, should I make it to Dublin hopefully your next autumn I won’t ask you to this place to ‘get to know you’ 😉 !

      • That’s a ‘date’ . . . can’t think of one much better . . . .

  • I had the pleasure of trying a plate of this risotto in Conor’s kitchen a few days ago, and I can vouch for it! I had never added raw sliced asparagus to risotto yet, but I am sure I will now. It gives a very nice texture and flavor contrast with the rice. The secret of the risotto is in the excellent quality of the chicken stock, apart from the outstanding risotto cooking qualities of the chef.
    I post a lot of restaurant reviews, but only on my blog when the overall experience has been a good one.

  • Beautiful risotto Conor! I’ll have to cook my asparagus less now having seen this.
    And of course I’m dying to know what restaurant you were in. You’ll have to tell us if you get a response.

  • Conor let me know please if you get a response from the resto, and what they say. If I am coming to An Lar I’ll ask you where it is so I can avoid it!

  • Beautiful and professionally done…too bad the same thing can’t be said for the chef (that’s too kind, amateur cook sounds more like it). When I go to a restaurant, I expect the food to be as good as I can prepare at home.

  • That meal sounds dreadful, Conor, particularly being you’re a man whose risotto is the stuff that baby arborio grains dream of becoming. I wonder if that place will respond to you.

  • Thank you for this original recipe which looks delicious.

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