Tag Archives: asparagus

Salt Café, Monkstown

1 Jun

I had the pleasure during the week of finally getting to visit the ‘new’ Avoca in Monkstown. Having heard much about the beautiful shop, the impressive James Whelan butchery counter and the wonderful wafting smells of rotisserie chicken courtesy of Poulet Bonne Femme, not to mention the walk-in cheeseroom- I was excited to finally pay the place a visit.

We dined midweek and in what was sign of things to come we walked into a very busy restaurant.  Upon being seated a jug of iced, minted and cucumbered water was produced without asking. Glasses were filled and another full jug placed on the table.  Good start. The decor is distressed mirrors and tables etc. and is a very pleasant place to spend a few hours.  As we did.

I started with the crispy hens’ egg, served with asparagus and hazelnut mayonnaise. The only thing I can fault with this dish was that my egg had just gone past runny. However the asparagus provided some nice crunch and contrast. The hazelnut mayonnaise was delicious and really tasted of the nut. I cannot abide when chefs put something on a menu that promises to taste of something and doesn’t. However thankfully this was not the case here. The other starter at the table was the Gold River Farm beetroot. Approving noises were made about it. In fact it was described by the very seasoned diner as one of the best starters they had eaten. From my vantage point it certainly looked stunning.

I had the Casteltownbere crab tagliatelle for mains. This was a delicious plate of pasta. There were wonderful contrasts and it was full of crab. I also got to try the fillet steak, which was very flavoursome and the others ordered Hake- which again was accompanied by pleasant mutterings.

Having hit a food-wall midway through the tagliatelle, I was unsure about ordering desert. However I persevered and ordered the raspberry and crème fraîche panna cotta. This was very fresh and zingy and was the perfect end to the meal. A special mention has to go to the pistachio biscuits that accompanied this. They were slightly spiced/cinnamony and were delightfully chewy. The chocolate and hazelnut mousse was certainly the prettiest plate at the table and delivered on taste. The chocaholic in the family shockingly opted for the apple tart tatin- which she enjoyed. Dinner was rounded off by a generous pot of loose-leaf mint tea.

Special mention has to go to the service. It was faultless, yet you barely noticed them. The water jugs were replenished immediately, there was a napkin to catch the wine drops when pouring- also they were attentive to make sure this never ran dry either. What was very impressive was that every plate that left the pass was wiped for fingerprints. I have been in places in the last year that would be considered amongst the best restaurants in the country that couldn’t manage to de-print a plate.

I would strongly urge you to include more Salt in your diet.

Mushroom, Asparagus and Spinach Risotto

9 Sep

Ingredients: Serves 2:

1 tablespoon of olive oil

25g butter

1 small onion (finely chopped)

2 cloves of garlic (minced)

150 g of Arborio rice

150ml white wine

500ml stock

4 x asparagus stalks (chopped)

8-10 x button mushrooms (chopped)

1/2 bag of washed spinach

Parmesan to serve.

Risotto is one of my favourite comfort foods, and can be adapted for any season by varying the ingredients. The basic recipe is the same no matter what you put in, so if you wanted to change it, you would substitute your preferences in for the vegetables I have listed.

I would like to deal with the hype about how risotto is insanely difficult to make or it can go wrong easily.  It is an easy dish to make, but I feel there are three success factors.  First, have all your ingredients, stock etc, measured and ready to go, so that you can concentrate on the cooking. As many of my friends will testify, this is not my normal style of cooking- but I feel it pays dividends here.

Of course by cooking I meant stirring. You need to constantly stir the risotto. Do this gently, but make sure you are scraping the bottom of the pan and mixing thoroughly. Thirdly, have the risotto at a constant low heat so that when the liquid is added it is just bubbling gently.


First heat the olive oil and the butter in a deep pan. After they have heated add the onion and sweat it off, until it softens a little. At this stage add the garlic and fry for another while. Before the garlic gets too coloured, throw in the chopped mushrooms and asparagus and toss in the mixture. I recommend chopping these into bite-size pieces. Fry for a minute and then add the rice. Make sure everything is well mixed. Continue to cook for another minute while the rice lightly toasts, but make sure that you stir constantly so that it doesn’t stick.

Next add the white wine. I would advise buying a whole bottle- not a small one- this way you get to pour yourself a glass while cooking and have one with your meal.

Stir until the wine has been absorbed by the rice. If it smells a little acrid, don’t worry, the alcohol will burn off leaving a great flavour in the rice.

At this point add in the first third of the stock- I would recommend vegetable or chicken. Keep the risotto barely bubbling and stir until all the stock has been absorbed and the mixture is thick and slightly heavy to stir.

Add in another third of the stock and repeat the process until the stock is absorbed. Add in the final remainder of the stock and repeat.

As the final third of the stock is close to being absorbed- add in the spinach and stir in. Once the mixture has thickened sufficiently, turn off the heat and serve into heated bowls immediately. Serve with some grated parmesan and that glass of wine.

For the carnivores amongst us, you can serve this risotto alongside some grilled meat. I recently enjoyed it with some steak. Another option is to shred some cooked chicken in at the spinach stage- and just heat the chicken through.


%d bloggers like this: