Gentle reader, indulge me. I’d like to dedicate this review to one Graham Proctor, my oldest and best mate, now deservedly putting his feet up after a lifetime spent in teaching and politics, including a stint as Lord Mayor of Chester.
During a period when my life was about as stable as a butterfly on speed, Graham and his wife Sue used to put me up and feed me at their house in Chester every Monday. This went on for a year or so, a navigational fix at a time when my personal compass was in a state of constant gyration. Towards the end I took the two of them out for a slap-up meal as a “Thank you” for their hospitality. Graham proposed we went to this new restaurant that had instituted an ‘eat as much as you like, for a fixed fee’ menu.
With the devil-may-care enthusiasm of the young we climbed in, devouring ham, beef, pork, salmon, cheese… oh, and roll-mop herrings. I love roll-mops, I must have wellied down nigh on a dozen of the rascals. Afterwards we went to a country pub where some friends were running a folk night. The Main Man spotted me in the audience and asked me to sing, my bag in those days. I borrowed a guitar and climbed onto the stage. As I warmed up with a few sotto voce tra-la-las, the roll-mop balanced atop the stack inside my stomach jumped up and tickled the back of my throat, causing me to feel felt decidedly queasy. “Give us ‘Shoals of Herring’!” shouted Graham, from the audience. And by God, I nearly did.
There’s a lesson to be learned from this anecdote. It’s ‘Eat as much as you like’ is only okay if you don’t. And, as a rider, I’ll add that ‘Eat as much as you like’ is only okay if the food is any good’. Never forget – ten kg of crap is still crap. Nowadays there are quite a few restaurants in Dublin now operating this policy and many of the offerings are abjectly substandard.
One cheering exception is Victoria, a pan-Asian restaurant in Monkstown where, the other night, Ruby, Pearl and myself marvelled at a gargantuan buffet set out on a ‘Lazy Susan’ for us to rotate and enjoy. Egged on by the need to get my €25 a head’s worth, I undoubtedly ordered more food than was necessary, or, indeed, sane. I had to have the hot/sour soup (it’s a family tradition thing) and managed to consume a big bowl of it while R & P were loading their second crispy duck pancake. I joined in the ritual. Besides this we had a bejewelled plateful that included spring rolls, crispy wan tons, barbecued pork ribs and skewered chicken, all of which came accompanied by bowls of sweet-and-sour and satay sauces. If I have a criticism it’s that the satay tasted a mite thin and bland. The charming young maitre d’ arrived at table to offer us more duck, which we declined.
From the surprisingly good wine list – Cusumano’s fine Sicilian Insolia at €24 is a real bargain – we selected an Aussie Riesling, St.Hallet 2006 (€27) which was crisp, faithful to type and very good value for money. Lovely wine, with a weighty mouthfeel coupled with typical Eden Valley bracing minerality.
For my main I took an Indonesian fillet of beef Rendang, a dish often wrongly categorised as a curry. In the traditional version, the beef is long-simmered in coconut milk and spices, deriving a background spike of heat from ginger, galangal and chillies. Pearl took the sweet and sour prawns and Ruby, chicken with a sweet sticky coating, speckled with sesame seeds. We accompanied the feast with egg fried rice and a dish of pak choi, which Pearl, never one for Chinese cabbage when I cook it, pronounced as delicious.
We couldn’t manage dessert but they sent over a huge plate of assorted fresh fruits, which we demolished. The bill came for 3 came, as promised, to €75 plus the drinks. Victoria, in the same building on The Crescent that used to house Wong’s, is as very smart restaurant, with a tasteful black wood interior set off by smart white linen and sparkling glassware. The food is as good as, if not better than 95 per cent of the Chinese restaurants in Ireland. The dishes we chose were from the a la carte menu and only very expensive items like lobster and black sole are excluded from the set price buffet. Alas, I didn’t notice the scallops with scallion and ginger until we were full to bursting. If you had totalled up our meal using the menu to price each dish the food would have cost easily 50 per cent more. A special mention for the staff who were courteous and efficient throughout.
Verdict: Not to eat at Victoria would be a no-brainer.
The damage: £107.50 ex-service for all we had, including a bottle of decent wine and a Bacardi & Coke.
Victoria, Asian Restaurant, The Crescent, Monkstown, Co Dublin Tel: 01 230 1212