Tag Archives: Burgers

RESTAURANT REVIEW Cafe Bar H

 

I underwent a knee operation a fortnight ago. Last week, at a party at The China Sichuan to celebrate the Chinese New Year, I was made to realise just how hard it is to manage two crutches, a glass of wine and a morsel of dim sum. My heart goes out to those for whom this task is a permanent one. The restaurant has instituted a ‘get you home in a taxi on Saturday night for free’ scheme, a praiseworthy effort to ease the financial pain of dining out. Of course this will only apply within a certain radius. They certainly aren’t going to wing you and your mates back to Navan, gratis.

Later that week I ate at Matt the Thrasher, a new fish restaurant in what used to be The Pembroke pub. Presumably it’s an offshoot of the Birdhill, Co Tipperary hostelry that bears the same name. A bit early to report on, they still seem to have teething problems. If I can proffer it a bit of advice it’s get rid of the manky salads in the chiller counter, they detract from the glistening fish alongside; find something other than chilli gloop to slather the tasty mackerel in; and please keep the gurnard for the fish and chips, it was a delightful surprise.

The same week Riva, an Italian restaurant on neon–drenched Hanover Quay closed its doors, another casualty of Ireland’s headlong plunge towards membership of the club for the bootless and unhorsed. Amazingly, another eatery has opened nearby, a tapas bar – albeit a rather grown-up one. Cafébar H is a collaboration between the amiable Rita Crosbie, wife of Harry who, according to Rita “will be doing the washing up” and Johnny Cooke, that outrageously talented chef whose twice-closed eponymous restaurant earned him his reputation as The Bonnie Prince Charlie of restaurant economics. One of the best meals I’ve had in Dublin was in the early days of Cookes MkII, as a guest at a Spanish-themed luncheon when course-after-course of magic morsels kept coming, each more tempting than the one before. Johnny understands tapas like no one else in Ireland.

Johnny is on record as saying “functional eating where people want to get in and out and have a meal, and maybe one or two beers, for €20, are what people are going towards now.” If that’s so he’s not quite managed it at the new H. I think it’s reasonable to assume that a minimal meal might consist of two portions of tapas each plus some shared accompanying potatoes. A rapid calculation told me that in such a case the guy with the twenty euro note would have €1.25 to spend on beer.

The interior decorator has done his/her best to negate the impersonality of the large windows and the surprisingly cosy room is redolent of similar establishments in Jerez, Barcelona or San Sebastian. The young staff welcomed us, divesting us of wet coats and crutches and escorting Petite Chef and myself to a table. Throughout, they proved briskly efficient, being keenly interested in the food and taking pride what the kitchen could achieve. Service would have merited a five star rating but for one lapse – they omitted to advise us of the existence of the Albarinho, which wasn’t on the carte. We settled instead for a bottle of the ever-reliable Laurenz V ‘Singing’ Gruner Veltliner and, as a treat, one of the currently sexy Bodegas Portia reds from Ribera del Duero. The wine list is entirely European, concise and well selected except I’d have liked to have seen more Spanish whites and some half bottles of fino/manzanilla sherry.

Each dish arrived at table as soon as it was cooked. The first was a generous skewering of excellent chargrilled beef, cooked medium rare and set down in a flavoursome sofrito, a thick sauce of tomatoes, onion and garlic cooked in olive oil. Then came the Patatas con Salsa Mojo which, if memory serves me right is a speciality of the Canary Islands, usually far more fiery than this one. Next to table was the soup, our one disappointment. We were salivating as all three of us declared chestnuts and chorizo two of our favourite ingredients. Alas, it tasted of neither, ‘half-decent minestrone’  would have been a more accurate description. Still H was soon back on track with the ‘Bikini’, a warm sandwich in which Johnny had inventively incorporated a smearing of black truffle in addition to the usual ham (in this case the great Serrano) and cheese. The crab cakes, four aesthetically-shaped cylinders accompanied by a Romescu sauce proved another big hit. I wanted the ‘Moorish pigeon’ pastille, with almonds, cinnamon and ‘quinze’ – presumably quince but it was unavailable. Instead I sought the squid and boy, was I glad. A sizable portion of succulent rings with batter light as thistledown arrived, over which we sighed with pleasure.

We were smitten and had common sense not prevailed I’m sure we would have ploughed on till we’d been through the card. We took a reprise of the Pinchitos Morunos, to give the steak its full title and the McH Mini Burger, a cool piece of chef’s whimsy, marrying the workaday patty (a very good one) to exotic foie gras and truffle mayonnaise.

