girl eats dublin

Enthusiastically eating my way around Dublin and beyond.

Month: October, 2013

The Vintage Kitchen, Poolbeg Street.

From the Irish Times to le cool, to the 80+ rave reviews on Tripadvisor, the Vintage Kitchen has been one of the most talked-about new places to eat in Dublin this year. Which of course means that any time I’ve tried to get a reservation for dinner there, they haven’t ever had a Friday or Saturday evening table when I’ve asked for one, and I kind of gave up trying a while ago. But, as soon as arrangements were made a few weeks ago for a Tuesday night rendezvous with my favourite dining companions, the Loreto Ladies, we snapped up the 8.15pm table we were offered and started studying the menu in anticipation.

The Vintage Kitchen’s BYOW policy has played no small part in its popularity, meaning that you can bring your favourite wine without even paying corkage. I was delighted to see that this also appears to extend into a Bring Your Own Pint policy, with punters arriving in with pints of Arthur’s finest in hand from Mulligan’s next door.

Better again, it was only when I noticed our waiter dropping records off at a couple of tables near us that I remembered also reading about their “Bring your own Vinyl” policy, which allows customers to bring their favourite records to spin on the restaurant’s turntable while enjoying their meal. The perfect option for the music obsessive or budding DJ, a potential embarrassment for those of you whose only stash of vinyl is made up of Mum’s old Mary Black albums and a Bosco LP… Thankfully the diners supplying the records on the night we visited had pretty uncontroversial Motown and indie leanings.

The menu is divided into ‘Something to Start’, ‘Something to Follow’ and ‘Something to Finish’ – that’s starter, main course and desserts to you and me. For €25 you get two courses of your choice from the menu, and you can add dessert for an extra fiver. Our waiter advised us from the start to “leave room” for dessert…at least we thought that’s what he was saying, but our hearing may have been muffled by the sound of furious scoffing of the little basket of fresh bread with a creamy fennel butter that he had just dropped off at our table. He got a bit more firm then, refusing our pleas for “more bread please” in favour of us leaving room for the food.

I started with “The excellent St Tola (adjective not mine, but I can’t argue with the description) organic goat’s cheese, black figs, Spanish tomatoes, cherry and star anise relish and slow roasted beets,” and what a start it was. The velvety-smooth little balls of goat’s cheese combined with the beetroot, tomato (two ingredients I would presume never should go together) and the pool of almost-black relish at the bottom of the dish, were a stunning combination.

St Tola goat's cheese and beetroot starter.

St Tola goat’s cheese and beetroot starter.

“House salt cod and Clogherhead crab salad” was the other star starter, also proudly bearing its Irish ingredients in its name. In the case of this dish, I didn’t think the presentation did it any favours, as the array of “blobs” of chili mayo and roast pepper pesto struggled to stand out against the clear glass dish – but the portion was generous enough for everyone to have a taste, and it tasted fantastic.

Salt cod & Clogherhead crab salad starter.

Salt cod & Clogherhead crab salad starter.

The other two had fish chowder (Sligo clams and Glenmar house smoked natural haddock chowder, to be precise) with tons of haddock and mussels shipwrecked in many delicious litres of cream, and an unusual dish of roasted and braised Carlow mushrooms, truffle essence, greens and basil milk, which proved worth the risk of ordering something that the rest of us were a bit “ugh” about on paper.

When it came to our mains, we mostly chose different main courses so as to sample as much of the menu as possible, trying everything but the steak and veggie options.

I never thought I could be completely full from eating white fish for dinner, but as I struggled to finish the last mouthfuls (never let it be said I was a quitter) of my huge, fresh piece of pan-fried Kilmore Quay hake, having polished off all of the accompanying “sautéed Cajun Roaring Bay” mussels and scooped the caviar out of the seashells that topped off this incredible dish, I had to concede that dessert wasn’t going to be on the cards.

Kilmore Quay hake, caviar, sauteed mussels, organic leeks.

Kilmore Quay hake, caviar, sauteed mussels, organic leeks.

I also loved the look of Niamh’s roasted poussin with crispy potatoes, soy and apple gravy with celeriac pot – the latter of which I couldn’t leave alone as I kept stealing forkfuls from across the table (sorry Niamh), and the other main course on our table which was the Slaney River slow roasted lamb shank with treacle gravy, slow roasted carrots and sweet potato mash. None of the four of us had anything but huge praise for all of this food (and we weren’t even availing of the BYOW).

Little crispy poussin (awww) with celeriac pot.

Little crispy poussin (awww) with celeriac pot.

Much has been made of the “vintage” decor here, and while it’s definitely quirky, I couldn’t honestly describe it as comfortable. Conditions at our window four-top table were pretty cramped and there was a persistent draught from the window at the back of my neck for the whole night. I wouldn’t put up with it in any other restaurant. But as you might have guessed already, the Vintage Kitchen isn’t really like any other restaurant you’ll find in Dublin right now.

The value for money is incredible when you consider that we enjoyed all of the dishes above at a cost of €100 for four people. It’s worth mentioning that two dishes on the night we visited carried a supplement – a relatively hefty €6 for the striploin of beef and another €4 for the cheese plate on the dessert menu would bring the cost of your dessert, if you were to make it that far, to €9. Our friendly waiter (and I mean by this that he was so friendly that my friends thought I knew him, so enthusiastic were the chats throughout our meal) also raved about their lunch menu, which includes the superbly creamy fish chowder and which I urge you try if you’re a Dublin city centre worker.

