A week ago me and my buddies sat down to discern what the recession meant to us. “Well, in gastronomic terms, it’s pretty bloody unpalatable,” quipped Jocko who had been caught holding too many bank shares. The company divided naturally into two camps. One party vowed to take a “draw the wagons into a circle” strategy. This means dining out less often and when doing so, forgoing frivolities like fizzy water and post-prandial cognac; hand-in-hand with this goes a sworn intent to squirrel out discounts, early birds, promotions and pre-theatre dinners. The opposition clung to a manifesto that could be summed up as “Sod it; we might be on the Titanic but at least we’re going down first class.” As usual, yours truly, aware of the need for stringent economies yet unwilling entirely to give up life’s little luxuries, parked his butt in no man’s land.
A day or so later I received a press release from Harvey Nichols advising that wines, at least those above €30, were, for the month of January, to be flogged less 50% discount with lunch or dinner, same price that you could buy them for in the wine shop. I was excited by this, not as you’d imagine because it would enable me to have a bottle of wine in a good restaurant for €15 but because I would be able to drink so much better for the sort of money I usually spend – the thinking man’s view of the credit crunch if you like.
Let me give you a ‘for instance…’ In Clare Valley, South Australia, there’s a man called Jeffrey Grosset who makes some sublime Riesling. His Polish Hill is truly world-class. The last time I was in Chapter One, Grosset Polish Hill featured at €85. At the less exalted Winding Stair it sold for €60. On Harvey Nichols restaurant list it was €68, so, at €34, a snip, a steal. We also took a bottle of Seghesio’s excellent Family Estate Zinfandel, likewise a steal at the discounted €30
Let’s clear the crap out of the way first. The receptionist, having taken our coats, marched us into the dining area and showed us to The Worst Table In The Room. There were several tables-for-two in better locations that were unoccupied. Naturally, we assumed that they were reserved. As the evening wore on, this proved not to be the case. Secondly, I must take issue with the background music. It was actually “foreground” music, loud, bland, tedious and intrusive. Lastly and I’ll take Sibella’s word for this, the female toilets were a bit “untidy”. The gents was pristine. My only gripe was the Lilliputian buttons doubling as taps made life difficult for optically challenged me.
After that, onwards and upwards. Ambience-wise, they’ve made the best of an unpromising room, kitting it out with good furniture, linen, table and glassware and installing a battery of atmospheric lighting that takes out Eddie Rockets across the way. Sibella opted for the table d’hote; Old Greedy Guts, the à la carte, affording a more exotic choice. I figured out early enough that I wouldn’t have room for desert which would balance out what we spent.
The bread, four kinds of which the black olive deserves a special commendation, was excellent. I tore it into soldiers to dip into the amuse bouche poached egg crème brûlée. My starter, a combo of scallops and crispy belly pork was stunning, Sibs’ crab rillette, a delight. Where was I a few weeks ago when I railed against the belly pork? They should send someone here to see how its done. Milady had it for a main and I managed to scam a chunk, succulent and tender. I had the wild pheasant, less deconstructed than elsewhere, the breast left whole. It came with a pithivier, posh name for a little flat-capped pie, stuffed with chestnuts, which made a pleasing contrast in texture and pointed up the flavour of the bird. Sibs was entitled to dessert; we clashed spoons over the mango and passion fruit parfait. I topped things off with a 7/10 espresso. The young Polish guy who seemed to be combining the functions of Maitre d’ and sommelier looked after us regally all-night, re-corking the last of the Grosset and presenting it in a Harvey Nics bag so that Sibs, the driver, could enjoy it when she got home.
The damage: €164.12 inc service for starter, main course, 3-course table d’hote, 1 coffee, 2 bottles very good wine
Verdict: One of Dublin’s most under-regarded restaurants. Get there in January to drink in some style at bargain prices. Confident cooking, too and good ingredients. Precise service. Cool décor but watch where they put you.