Refuel: Dillingers * * * *
47 Ranelagh Road, Dublin 6. Telephone: 01 4978010
On the eighth day of Christmas I went for dinner to Dillingers with The Teamster. I didn't recognise him at first because he'd shaved off his trademark beard. It was probably a bit too "ho-ho-ho" for this, his winter of discontent.
As we sat at the bar waiting for a table, he mumbled about what an appalling year it had been. Then, from beneath his nimbus of gloom, he braced himself for "yet another annus horribilis". Making a rather awkward segue to food, I asked if we might be forced to eat our young. He looked at me blankly, then smiled and said: didn't this used to be a Michelin-starred restaurant?
He was, of course, referring to Mint. The Teamster, mind, had never eaten there because Mint, he noted, was for "fat cats". Dillingers, however, he seemed to initially approve of, not least because the name sparked a debate on blue vs white collar crime.
The Teamster proceeded to labour over every detail of the menu. What's the difference between a plate and a grill? he asked. It's like semantic and pedantic, I replied. Was he going to be like this all evening? Or just until he made it clear that he would not be eating produce imported from countries where all trade is unfair trade? He declared himself a great believer in Irish food, for Irish people -- and Irish jobs. Thus he avoided all the foreign-sounding grub on the menu: New England crabcakes, Manhattan clam chowder, nachos Texan-style. Even the Italians -- veal Parmigiana and canelloni -- were blackballed.
I found the menu fun and interesting. There's the casual: Caesar salad with chicken and a cheeseburger with bacon and fries. There are classics: rib-eye steak with herb butter and linguine with clams. And then there's the kitsch: corndogs -- ie, battered frankfurters served with melted cheese and sauerkraut. I'm not that enamoured with Americana, so I went with the next best thing: devilled eggs, which for the uninitiated are what the Yanks call egg mayonnaise -- but with a twist, since the yolks are removed, mashed with mayonnaise (and sometimes other stuff) and returned to the whites.
At Dillingers, there was minimal interference with the yolks, the dressing was creamy but tangy, there were swathes of top grade Parma ham, and some al dente spears of asparagus with Hollandaise. Though initially shocked by the generosity of the portion, my greediness, encouraged by so much deliciousness, managed to clear the plate. But oh, it was left in the ha'penny place by the Teamster's warm pork belly salad. I've a fraught relationship with pork belly and would never trust it in a salad, but gracious if this wasn't the finest and most surprising sweet, succulent and crispy delight of a thing. And that was just the meat. The accompanying crunchy French beans in chilli, soya and sesame dressing were a delight. Who knew such pleasure was to be had for €7 in Ranelagh?
The Teamster could not praise it highly enough. But then his main course -- slowed cooked rib of beef -- further upped the ante by being fall-off-the-bone, melt-in-the-mouth delicious. Caramelised, with proper deep earthy flavour, it came with lots of lovely smooth mashed potato to soak up the dark, treacly gravy. He ordered another glass of the most expensive house wine to celebrate.
A word about wine: the house list is all Italian, well chosen and reasonably priced. I saw no reason to go beyond it. The Teamster drank Chianti, while I supped a highly drinkable Soave that cost €5.50 a glass. It suited the evening special -- roast turbot with braised baby gem hearts and potatoes. The fish sparkled with freshness and the lettuce worked well.
Even meals this remarkable have their relative low points. Dessert was horrid tiramisu and sludgy apple sorbet that I am this instant erasing from my memory bank. Gone. Now, where were we? Ah, yes Dillingers ... good concept, great food, Brooklyn lager, and an excellent start to 2010. They don't take reservations, so I suggest you get in line.
TYPICAL DISH: New England crab cakes
RECOMMENDED: Pork belly salad
THE DAMAGE: €113.00 for two starters, two mains, two desserts, one aperitif and six glasses of wine
ON THE STEREO: Blues
AT THE TABLE: Cut-price senior counsels
WHAT TO WEAR: A crombie
DO SAY: Public enemy
DON’TSAY: Public service