girl eats dublin

Enthusiastically eating my way around Dublin and beyond.

Category: Steak

The Old Spot, Bath Avenue.

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I recently wrote about the small triangle of foodie heaven that is my ‘hood, which has given us such gems of eateries as Foodgame, Juniors, Paulie’s Pizza, Farmer Brown’s and the Chop House. Late this year, this little corner of Dublin was further added to with the opening of The Old Spot, in what was formerly the Lansdowne Pub (does anyone else remember the slightly mad Filipino restaurant that used to be upstairs?) just under the bridge on Bath Avenue. Under the same ownership as Junior’s and Paulie’s, its credentials are strong, but when I read a review by the esteemed Irish food critic, Lucinda O’Sullivan, that was none too favourable, it did make me think twice about visiting. But, mostly based on the owners’ track record, and partly because I don’t think it’s playing fair for critics to review restaurants when they’re so new, I decided to give it a try on one of the last weekends before Christmas, and make up my own mind.

The occasion was a visit of The Mammy and Daddy to Dublin, and a plan for Sunday lunch. What better reason to try out the new gastropub on my doorstep, in the hope of a great Sunday lunch like the ones I still fondly remember from living in London a few years ago. London does the gastro-pub thing so well, and on entering the Old Spot, you immediately see that they are trying to bring the best elements of this to Dublin.

I immediately found myself beginning to disagree with Ms O’Sullivan’s review, which had described this as “more restaurant than gastropub.” To me, it’s exactly as a London “gastropub” would be, with a small bar area in the front with some seats if you’re just there for a drink, or waiting on a table, and a cluster of tables in the dining room area, allowing the space to function as a restaurant.

We were warmly welcomed and instantly loved the decor. Cosy and traditional, yet with lots of quirky touches, and a soundtrack of mostly 90’s hip hop that saved the ambience from being too old-school Sunday pub lunch. Mammy approved of the comfortable seating – once the friendly waitress had fixed a wobbly leg on our table – and Dad approved of the wine list. All good so far. I ordered a glass of Paddock Shiraz (€7.50) while the parents each went for a glass of Marques Tempranillo (€6.60), and we settled into choosing from the 2-course lunch menu, at €24 per person.

menu

But of course, the real test was going to be the food.

And from my first dunking of a perfectly charred, chewy slice of sourdough into a bowl of silky, pesto-drizzled celeriac soup, I had a feeling that Lucinda and I were going to differ on this score too.

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This soup tasted as delicious as it looked, and this was backed up by Dad who was also enjoying a bowl across the table. Meanwhile, Mum was tucking into Potted Crab & Avocado with Lime Cream, which was plenty of fresh crabmeat and avocado mushed up in a little glass jar and scooped out with more of the same excellent sourdough toast.

We had a bit of a wait for our main courses, as the restaurant began to fill up with other lunchers, but our waitress kept us updated and we weren’t even tempted to be cross when the service was so cheery. Mum and I whiled away the time by rummaging through the shelf of old children’s and classic books that was on the wall behind our table.

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When the mains did arrive, we were thrilled to see three very large servings of meat presented to our table. Both Mum and I had chosen the special main course of the day, a rib-eye steak at a €5 supplement to the set menu, and they were served with mashed potato, green beans and cafe de Paris butter on the side. I’d ordered green veg as a substitute for the potato, and these came as a generous portion of fresh veg in a cast-iron side dish. However, the roast beef was a little too rare for my Dad’s liking. Almost bloody, it was taken away by the staff and promptly returned having been either cooked, or re-carved to his liking.

roast beef

(Rare beef fans rejoice, no dried-out Sunday carvery roast for you here!)

A selection of roasted potatoes and vegetables, not to mention a Yorkshire pud the size of his head, kept Dad happy for some time while Mum and I polished off our delicious, juicy-not-fatty, char-grilled rib-eyes.

We reluctantly passed on dessert as we were completely stuffed after those 2 courses, and instead finished with some very good coffees as we caught up on all the family gossip. The lunch for 3, including the supplements for our steaks, three glasses of great wine and three coffees, came to €108.10.

I’ve since been back for another excellent lunch, a 3-course set menu affair (fantastic value at €30 a head) with a work group on Christmas week, which was flawlessly served up to universal praise from a group of twelve – no mean feat. The evening menus also look pretty exciting, so once the January diet is over I’ll be looking forward to trying an evening visit in the new year.

