In my days as editor and restaurant reviewer for Food & Wine Magazine I considered it a point of honour to allow a restaurant to ‘bed down’ before putting them to the test. Alas, the demands of newspaper readers for access to the latest and greatest does not permit this and I found, when I re-entered the lists to review for The Herald, I found that certain of my contemporaries regarded it as a sine qua non to be the first to praise or trash a new restaurant in print, to the extent where I’d imagine them camped out overnight like punters queuing for the opportunity to buy the two thousand quid telly for a tenner, a la Harrods’ sale. Never one to follow the herd, I still prefer to back off a tad but you can, like a jockey on a Prix de L’Arc favourite, overdo the waiting game.
Ranelagh’s The Butchers Grill has now been open a good few months. I did attempt to review it earlier but it has clearly insinuated itself into the hearts of those who frequent Dublin’s most popular dining strip and tables, at least at short notice, are hard to come by. I acquired one only at the third try. The restaurant, a converted butcher’s premises, only has 35 seats, including barstools. The History Woman and I had been allotted a brace of these but, arriving early I managed to secure a table, albeit one where the evening sun made it difficult to maintain eye contact with my favourite twenty-something. The couple at the next table had already decided that our relationship was of the ‘dirty old man and his young squeeze’ sort. Mr. and Mrs. N.Parker were nudging each other from the off. When at last the sun sank below Tribeca on the other side of the road I was able to wind them up by lavishing a few compliments and the odd adoring glance in THW’s direction. How were Mr. and Mrs P to know that the invitation to dine had been extended only after having been assured that THW’s would eat her beef at least medium rare? By now you will have realised that the tables at the Butcher Grill are very close together.
The décor is informal, the kitchen open plan, all of which makes for a lively, enjoyable ambience. The ventilation must be up to snuff because the smell of roasting meat didn’t linger in the air. It has to be said that The Butchers Grill, complete with mural of a cow sectioned into joints is no place for the non or anti-carnivorous. That said, the first dish we saw emerge from the kitchen was a whole sea bream, a ‘special’, looking mouthwateringly tasty and tempting THW so much I had to remind her of her promise.
I did, however, allow her the gambas (aka prawns) for starter, which she wolfed down, reserving praise for the flavour of the accompanying Romescu sauce. Mine, the belly of lamb spring rolls looked terrific, slim ‘cigars’ of breadcrumbed lamb poised on a bed of micro vegetables, attractively arranged with enough sauce to make things interesting and, at the same time, fall short of spoiling the painting. I pointed out that it’s a modern reworking of the traditional French classic, Agneau St. Menehould which I cook at home whenever I can be fagged to bone out the belly.
Cote de Boeuf is one of my favourite things. This one, though on the good side of acceptable didn’t make the podium. The best cote de boeuf I’ve ever had was on a wine trip. I’ve tried to find the place since and failed totally. We were en route from Navarre to Rioja. Our coach driver , under instruction from the winemaker’s man on the patch, pulled up outside what looked like a Roscommon builder’s ‘manshoon’ . We all filed out, went indoors and were welcomed, then beckoned by the lady of the place to sit down at a long table In the dining room. She went into the kitchen, reappearing with a Desperate Dan-sized hunk of raw beef which she proudly exhibited. She and the beef then retreated back into the kitchen. At that point in time when we’d happily have settled for a chew on the table leg missus woman emerged again, this time with a platter of beef, bones and all, black on the outside and rare within. It blew all our minds. The silver medalist was consumed in Tuscany; marvellous meat from a Chianina beast slaughtered in the guests’ honour and served out of doors, at an alfresco restaurant in a churchyard. The bronze goes to La Tupina, that carnivore’s heaven in Bordeaux.
The Butchers Grill cote came with smoky black beans, a side dish, both of us agreed, that would be better suited to accompanying pork. The slim and slightly waxy chips – just how I like them – copped for high praise. As for the beef, this 24 oz joint – acquired from a butcher with a good reputation, dry aged 28 days and sympathetically cooked – just stopped short of delivering that big treble wow, which for €50 (for 2) it should have done. This led me to ponder, as I’ve done so many times before, whether Irish beef really matches up to the best of its counterparts in Spain, Italy and elsewhere or is it just as hyped up and overblown as ‘cead mille failte’?
On to dessert. The slightly too rigid panna cotta only got a qualified thumbs up. The affogato was another matter – a classical Italian treat involving a shot of espresso coffee and a generous slug of amaretto liqueur over good vanilla gelato, is there any better way of finishing a heavy repast; we doubted it.
The staff are lovely, the food flies out and the atmosphere is electric. I’d certainly go back even though Butchers Gill is not exactly post-Tiger cheap. We spent €155, ex-service; admittedly this included 2 bottles of wine, a perfectly average Vermentino at a puffed-up €28 and a stonking Priorat, well worth the €36 ask. The standards of comfort are, of necessity, limited by the need to cram punters in. If you really are having an affair I’d suggest you dine elsewhere.
The Butchers Grill, 92 Ranelagh, Dublin 6 Tel: 01 4981805
READ Ernie’s reviews on Thursdays in The Dubliner – free with The Evening Herald