Bandon River Grill
Food style/ethnicity: Grill
Price: 30 - 40 (Euro)
**Location**: <p>The Courtyard
Bandon, Co Cork
A few weeks before Easter I noticed a new sign go up where Roco’s restaurant used to be. Roco’s was a middle-of-the-road place which I ate in twice. The food was fine and the place was always hopping. I was very surprised when they shut it down. But Roco’s had one awful feature - the room itself. It just felt bitterly cold with one entire wall of glass and a tiled floor. I just did not like eating there because I didn’t feel comfortable. Harsh and echoey.
The name of the new place really caught my eye “Bandon River Grill”. Oh ho I thought, someone else who thinks a steak and frites place is sorely missing in the area? I have this idea that a restaurant like Les Halles where Anthony Bourdain works in NY would go down a storm here (and anywhere). Good simple classic food served in basic relaxed surroundings with a big buzz and great atmos. Note that I have never been there, I just have his cookbook, his other food books and I’ve seen the restaurant on one of his tv shows.
At that time the Grill still looked under construction so I waited a bit and then stopped for a look at the menu just before Easter weekend. I thought I had died and gone to heaven. A dinner menu with just a few items - steak, fish, pork and veggie. All “of the day” so no detailed descriptions. Lunch looked great too with fab sounding burgers and lots of “all you can eat” sides. Total focus on fresh local ingredients served as you like it and the size you like it. I also spotted an ad from them in the local Bandon Opinion seeking “fun” waiting staff and offering very good hourly rates.
The signs were good, I booked a table for last Friday and my dear lady wife and I tootled on down at 7pm for dinner. The entrance area (which used to be the wine bar part of Roco’s) seemed little changed. I was a bit thrown to find a very genteel welcome with live piano music in the background. There appeared to be a display cabinet for food in the corner with a chefy guy behind it and some patrons in front. All of the waitresses were wearing what they called “cheerfeeder” outfits which looked very American and themed-diner style. All wore wireless headsets.
We were shown to the table and had the “system” explained to us. We took a quick glance at the menu which really had nothing on it and then over to the display cabinet where the chef-guy explained each type of starter, fish main, steak main and other that was available that evening. Meat from Martin Carey with beef hung for a fortnight and fish fresh every day from Kinsale. I went for a simple smoked salmon starter and Catherine went for the crab-in-iceberg spring roll thing. An excess of iceberg in both cases but they looked fine. I picked the huge hunk of T-bone that I wanted (if I had gone for sirloin or fillet then he would have cut it to order), Catherine picked the monkfish on a lemongrass skewer with a sorrel sauce. All of the other fish can be cooked whatever way you like but obviously they have some standard recipes.
The waitresses were very very friendly and chatty and both mentioned that they were students. But the owners really need to do some work on the overall efficiency and accuracy of the service. Over the three courses, every person working there including the guy manning the display and the maitre’d served our table. Yet despite having all of those people attending to us, Catherine’s sauce was forgotten, no refills were offered on any of the side dishes and we were asked twice what wine we wanted. Clearly it is early days but I don’t see the point of the headsets if they cannot co-ordinate themselves better.
The starters were simple but good. I do have a huge aversion to iceberg but the idea of relying on good ingredients worked well. My steak was a lovely hunk of meat but was slightly overdone. Considering there was only a few tables occupied, they need to do better there. Catherine’s monkfish really needed the sauce as it was too dry on its own.
The idea of the same side dishes with everything is neat and is obviously a big help to the kitchen but I question having monkfish, mashed spud and frites. They also make a big deal about the gravy which was excellent and they provided a little dish of two mustards and horseradish. Despite all of that I would prefer bearnaise with the steak.
I just had ice-cream for dessert which was lovely. Catherine had chocolate pud which was way too dry and needed some of my ice-cream. Coffee was from a standard filter machine and refills were offered. Freshly made and good quality. The bill came to €86 incl one glass of red wine and two sparkling waters. I think this is too pricey and may cause them problems with filling the place at night. Clearly good ingredients cost money but it does look like they are over-staffed for the level of business they are doing.
I really love what these people are trying to achieve, but I see two big problems in the current setup. The first is the room; as I said, I hate it. They have to do something to warm the look of it up. Maybe mats under each table or even 1970’s mats on the walls. Those floor tiles are just awful. I am sure a full re-fit would cost too much but the feel of the place is just wrong. Until it becomes a warm, comfy, welcoming place to eat, they will always have a problem.
The second problem has to do with the confused message they are sending. I was expecting somewhere laid back, relaxed with maybe even some booths where the emphasis was on great simple food, friendly service and being somewhere people liked to hang out. They nearly have it right with the food but they have mixed this with piano music, a formal dining setup and just being “too quiet”.
In particular, the style of music on the piano is totally wrong. Maybe they should think about something more bluesy or jazzy (but dear god, not jazz). Some Ray Charles tunes or something with some energy. In fact, I think that that is the thing I was missing on the night: energy. Back to the words buzz and atmos.
I don’t think I have ever said this about a restaurant, but I think they need to head down-market and try to attract a younger (but not teenage) customer base. It looks like that is what they do for lunch or at least I hope so based on the menu.
I will definitely be back and I do want to try it out at lunchtime, but I am concerned that they may not last hugely long in their current format. I am sure they will start tweaking it as they go forward and see what works and what doesn’t. As long as they keep the focus on the ingredients then they will always have my support. I would encourage you to try it out because their approach to food is exactly what is needed in the mid-range Irish restaurant scene.
One note on all my restaurant reviews: I am just an average joe who likes his food. I am not a writer or food expert and I have no experience in the food or catering industry. This is not the review section of the Irish Times. So if the owner of any place I review disagrees with anything I ever say, please feel free to add a comment. I think it could really be of benefit to us all. And don’t be shy about it, I am not into flame-wars or doing character assassinations. My aim is to have as many high-quality good value restaurants on my doorstep as possible.
[tags]Bandon River Grill[/tags]