You’d wonder how many restaurants one small corner of Dublin can hold while allowing all to make a profit, but the crowds filling the Old Spot, its sister establishments and the other eateries of the area on a nightly basis suggest that Bath Avenue isn’t at that tipping point just yet. So I’m delighted to respectfully disagree with Lucinda, and say that whether for lunch or evening, the Old Spot is well worth your pennies in the New Year. And with the DART around the corner, The Bath and Slattery’s pubs nearby, it would make a great destination for a night out even if you’re not a local.

The Old Spot, 14 Bath Avenue, Dublin 4. Tel: +353 1 660 5599.

www.theoldspot.ie

This review is dedicated to my good friend Malachy, who we suddenly and sadly lost on November 12th this year. Mal was always a great man for seeking out the latest and greatest of Dublin’s restaurants and cafes, and the tills of Brother Hubbard, Boojum and the Black Sheep will surely be lighter for his passing. Our hearts on the other hand, will be heavier for a long time to come.

 

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Asador, Haddington Road.

Asador interior (Photo credit: Asador website)

Asador interior (Photo credit: Asador website)

I tend to approach new restaurants in the same way I do new music. Too much hype brings out my inner snob, leading to me avoiding said place like the plague until the buzz has blown over and a recommendation from an actual friend draws me to cautiously try it out. Sometimes I’m converted, other times I get to revert to smug muso mode and declare it’s all an overblown rip-off of someone else’s genius.

So I took my time paying a visit to Asador, the new “barbeque grill” restaurant on Haddington Road just off Baggot Street, since it opened in November. There was a flurry of social media promotion and reviews from the critics within days of opening, which I’m never inclined to trust. No doubt this was a PR strategy designed to capitalise on the pre-Christmas lunch and dinner trade, and it certainly made me aware of the place, but it went on the long list to try once the buzz had died down. The restaurant is also in a premises on a slightly awkward corner of Haddington Road, which used to be a Thai restaurant called Mange Tu that I occasionally had lunch in when I worked off Baggot Street. I never liked the room, which for some reason always felt like eating lunch in a Snap Printing shop. Maybe it was the prominent emergency exit, or the office blinds. Anyway.

I’d volunteered to organise a Saturday-night dinner for some old school friends and assorted other halves, and with a few week’s notice, we thought of Asador as a potential option for some tasty food, drinks and general good times. It got the thumbs up due to its out-of-town location (handy for parking) and the predominantly meat-based offering scored it extra points with the menfolk. We were initially ten when I called to book, and I was told that for groups of ten or more they offered a set menu. They were a bit vague on how compulsory or not the set menu was, and it wasn’t available on their website for us to check out, so I provisionally made the booking and said I’d check with the group and call back if there was any issue with us going with a set menu. Now, as regular readers will know, I’m not a big fan of set menus, and the prospect was even less appealing in a restaurant like Asador where the main attraction is getting to go straight for the grilled stuff, without faffing around with starters or dessert.

So when the week before our night out, I called Asador to reduce our group booking to eight people, I was happy that this would then mean we wouldn’t have to go for a group menu. But, the nice lady informed me that it was actually “groups of eight or more” that now fell under their set menu policy, and not ten as I’d been previously advised. Sigh. I explained that two of the group wouldn’t be eating meat, so therefore a set menu wouldn’t be suitable for them. So after two more phone calls, I received a special dispensation that two people could have the a-la-carte menu, with the rest of us getting the set menu.

Now, I’ll admit to being completely ignorant about the background workings of a restaurant kitchen, but it seemed possibly even more inefficient to me to force six people onto a 3-course set menu (plus the time it takes to serve drinks, teas and coffees) when you are asking them to order and consume it all within a 2-hour window. But I didn’t push it any further, confirmed the booking and we all began looking forward to our night out.

Decor-wise, Asador has made the best of this L-shaped room, which has all but lost its Snap Printing ambience (although that emergency exit is still smack bang in the middle). It’s sleek, bright, and boasts plenty of cream leather and wooden surfaces, as well as the booths from the Mange Tu days.“Theatre is our signature” says the website, but unfortunately our table right inside the door prevented us from seeing any of the theatrics around the grill, as we were overlooking the side of the bar, the table next to us and the restaurant’s waiting area. I had to peer into the kitchen on my way back from the loo (anyone considering a visit would be wise to request a booth or table in the main restaurant area, well away from the front door).