They’re also currently promoting a brilliant value Christmas lunch menu on their website where €25 will get you not two, but three courses, which should guarantee them a full house for the whole festive season. We’re already booked in for the Lovely Ladies Christmas Liquid Lunch, 2013 Edition, where I’m sure we’ll take full advantage of all possible BYO policies.

Even though it describes itself as a “pop down to” rather than a “pop-up” restaurant, it feels like The Vintage Kitchen could be a testing ground for chef Sean Drugan, before he moves onto loftier things. So my advice is to take whatever booking you can get, and go there soon.

The Vintage Kitchen, 7 Poolbeg Street, Dublin 2.

+353 (1) 679 8705 for reservations or visit their website.

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Restaurant FortyOne, St. Stephen’s Green.

‘Where is Restaurant FortyOne exactly?’ was the most common reaction to my quick straw poll to check if many people of my acquaintance knew that Restaurant FortyOne is the restaurant housed in the fancy surroundings of Residence members’ club on St. Stephen’s Green.

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While I’d heard great reports on the food from various sources, if I’d heard anyone mention that they had eaten in Residence, I would have assumed that they were members or guests of members, and never really considered it as an option to visit myself for a meal out. For me, Residence has been the venue for some fun late nights drinking excellent cocktails (and sometimes dodging the amorous advances of the over-fifties brigade), on the occasions that I’ve been lucky enough to be brought along by friends who are members there.

But two things I discovered when I had the chance to have lunch there to celebrate the upcoming nuptials of a very special friend, in the company of some other special ladies*, were that 1) you don’t need to be a member or be in the company of a member to eat there, and 2) chef Graham Neville and his team are serving up some of the very best food I’ve had in Dublin, or anywhere else, in a long time.

Dinner there will cost you upwards of €35 for a main course, but this beautiful, clean, colourful food, with ingredients containing fresh vegetables and herbs from their own kitchen garden outside Dublin, was ours to enjoy for just €30 per person for two courses or €35 for three on their set lunch menu.

I haven’t altered or applied filters to any of the photos I took of our lunch dishes, so some of them will look a bit lopsided (Let’s face it, I probably had a glass of wine in the opposite hand to my iPhone), but I wanted to show the food in all its lovely colour and freshness.

My starter of Dinish Island scallops featured two meaty scallops sitting in a stunning strawberry and cucumber gazpacho – a gorgeous combination of warm and cold ingredients. I think that was caviar dotted along the top of the cucumber, but I may have been too busy slurping on the gazpacho and cutting my scallops into the tiniest possible pieces to make them last, to notice.

starter

The other starter that was inducing gasps of food envy around the table was the simple-sounding “Buffalo Mozzarella, Heirloom Tomatoes, Wild Artichokes, Herbs.” An iteration of the standard Caprese salad, for sure, but on another level entirely – this featured torn pieces of baked flatbread and what one of our party, who had lived in Italy, described as “the best buffalo mozzarella I’ve had anywhere, including Italy.”

mozzarella

(Side note: can anyone enlighten me as to what is it with heirloom tomatoes being on every menu in town these days? Most fashionable new ingredient for 2013?)

When it came to the main courses, I almost sobbed when I came to the last mouthful of my Monkfish with Courgette Flower, stuffed with prawns (the courgette flower, not the monkfish). This beautifully meaty and moist piece of fish was served in a vegetable broth that was creamy, but not heavy in any way.

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I also have to give a special mention to the side order of vegetables I received when I requested some “green veg” instead of the new potatoes that were being offered along with the main courses. In most restaurants when I make the same request, I’ll get a side of broccoli at the best of times, or a dirty look at worst. In FortyOne, I was asked if I had any preference on what vegetables I’d like, and when the main courses arrived I was presented with a beautifully presented selection of creatively-chopped courgettes, steamed asparagus and green peas. I rarely get excited over vegetables but on this occasion, I had to show my side order off to the whole table (I said show off, not share).

veg

I didn’t have dessert, but I got to sample my friend Jenny’s delicious Warm Apple Tarte Tatin with bourbon vanilla ice cream. The pastry in the perfectly-formed round tart was light and flaky, the warm apples creating a gorgeous melty taste-fest with the creamy vanilla ice-cream, making it a deservedly popular dessert around the table.

Throughout the meal, the staff were formal enough to make it feel like a special occasion, but not at all stuffy. They were happy to answer any questions we had on the food and to leave us to our own devices when the “hen” antics got under way. They also were completely gracious in their response to all requests, provided a plentiful supply of freshly baked breads at regular intervals, and didn’t try to rush us off the table at any point, which we really appreciated.

The final lovely touch was the tray of freshly home-made macarons that arrived along with our coffee at the end of the meal. I hadn’t realised that tea/coffee and petits fours were included in the set lunch price, so this just confirmed for me that €30 for the two courses I had, plus excellent coffee and petits fours, was pretty brilliant value.

For anyone who had dessert, it was €35 for three courses, and if you weren’t like us on the wine front (i.e. ordering and consuming a fair number of bottles over the course of the afternoon), you can choose to accompany your three courses with a glass of very decent house white or red wine for an additional €5.

I just think it’s a fantastic option for a couple, or a couple of friends, to treat themselves to a proper, special restaurant experience without spending massive money in doing so.

Similarly, for food of this standard, 3 courses for €38.50 on their Pre-Theatre menu in the evening is also superb value. It feels like chef Graham Neville and team have stars (of the Michelin variety) in their eyes – I hope they get them.

*N.B. Behaviour of said “Ladies” by the end of the afternoon may have been less than ladylike.

Restaurant Forty One, Residence, 41 St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2.

Tel: +353 1 6620 000 or visit their website.