Keogh’s in South Anne Street, early doors on a Wednesday evening, was well nigh empty. Which isn’t to say publican Louis Fitzgerald was having conniptions. No, the customers were all outside, a great raft of them lorrying down the bevvy while savouring the sunshine. Great to see that the good old Dublin custom of drinking pints/talking shite is still in vogue. Bangles, resplendent in flamboyant summer plumage, rocked up bang on time.
I tilted the panama to a jaunty angle and we sauntered down the street to dine at Venu Brasserie. Entering the building involved a Tardis-like experience. With the noise of the revellers fading in the distance, you stepped into an office building whose bland, impersonal interior could have held suits selling pensions, if any such still exist. Descending into the basement, you were fast-forwarded into the disco bar slickery of 1980s London. Here, we paused while we awaited a call to table, watching the resident ‘mixologist’ juggling ingredients, which he did rather well. Eventually, we found ourselves in the dining room, a veritable split personality – 1950s railway buffet-meets-60s coffee bar. All sorts of gimcrack vied for attention – the lights, coloured glass versions of the old-time driers that hairdressers lowered over madame’s newly-coiffed beehive; the small gilded nymphs, perching in bare trees; the abstract art (large nipple-free tits) on the back wall. Altogether the sort of mish-mash that gives interior design a bad name, in my opinion.
A waiter came to take our order, making an attempt as he did so to flog us a brace of pre-prandial cocktails. “No thank you,” we said. For starters I took the Clogherhead crab salad, prettily fettled. Topped by a ring of pink grapefruit, it screamed “fresh!” It was, however, upstaged by Bangles’ asparagus salad, where the arrangement was picture perfect, a wrapping of lamb’s lettuce and a small pool of lime mayo studded with dark-roasted pistachios counterpointing the green spears and giving you that hard-to-define feelgood feeling. The asparagus was cooked to perfection. This clean, green, not overly cheffy treat claims our nomination for Best Presented Dish of 2009 if such an award exists.
The bar had been set high. In contrast, my burger seemed a bit of a plain Jane – until you actually bit into it. Under the flat and, thankfully, crusty bun magical things were going on. I stuck the fork in and melted foie gras oozed out, double yum; the flavoursome patty and the onions in red wine were interleaved with a black truffle mayo that tasted of… surprise, surprise.. black truffles. Here was the ultimate kick-ass gourmet burger. All other burgers masquerading as ‘gourmet’ – and there are loads around town – should keep a low profile. Nice chips too, if shaded by the ones at Chez Max the week. Bangles had commandeered an oriental-style chicken breast. Dubbed ‘Bombay’, it was one of those things chefs dream up from time to time to stop themselves getting bored with the classics. This one, unlike most, worked, majoring as it did on the quality of the chicken and the accompanying coriander couscous.
I had almost forgotten that Venu’s proprietor is Charles Guilbaud, son of the unsinkable Patrick, a man who’s already seen off two recessions, earning a Michelin star for each. In fact I glimpsed Patrick and Sally dining there that night. They can be proud of what their son-and-heir is putting on tables. Doubtless he spent his childhood watching RPG’s Guillaume Lebrun.
The wine list, old world biased, held some interest. Neither of us was in great drinking form, though, so Climbing Hill, a relaxed, uncomplicated but sound Aussie Chardonnay, not too tinned-fruity, fitted the bill nicely. In view of the brasserie’s connections I did feel slightly traitorous, not drinking French.
Come dessert time I was fairly stuffed, having pigged out on the chips. I took an espresso and it was a good one. Bangles opted for the peach melba of childhood memory. It was a lateral version, a return to the high presentational plateau evinced by the starters. As she said “A far cry from the Slieve Donard version, circa nineteen blahdy-blah” (doesn’t want to give away her age!). The friendly waiter redoubled his efforts to sell us cocktails “A refreshing dessert cocktail, sir and madam?” And afterwards, “May I recommend a cocktail to finish with?” This kid has some go in him, fair play. His pitch, too, had a playfulness, a pleasant manner that didn’t have you saying “Piss off and take your cocktails with you.”
All in all, we spent €96.50 and didn’t begrudge it. There is a ‘Summer Menu’ that represents incredible value for money – 3 courses for €22.50 – though as none of the mains on it were what we felt we needed on the night we were not tempted to try it. Overall, we liked Venu. So much so we’re going back for the cocktails when we’re in better drinking form.
The damage: £96.50 ex-service for 2 starters, 2 mains, 1 dessert, coffee, bottle of wine.
Verdict: Spot-on cooking, friendly service, good value. You may love the room, I didn’t.
Venu Brasserie, Anne’s Lane, Dublin 2 Tel: 01 6706755