After we’d been seated, there were some rumblings around the table at the fairly limited choice offered by the set menu, which disappointingly for a grill restaurant, had only one steak option on the main course list. I’d been checking out the menu online and loving the sound of the Cote de Bouef for 2 (€55) and the Chargrilled Monkfish (€25), neither of which were featured on the set menu, not surprisingly. And a couple of us really didn’t want to indulge in dessert (I know, I know, our bodies are temples), but there was no 2-course set menu option.

So, I approached the front desk to ask the (admittedly very friendly) hostesses if there was any option for the other six of us to go for the a-la-carte menu, or at the very least if they could offer us an option on the menu which didn’t include dessert, as many restaurants do for set menus or early birds. The hostess said she’d have to go and ask the chef, and went off to the kitchen while I returned to the table, hopeful that we’d be “allowed” to order off the a-la-carte menu without too much fuss.

We were a little gobsmacked to get the very polite response back that unfortunately the chef said we had to stick with the set menu for the rest of the group, and that of course we weren’t obliged to have dessert if we would prefer not to, but it would be the same cost for the set menu without dessert as it was a three course fixed price! Really kind of ridiculous to say “you can pay for dessert and just not eat it,” but at that stage time was ticking on and we were all starving, so we buttoned our lips and made our choices from the set menu.

Thankfully, the experience improved from there once the waiters expertly took over and the wine and food started arriving to the table.

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Clockwise from top left: Winter Berry Mojito, Rib-eye steak with crispy onion rings & green salad (instead of chips), Grilled Seafood Platter (for 2), Banoffee dessert (Photo credit: my lazy iPhone photography).

I loved the potted crab starter with cornichons and sourdough toast (or Hipster Toast as I like to call it), although it was a little tricky to scoop out of its trendy little kilner jar. Other starters around the table included some very sticky barbequed chicken wings and a good Gambas Pil-Pil, served Spanish-style in a terracotta tapas dish. Having come determined to have steak, from the set menu my only option was rib-eye, which is served (as are all Asador’s steaks) with your choice of sauces – I went for their smoked Bearnaise and also sampled some other people’s Cafe de Paris (how retro) and Chimichurri, both freshly made and pretty tasty with the barbequed meat. Strangely enough, my rib-eye didn’t taste particularly barbequed, unlike at my favourite meat joint Hawskmoor in London, where you can properly taste the charcoal off the steak (in a good way), but was a delicious piece of meat nonetheless and came covered in a topping of crispy fried onions.

The Asador burger was superb, and those of us on the set menu spent a large part of the meal looking enviously at the non-meat eaters’ Mixed Seafood Platter (€55 between two) which was a plentiful, fresh, selection of squid, hake, cod, mackerel and prawns, cooked very simply on the grill.

An Argentinian Malbec, Trivento “Tribu” Reserve (about €34), was perfect with our mixed range of dishes, and some really great coffees rounded off our meal after desserts, which we decided we might as well sample if we were paying for. In fairness, they were beautifully crafted, from a ‘deconstructed’ Banoffee to the selection of house ice-creams. Oddly, there are no desserts listed on their website, so I can’t remember the rest.

Finally, the service overall deserves a mention. Our waiter was a total professional and there was an army of smartly-uniformed staff constantly bustling around the restaurant, from the front desk to the bar to the kitchen, which is refreshing to see in a time when many restaurants have stripped their staff numbers down to the bare minimum. There was also an enthusiastic bartender shaking his cocktail-maker for all it was worth most of the evening, and his efforts were not in vain as I would return just for his “Cosmo Winter Berry,” (€11).

So, despite the initial hiccups, we enjoyed the evening at Asador, though did it live up to the dreaded hype?

I’d have to say no – hype is a dangerous thing. I’ll probably go back in a smaller group, to try the more tempting dishes on the menu and maybe sample the cocktails again. Brunch at the weekend also sounds like an interesting option.

Asador, Haddington Road, Dublin 2.

http://www.asador.ie

Set menu about €37 pp for 3 courses plus tea/coffee – check with restaurant before booking as the price isn’t on their website.