Dessert? Are you kidding? We could possibly have managed something light, say a crema catalana but this, like the pigeon, had flown the coop. Didn’t matter we were all ecstaticto having shared tapas that were not the usual sad-looking ‘snack on a saucer’ but real, serious food, perfectly cooked, from righteous ingredients and bang in the idiom. Johnny, whom I know well, had left with the pigeon and the crema but Rita and the pot lad whom I hardly know were there, snacking at a table near the door. I wanted to go and congratulate them but was put off at the sight of their dining companion, a scary-looking little geezer wearing a trilby and black shades, who looked vaguely familiar.

Note for Johnny: We didn’t get away with a twenty note. In fact we spent about €55 a head. But, my, did we have a blow-out.

Cafébar H, Grand Canal Plaza, Dublin 2 Tel: 01-8992216

Food *****

Wine ***

Service ****

Ambience ****

Volume 3 bells

Overall ****

 

 

 

 

Green Nineteen

So, no recession in Camden Street then? Anseo was stuffed to the gills with young ones on a midweek night, inhaling an excess of scent and aftershave and grooving to the (extremely) loud music while phoning a friend. Up the road, Cassidy’s was crammed full of footy fans, swivelling between two TVs as Chelsea sought to subdue Juventus and Liverpool down Real Madrid simultaneously. Meanwhile, in Green Nineteen, Sibella and me were trying to blag a table in an already packed restaurant, having been too damn lazy to ring and book.

After brief negotiation we reached a compromise position where they would ring us if a table came up in the next fifteen minutes, as they estimated it would. Accordingly, we strolled back up to Cassidy’s for a drink we didn’t really need or want. The moment I had brought it to the table Sibs’ phone rang.

The pleasant young receptionist gave us what I perceive to be the best table in the house. Sibs faced the kitchen where, through the large hatch, she could watch the young chefs going about their business while I enjoyed wall-to-wall eye candy. Not the habitual poseurs who infest the weekend magazines’ social pages but sweet young Dublin damsels, all glammed up for a night out. If there were two other guys in the room, that was it.

I’d heard Green Nineteen enjoys a reputation for its cocktails and had I not been at a wine tasting most of the day I’d have subsided into a Mojito or three. Instead we drank wine by the glass, Sauvignon Blanc for Sibella and Pinot Noir for me, both from New Zealand producer Sileni. Neither are wines with any ‘Wow!’ factor but both are, to borrow the old legal phrase, “of merchantable quality”. Which is more than you can say for the Shiraz I had to follow. I think it was called ‘Charming’, one of those words where the meaning can vary with the emphasis as in “Charming vase of flowers” or (on being told that an acquaintance had farted in the confessional box) “Charming.” Here, the second meaning was more appropriate; they should dump this wine forthwith. I did and collared another glass of the workaday Pinot. And yes, I am being picky – not sure I have any right to expect nirvana for a fiver a throw but there you go. It’s called ‘criticism’ which is what I’m paid to do.

Sib’s starter, a melange of goat cheese, honey roasted pears and good leaves, anointed with a really well-executed oil-and-vinegar dressing was an absolute delight. Not that I was jealous because I was sat in front of my own generous portion of pastrami, prosciutto and chorizo sausage and a tower of really fine bread and toast.

I think I may have said it before. There are some people who should be working in the hospitality industry and many more who shouldn’t. Miranda, our waitress, was definitely in Category A. Pleasant manner, deft hands and that keen observation of what’s-needed-and-where worth more than gold to an employer, she whizzed about all night, a cheerfully at the death as at the beginning.

Sibella summed up the charms of Green Nineteen in one pithy sentence – “Of the dishes coming out of that kitchen there’s nothing you wouldn’t want to eat”. The menu is indeed concise but I fancied every item on it. I’d have loved the battered fish and chips but, alas, they had sold out. Sibs grabbed the rump of lamb while I was still deliberating. I opted for the burger. “It’s filling” said Miranda and that clinched it.

The food police have ensured that you can’t play Russian roulette with your burger any more. These days they all come medium-to-well done. I know the Times’ Tom Doorley regards rare burgers with the same fear and loathing that Count Dracula has for a hundredweight of garlic but I’ve never been that discomfited. In umpteen years of reviewing, all the instances of food poisoning I’ve suffered (and there have been quite a few) have stemmed from either chicken or shellfish, usually the latter.

