At first she was smiling, eyes half closed. Then a discreet smirk of pleasure lit her face like she was indulging in a happy dream. Appreciative noises modulated to a crescendo, “mm mm, mm..” somehow segued into “Yes, yes, yes!”. Screams of ecstasy followed, quintessential passion, all inhibition fled. Oh my God, I thought, she’s having a Meg Ryan moment. But she’s not faking it!
Mind you, the crab claws were bloody good. They couldn’t have been fresher if the crustaceans had crawled down the coast road and given themselves up. The Not Quite Blonde was out to relish every last morsel. My ballotine of beef, good as it was, seemed mundane by comparison, close but no G-spot.
Restaurant Ten-Fourteen – or is it 1014? – stands on the seafront at Clontarf, near the upmarket Indian restaurant, Kinara. But for the lack of a Gitanes cloud you could be back in a Paris bistro in the heyday of Les Halles. The mosaic floor and the brass lamps with their clustered globes also put me in mind of the temperance bar in Douglas, Isle of Man, where my father and his boozing cronies used to gather on holiday Sunday evenings, forced to drink pints of sarsaparilla and dandelion-and-burdock by the vagaries of the local licensing laws. ‘Retro’ and ‘comfy’ are the best words I can find to describe the ambience.
In the open-to-view kitchen a chef of reassuring girth, was sweating away, accompanied by a couple of acolytes. Given that the place was packed it seemed like a hard station. My immediate thought was that these guys were working their tripes off, manpower pruned to a minimum so the business could be kept lean, fit and profitable through these indigent times.
The restaurant has an interesting raison d’etre. It’s owned by CASA – the Caring & Sharing Association, a voluntary organisation, established in 1981, whose goal is to develop friendships and social outlets for people with disabilities through a variety of activities comprising regular social events, holidays, respite breaks, and pilgrimages. Originally CASA had intended to run a coffee shop at these premises; after some discussion plans were up-scaled and a bistro, majoring on local and fresh produce, replaced the original concept.
While The Not Quite Blonde was endeavouring to extract the last shards of flesh from the crab claws without damaging the heel of her shoe, I studied the wine list. It was of the genus ‘sensible’ – not over-long; sourced from one reliable supplier and capable of providing a kaleidoscope of decent drinking from around the vino-sphere. From it I selected an interesting Semillon/Sauvignon blend from the Bordeaux hinterland, made by two lovely girls and their crabby papa, all of whom I’d met. The wonderful thing about being involved with wine is it allows you to make these connections; drink wisely and there’s a memory in every glass.
I had first crack at the mains and plucked the whole lemon sole with lobster off the blackboard ‘specials’. The fish was large and meatier than lemon soles are normally wont to be. It came with three generous chunks of lobster, springy and succulent. The chips, unfortunately, were hiding under the sole, so I couldn’t tell whether they were properly crisp or not, a minor blemish. I surveyed The Not Quite Blonde with interest as her eyes flitted between carte and blackboard. A probationer on my roster of reviewing guests, she surprised me by taking the daube of beef, causing me to mark her up a couple of notches. The daube came, not in the traditional marmite but as a presentation on a plate, along with a chunk of absolutely superb medium-rare fillet steak. Take a bow, mister butcher, whoever you are. The main event was fettled from beef cheek, sixteen hours’ simmering producing ‘died and gone to heaven’ flavours akin to those of the crab claws, putting TNQB on course for a second orgasm.
The Not Quite Blonde, herself a chef and I came to the conclusion that 1014 (named for the date of the Battle of Clontarf) is one serious restaurant. Service was swift and friendly without being smarmy, just what I needed being still traumatised after my Moroccan ‘Carry on Up the Casbah’ episode a fortnight ago.
I enjoyed my fruit salad, replete with tangy berries and accompanied by as good a home made ice cream – pistachio flavoured – as you’ll get. Meanwhile, my companion was detumescing over the sticky toffee pudding, which didn’t quite meet her stringent expectations. She’s an expert at this dessert apparently and proclaimed that 1014’s was, compared to her own, a mere STP lite. A few dates, apricots or figs in the middle wouldn’t have gone amiss, she opined.
Two fit and proper espressos later we were rolling home in a taxi. As I dropped The Not Quite Blonde off at her place she enquired not “How was it for you?” but “Well, did I pass the test?” “Darling,” I said, searching for the word, “You were… er… climactic.”
Verdict: Fine sensitive cooking, first class ingredients, decent wines, warm welcome
Restaurant 1014, 324 Clontarf Rd, Dublin 3 Tel: 01 805 4877