Enthusiasm

Rating Dublin: “A bright-eyed enthusiasm” – restaurant review | Food

Note Dublin, 26 Fenian Street, Dublin D02 FX09. Snacks and small plates €4-13, large plates €17-32, desserts €7-9, wines from €30

One of the things I love about restaurants is the ability to choose things: not just where or when you’re going to visit, but what things you’re going to eat once you’re there. Early in my search to find the place in Dublin that captures what’s going on there right now, to ride the buttery crest wave of culinary news, I realized that my expectations had to be managed. Blimey, Dublin’s restaurant scene is complicated.

My inquiries to local friends for vital intelligence revealed two things. First, you might be able to choose where you go, but your choices might end there. That’s because tasting menus are so trendy right now. It’s all long lists of snacks and fancy, tuna crudo, sea buckthorn koshu, and rare-breed pork with grilled leek, black walnut, and komatsuna. And ouch, the prices, says the seasoned Londoner. At Liath, it’s €180 per person. At Forest Avenue, it’s €98. At Allta it’s 95€. There’s Variety Jones at €80 and Mae at just €68. Bastible, the last place I saw in Dublin, has also ditched its a la carte option in favor of tasting menus (€75). Obviously, in times of staff shortages, tasting menus are easier to manage for the kitchens. They can also be perfect for dinner parties if you fancy a special occasion full of glitz and waiter rubbing. But what if you don’t want 14 balanced, yet surprisingly stiff courses? What if you just want, you know, dinner?

“Both crispy and soft”: pig’s ear. Photography: Laurence McMahon/The Observer

The second point is that you need to plan ahead. A month later, almost everything was complete. Lisa Cope edits allthefood.ie and is one of the most knowledgeable people in town. “There aren’t enough good restaurants for the people who want to visit them,” she told me. “So the same 30 are constantly booked weeks in advance.” The big ticket to Dublin is Chapter One, now led by chef Mickael Viljanen. It’s really hot, with reservations only opening two months in advance. At 9:29 a.m. on the appointed day, I was standing there with athletic fingers, toned from 35 years of high-altitude professional typing, ready to go. I still couldn’t get a fucking table. (Under a pseudonym, of course. I’m sure the name “George Clooney” is great cover.) They were all gone in 45 seconds. I was put on the waiting list. And now I’m just whining.

Two days before my trip to Dublin, Mr. Clooney (no, not really) received a call from Chapter One, offering him a table. But by then I had landed a spot at Note, a new wine bar and brasserie. In truth, my heart really wasn’t in the whole performative tasting menu thing. I am very happy to have found my way to Note. This is indeed the answer to “Where should I eat in Dublin right now?” Note is a vibrant and eclectic wine bar where much of the cooking is both daring and satisfying. On a summer evening, the uncluttered corner of a dining room is flooded with light, and there is a bubble of (self)satisfied chatter; the feeling that you have found your way to the right place. It’s the kind of ineffably cool joint where they can serve some of the food in some really terrible floral plates, the kind your funny-smelling aunt saved for the best in 1973. And yet, it makes sense. Then again, when the dark design is hidden by a mess of gribiche sauce piled high with crispy yet chewy deep-fried salted pork ear shards, who cares what you find when you get down to the frosting?

'Sponge-sodden with the best Irish butter': toast with anchovies.
‘Sponge-sodden with the best Irish butter’: toast with anchovies. Photography: Laurence McMahon/The Observer

The booze is overseen by Katie Seward who has worked at various locations including Brawn in London. See how these reviews all come together? That means we have to be mindful of the risk of honking, “natural” barnyard wines with the ripe flavor of festering bums. I express my terror to Seward who sees us clearly: a dry and luminous rosé, the pleasant color of the cough mixture is followed by a lively white from Piedmont. As always in Dublin, prepare to have your eyes watering and your wallet tightening, thanks to punitive taxes. There is nothing under €30 and very little under €40. Ours was €58 which is apparently pretty standard for a restaurant in Dublin.

Alongside these pig’s ears we have anchovy toast, the spongy bread soaked in the finest Irish butter and speckled with green herbs, in which the anchovies have crumbled. From the (highly priced) list of larger dishes come beautifully pink slices of lamb, with asparagus, freshly shelled peas and a clear, lip-smacking broth. Pork cheek domes, braised until ready to crumble with a fork, pair with the sweetness of long-roasted onion and the bitterness of endive. A massive flower of head lettuce is generously dipped in a savory vinaigrette.

“Sweetness, bitterness”: roasted onion and endive.
“Sweetness, bitterness”: roasted onion and endive. Photography: Laurence McMahon/The Observer

Was everything perfect? Well no. The €32 price for the lamb dish is a kidney sale price, but in a weird way now it didn’t seem completely absurd. The €13 charged for a disappointing tomato salad in a chilled cucumber broth massively lacking in acidity, really did it. And then there is the small problem of all the dishes we ordered to arrive at the table. Or not. While the people who served us were utterly lovely and languidly beautiful, a notebook and pen might have helped with the basics of the job. I push the absent anchovy toast when mains start to arrive. It turns out that the order was not placed. It would have been a shame to miss it. The stone sea bass ceviche with lime, oregano and jalapeño sounded delicious. Maybe it was. We never found out because that order never found its way back to the kitchen, let alone.

“Disappointing”: tomato salad.
“Disappointing”: tomato salad. Photography: Laurence McMahon/The Observer

Restaurants in Dublin, like those elsewhere, are struggling to recruit staff. For most of recent times, talented chef Essa Fakhry has worked with only one other person. This may explain why the dessert is either an affogato – a scoop of ice cream with a sip of sweet espresso thrown over it – or a chocolate mousse with cherries and a landslide of cherry mousse. These are, as is too often the case right now, things that read like thoughtful desserts without necessarily being thoughtful desserts. But while the gritty bits of the experience need to be saved, I still really liked Note. He has a bright-eyed enthusiasm that is contagious. They want you to have a good time. Accordingly, we did.

News

Restaurateur George Pell, one of the owners of London’s famous L’Escargot, is to launch a new restaurant in August in Aldeburgh on the Suffolk coast. The launch of The Suffolk follows a successful pop-up from L’Escargot Sur-Mer over the past two years. The restored 17th century inn will house a 60-seat restaurant, a rooftop terrace and (possibly) six bedrooms. The opening menu includes fried oyster sandwiches, lobster sliders, an Arnold Bennett omelette and roasted scampi with aioli (le-suffolk.co.uk).

Akwasi Brenya-Mensa, the restaurateur behind the upcoming Tatale, a pan-African restaurant set to open later this year at the Africa Center in London’s Covent Garden, has announced a crowdfunding campaign. He is aiming to raise £50,000, not just for the start-up costs of the new restaurant, but also to fund ‘further concepts that celebrate black and diaspora identities’ and ‘expand the reach of African cuisines’. Those who help fund the project will be offered a selection of rewards, including vouchers for Tatale and cooking lessons. Get more information about the crowdfunder here.

Growing chain Honest Burger is to end its six-month ‘V Honest’ experiment, in which a standard branch near London’s Leicester Square has gone fully vegan with the promise of an ‘innovative and entirely new menu of burgers’ , sauces and herbal accompaniments”. . This month it will return to serve the meaty burgers it is known for, along with a shorter selection of vegetarian and vegan options (Honestburgers.co.uk).

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