COME PRIMA: Five tips on how to improve your restaurant

Hey there Come Prima! We visited you a couple of weeks ago for lunch during Lisbon Restaurant Week. It took us some weeks to get back to you, for which we deeply apologize, but now we finally have some spare time and here’s what we think. Since it was Lisbon restaurant week, for 20 euros it was okay. However, we got the feeling you were a bit too convinced of yourself, so let us help you get off of your high horse and show you on what five things you can still improve if you want to be the great Italian restaurant that you think you are.

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1. Get a grip of the classics

Your head chef and owner Tanka Sapkota is from Nepal, which, according to Time Out makes the fact that he cooks Italian food all the more extraordinary. To be honest, it doesn’t. All that matters is the food you serve and how well you know your classics. We wanted to try your burrata but unfortunately, it was already gone so we went for the “melanzane alla parmigiana” instead and there were some technical errors. It looked appetizing but the tomato sauce really shouldn’t be that sour or taste so flat. Nor should it have such meager dots of parmesan cheese. It’s “parmigiana”, meaning, it’s gratinated and loaded with parmesan cheese. And some fresh basil would have been a nice addition too.

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If you’re not convinced, let us give you another example. You just do not put small dots of mozzarrella, no matter how good the cheese might be, in the main course wild boar ragù with pasta. By the way, a ragù is not just tomato passata, meat and red wine, but it involves long stewing with garlic, onions, maybe a bouquet garni if you’re feeling particularly generous, until the sauce is gooey, rich, deep, dark and delicious. Not as acidic or “zingy” as yours. And definitely served without mozzarella. Then you could have served just a bit more meat instead.

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2. Know your ingredients

I know Portuguese cuisine isn’t the best for vegetable lovers, but the Italian one definitely is. So why then serve leathery, eggy tasting aubergines? I know you can fry the aubergines in egg first, but it shouldn’t be much more than a light coating to protect the aubergine from soaking up too much oil. In any case, it’s a bad sign when an aubergine dish tastes so little like aubergine.

And what is up with this Portuguese culinary obsession with stuffing mushrooms? It’s nonsense. Once and for all, let me walk you through the reasoning. Let’s take a look at the ordinary button mushroom you decided to stuff for your first course. It’s round and when you remove the stalk, you might think, “Oh, now I can fill it up with some cheesy gunk, throw it in the oven and gratinate it”. Great, however, when your guests cut into your four lonely, sad looking mushrooms, all of the water (mushrooms are 90% water) runs out on the plate and it gets a bit messy. Plus, no surprises there, they taste watery too and is a bit weird in combination with the teaspoon of cheesey stuff you gratinated on top.

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Instead, give them some love: fry them first in some olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper so that they become nice and more than just edible. “Yes”, you would say, “but then I cannot fill them up anymore because they won’t hold their shape”. No, you cannot and that’s exactly the point. Grill them, fry them, stew them, it’s all good, just don’t stuff them. Portugal did not make it through 48 years of dictatorship only so that its restaurants can start doing stupid things like stuffing mushrooms. It’s 2016 now and we have better things to do than that, don’t we?

3. Don’t pretend you’re a Michelin chef

If we didn’t have to pay for every Michelin-wannabe dish that we had in our many years of Foodie-existence, I guess we would have had A LOT more money now. Of course, style is important, but when you put a physalis on a plate with underneath it some generic tasting chocolate sauce to accompany your tiramisu, it really just makes your clients think you’ve been living under a rock for, I don’t know, the past thirty years or so. The same goes for the “creative” brushstroke of coulis and the “caramel fantasy” that accompanied the panna cotta.

Let’s get one thing straight: the brushstrokes, the caramel fantasies is next level stuff and it seems like too many chefs these days want to play with the big boys but fail to get their basics right. Good (Michelin) chefs know that what they put on the plate, decoration or not, has to make sense together and has to add other dimensions or textures or flavors. When you serve sugary, syrupy chocolate sauce to hold a physalis in place, you do not belong in that category. When your food is great, simplicity will do and if you must decorate your plate, make sure the decoration adds something to the dish too.

4. Don’t do false advertising

Which means: don’t drench your already rather thick ravioli in heavy and rather tasteless cream sauce when you describe your ravioli on the menu as having only “a bit” of cream. It’s stupid because it makes your customers feel like you’re pulling their leg and it makes us want to do stupid things to you, like fish slap you, Monty Python style. Stupid is also putting a raw, sad leaf of spinach on top of this cheesy mess. But that’s another story.

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5. Don’t brag with great reviews

Well, I guess this sort of ties in with the previous point. Seriously though, it makes you look self serving and almost suspicious. You might have a glowing Time Out review hanging outside of your restaurant – if you really must – but using certificates, appraisals, reviews and critiques as wallpaper for your romantic looking interior ruins the cosy atmosphere you tried to create. It looks a bit ridiculous, actually. So does your website: the first thing you see on your homepage is you guys holding up certificates and reviews. It’s all a bit much, no? WE. DO. NOT. CARE.

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Nobody cares actually, especially not when you don’t have food to live up to it. Plus, it intimidates other food critics from having a go at your restaurant. Not us though, you cannot fool us. We would almost guess you’re overcompensating or insecure, which we would be too if we had to serve some of your food. We haven’t tried your “Napolitan certified” pizza’s though. Certified or not, your wood fired oven looks great so we might come back for them.

The point is this: if it hadn’t been Lisbon restaurant week, we would have had to pay around 60 euros just for the dishes alone. Come on. IMG_2734Granted, the ragù and the ravioli aren’t on your regular menu and it’s hard to draw conclusions, so it just might be that your regular pasta dishes are better. But, based on what we had, we’re definitely not inclined to come back and pay around 15 euros or more for such mediocre pasta dishes when you have places like Bella Ciao doing pasta so much better and cheaper than the pasta you served us that day. You should also be aware that asking nearly 9 euros for EACH of our starters on your regular menu is as close to a rip-off a restaurant of your status wants to get.

Of course there are many “Italian” restaurants in Lisbon that don’t know half as well what they’re doing as you do and we can definitely see why many Portuguese people and food critics like your food if Italian food would still be new to you. However, that still doesn’t make your restaurant great or special. If you want to create that homey, romantic Italian feeling, you might want to think about making your place and service just a bit more personal, involved, open and not charge as much just because you’re serving something “exclusive” like Italian food. Mediocre is mediocre, exclusive or not, especially when compared to the previously mentioned marvellous Bella Ciao or In bocca al lupo. Might we suggest you go there one day, you could learn something from them. (Nout Van Den Neste)


Opening hours: Mon-Fri: 12h00-15h00, Mon-Thu: 19h00-23h00, Fri-Sat: 19h00-0h00.
Address: Rua do Olival, 258, 1200-744 Lisboa
Phone Number: +351 213 902 457
Homepage: http://www.comeprima.pt/

 

 

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