I’m sitting here reluctantly writing a blog post as I actually wanted to go out for Sunday lunch for a change but after 2 hours of twitter research and trying to decide where to go I gave up! My New Year’s resolution was not to waste anymore money on average food just for the sake of eating out. I know for a lot of people it isn’t just about the food but more the social aspect of it  but for me if the food isn’t great my whole experience is ruined. I go out “TO EAT” and if that’s not right then the whole experience is ruined anyway so there is really no point in me going for the social aspect because I’m a pain to listen to and not very sociable then because I’m grumpy. Actually I’m probably lying here too because on the other hand if the food is great & the service isn’t then I get grumpy too so I should really say I go out to eat and enjoy good service…..

Now finding these 2 elements has become near to impossible for me! Am I too fussy?  My parents would say “HELL YES” but 2 of my sisters have become more like me after listening to me ranting for years they now have the expectation too. I don’t think I am fussy to be honest as I’m not picky or pretentious but I do have an expectation. If I have made the choice to spend my hard earned money somewhere I expect to get something for it and that is a good standard of food & service, it doesn’t have to be spectacular or fancy but I expect it to be the same or a little bit better that what I cook at home and I’m not a trained chef so that shouldn’t be too hard but it seems to be.

 Take for example simple gastro pub food, Ok if I order a burger my expectation paying €16 plus is that I’m getting good quality local beef with a bit of seasoning for crying out loud, cooked perfectly(not cremated), served in a home-made bread of some kind with hand-cut chips. I do not want a burger bun with bought in frozen chips, the same goes for fish & chips! It drives me mad when I order fish & chips and get served bought in chips and tartare sauce, these should be home-made! To take an even simpler example a toasted sandwich, it contains 4 ingredients so they need to be good, I do not want plastic ham & cheese that taste of nothing, I don’t eat Denny ham at home so I definitely don’t want to pay someone to put it in a sandwich for me! These are pretty basic examples but there should be an expectation at every level but there isn’t, I think the majority have lost their taste buds over the last few years and actually don’t taste food!

I remember when we were younger we always bought our cooked ham from our local butcher who would slice it up in front of us, we used to buy our home-made coleslaw there too. There is not one brand of Irish ham that I would buy now from the shop as they are all tasteless and plastic, don’t get me started on the ham used in the sandwich shops and petrol station delis. The only ham I buy is the Rovagnati brand in Superquinn, it’s not cheap but then we don’t eat ham everyday so that’s fine. This goes across the board, sausages, cheese, rashers, tuna etc, average prevails and people eat it but it has absolutely no taste. I think the food people are eating at home has actually caused the standard that exists when eating out as there is very little expectation so very few complain or demand a higher standard and if you do you are the “fussy bitch” because obviously “they are doing everything right as they are so busy & everyone else loves it”. I’m often asked why don’t I complain when I’m out and I never do because there is no point, if these are the standards that an establishment are working from my little complaint isn’t going to make a blind bit of difference. We stayed in a well known hotel a couple of weeks back and from start to finish it was so average I couldn’t wait to see the back of it, did I complain? Nope! Why? there was absolutely no point, the place was jammed from the moment we arrived until the moment we left, their books are telling them they are doing everything right and if I complained I would have just been a fussy old so and so, sure everyone else loves it. It really hit home with me last Saturday while munching on a sandwich that tasted like carboard in the outside area of a very popular  cafe(why I have no idea)  it had rained so most of the tables were covered in water, 4 women came out & sat at a table, the waitress passed by 5 or 6 times and didn’t bother cleaning it off but the most amazing thing was these women didn’t even ask for it to be cleaned, they just ate off the wet table. I left a bit depressed to be honest….

The other side of the coin is service, I’ve actually come to the conclusion it doesn’t exist here and do you know why? It’s because it’s not considered a profession like in the rest of Europe. In Italy you train to become a waitress or bar staff, here you just do it when in college or when you can’t find anything else. There are always exceptions to the rule of course but I’m talking in general. My biggest issue or disappointment is when I actually find a place that has very good food but the service lets it down, service is just as important as the food. We struggle with this ourselves and I have my staff driven mad but I really try to hammer home to them how important it is, La Cucina is a bit different too as it’s not a restaurant and we have big volumes coming through the door everyday! These are my key points for staff…

  •  Say hello – such a simple thing but doesn’t happen in most places!
  • Smile – so important! Look like you enjoy your job. In La Cucina people are coming from their workplace at lunch, they want to relax and forget about everything outside our doors for a little while and the last thing they want to see is a grumpy face.
  • Interact – speak with the customer! A simple “how are you” is sufficient…
  • get to know the regulars –  address them by name, know their regular order…
  • the customer is king – make them feel like it! We are not doing them a favour by serving them, they are giving us money, make them feel like we appreciate it & acknowledge it! This is where most places fail, you feel like they are doing you a favour, this is my biggest problem with service in Ireland….
  • service – make sure the customer has everything they need! Stay one step ahead, read your customers and fix an issue before it becomes one.
  • complaints – deal with it appropriately! It doesn’t mean the customer is always right as everyone has different tastes, expectations etc but listen and try & rectify! I hate “oh nobody has ever said that” or the best one I got when treated badly by a very rude waiter was “well maybe you just don’t get his personality, everybody loves him”! I will never go back. It’s actually very easy to deal with a complaint when you know how, I always tell the girls to refer it to me if they can’t deal with it which a lot of the time they can’t! We rarely get complaints though:)
  • Say thank you and goodbye & make sure they hear you….

So basically I try to give to people what I expect when I eat somewhere. I want to be welcomed, I want to be made feel special and appreciated as a customer, I want to be served good food using good quality ingredients, if I have a complaint I want it to be dealt with properly and not made feel stupid for making it, I want to be thanked for my custom and leave feeling my expectation was met and I got value for my money and look forward to giving that establishment repeat business! Back to the whole Ireland being a food tourism island thing, there is not a hope of it happening with the standards that are here at the moment!

 I really don’t think I’m asking for too much but it seems I am……

what you need:

tomato sauce

400g tin of chopped tomatoes

4 tbsp olive oil

1/2 red onion finely chopped

1 garlic clove finely chopped

8 basil leaves

1 tsp sugar

sea salt & black pepper

besciamella sauce

500 ml milk

50g butter

50g plain flour

sea salt & pepper

nutmeg

2 tbsp grated parmesan cheese

roast vegetables

2 courgettes

1 aubergine

2 sweet red peppers

2 red onions

2 garlic cloves finely chopped

10 basil leaves

Lasagne

lasagne sheets (I have no idea of measurements)

1 mozzarella ball

80g grated parmesan

what to do:

pre-heat your oven to 200 degrees

sprinkle your chopped aubergines with salt and leave in a colander for about 15 mins

make your tomato sauce

heat your olive oil in a pan and add your garlic and onion and cook for about 10 mins over a low heat until soft but not coloured

add your tomatoes and leave to simmer for about 10-15 mins

season and add your sugar & basil towards the end.

Roast Veg

place all your chopped veg on in an oven tray, sprinkle with garlic, season well and drizzle with olive oil. Cook for about 20 mins and add your basil for the last 5 mins.

besciamella

heat the milk in a pot to just below boiling point, then remove  from the heat

melt the butter in another saucepan, then add the flour & stir well

add the hot milk a little at a time, stirring constantly

cook the sauce for about 10-15 min over a low heat whisking occasionally with a balloon whisk

remove from the heat, season with salt & pepper and nutmeg & stir in the parmesan

lasagne

you can pre-cook your sheets in boiling salted water or if you can get your hands on  good quality fresh sheets you don’t have to…

butter your dish and build layers of roast veg, mozzarella, parmesan, besciamella & tomato sauce for about 3 layers, season as you go and then finish with some tomato sauce, besciamella and parmesan on top…

cook in the oven for about 30-40 mins until golden brown and bubbling at the edges…

devour….

ciao

L xx

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