Green Nineteen’s organic burger sat so high you practically needed oxygen to eat it. A good inch-thick patty, topped by a goodly layer of cheese, tailed by gherkins, wedged amid slices of thick tasty bun, top properly crisped. It came with a generous portion of what were at least a contender for the title of Dublin’s Best Chips. I didn’t envy Sibs her succulent, falling-apart rump of lamb and creamy mash at all. Well, maybe just a teeny bit.

I got my Mojito in the end. In the shape of three scoops of ‘Mojito ice cream’, all I could manage for dessert. Tangy and exhilarating, I might have a crack at making this at home. Sibs had a smaller portion with a tasty apple crumble. Finally, wonder of wonders, an absolutely textbook espresso.

A special mention for the original paintings on the walls and the comfy padded seats, wide enough to cope should John Daly or The Remaining Fat Lady drop in for a bite. Though tables are close together, privacy is somewhat safeguarded by the wall of sound erected by a full house having a monster time.

Ps I just found out the duff Shiraz is called ‘Climbing’ not ‘Charming’ but the point still stands.

Verdict: Food’s great, I wanted to go back for lunch next day. Prices, with mains at a tenner a throw, utterly credit-crunchery. Ambience-wise, a lot going for it.

Rating ****1/2

Green Nineteen, 19 Camden Street Dublin 2, Tel: 01 478 9626

The Schoolhouse

McDonalds, that litigation factory-in-a-bun are at it again. Flushed with success at squashing two big lasses from the Bronx who sued because they figured Big M should have told them that eating treble Big Macs and a JCB load of fries would lead to obesity, the burger kings (lower case) have now loosed their legal eagles on a reputable French food journalist who described chicken McFodder in less than glowing terms. In fact they are suing him for allegedly OTT comments, demanding as compensation the sort of money that would, if McDonald’s were a football club, buy a decent Serie A striker. But wait… support is close at hand for Monsieur McSlagger. Intrepid Jay Rayner of The Observer stood shoulder-to-shoulder last Sunday, daring McDonald’s to sue him too.
Cowardy custard me will not be joining the picket line. Let’s just say that I ate in McDonald’s once and was never tempted to return. In fact there are only three places I would eat a burger in town. One of these is the Baggot Street Branch of Eddie Rockets (somehow less inhibiting for us old-timers than the others). Despite the fact that the service is slower than progress on the Luas, it’s the place to be if you feel like a Burger fix of abnormally generous proportions – the kingsize whopping great big monster mega cheeseburger, or whatever it’s called, is your only man; a few weeks ago it got me through a serious Oddbins whisky tasting. The alcohol clung to it like survivors to a life raft, tribute to the wisdom of the old adage of not drinking on an empty stomach, and I had not a trace of a hangover. More important, the beef was good and tasty, the rasher on top crispy and the garnishes generous and fresh.
Of course the king Dub-burger is the one fashioned by the Elephant & Castle in Temple Bar, a watering hole famed for the size of its portions, the quality of its fast-ish food and beloved of tourists and locals alike. Many and varied are the exotic variations, which keep the burger addict from ennui. The chips, er sorry… fries are deserving of mention too.
Latterly a new contender for burger heaven has sprung up, in a most surprising fashion. The Schoolhouse on Northumberland road is a pub/small hotel with pretensions to gastronomy. There is a restaurant attached on which I cannot comment because I have never eaten there. Yet I am well acquainted with the bar and garden, especially at lunchtime because the location is convenient. I can often be found there, with laptop and mobile phone and a coven of admiring dollies ready to catch every witticism or bon mot (I wish!). Until a short while ago the bar food in this place was so boring that it was not unusual for lunchtime diners to fall asleep and wake up at closing time. Then the owners, initially perplexed by all the zedding punters, had the good sense to call in that bright young chef Kevin Arundel who runs a natty little restaurant up the road. Overnight, the menu was revamped, becoming infinitely more interesting, with Thai and fusion influenced dishes – lovely noodles, backed up by old favourites. I can heartily commend the bangers and mash (Ed Hick’s sausages, I think).
Yesterday, I had the burger, a generous ten ounces of prime meat, nicely cooked to my requested pink-to-medium. It was wholly delicious and came surmounted by a crispy rasher and a wreath of caramelized onions. Pity they don’t have a cheeseburger variant but you can’t have everything. The chips tasted, what’s the word, “real”. Overall it didn’t quite have the élan of the Elephant burger or the appealing vulgarity of the Rocketship but Schoolhouseburger is, deffo, a contender.
The Schoolhouse, 2-8 Northumberland Road, Ballsbridge, Dublin 4 Tel: (01) 667 5014

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]