Refuel: Locks *
Brasserie, Portobello, D8.
Locks is the closest restaurant to my house -- and I have a curtain-twitching curiosity about what goes on there. I've lost count of how many times I've seen it close, be renovated and reopen.
Last year, just when it appeared to be in the ascendant, I opened the paper and read that an examiner had been appointed. The owners had apparently overextended themselves in renovating the premises and, even though the punters were coming, Locks was facing closure. Death by credit freeze -- another casualty of the recession.
No sooner had the shutters come down on Locks, but they sprung up again. Impressed as I was by the restaurant's refusal to go gently into the good night, I wondered who was foolhardy enough to attempt a resurrection. It all made sense when I heard it was being taken over by Pearl Brasserie, a place that grafted quietly during the boom and came out the other side with a solid reputation for high-class grub and hands-on hospitality.
When The Drama Queen and I visited, the place was crammed with a who's who of food nerds -- including other restaurateurs -- paying their respects.
The Drama Queen was more interested in a piece of salacious gossip I'd been keeping under wraps, but amid all the eavesdropping and eyeballing, it was impossible to impart. So we got stuck into some gorgeous crusty bread smothered in cool, creamy butter, and took to reading the menu. The choice of starter included white onion soup, seared tuna with avocado and pickled cucumber, and monkfish cheek with daube of beef, cress and foie gras sauce, steeply priced at €15.50.
The Drama Queen kicked off with a baby gem salad, which turned out to be less than the sum of its parts -- due to a dressing that was miserly and bland. A pity, given that the lettuce was sweet and crisp, the duck was lean and gamey, and the poached egg was, to my mind, perfectly timed. The Drama Queen's verdict was "could have done better myself".
I'd happily have swapped places with her. It was Halloween and, feeling festive, I gambled on the squash risotto. It was horribly reminiscent of jarred baby food: soupy, gloopy rice in sickly sweet orange liquid that leaves a greasy slick down the middle of your tongue. The addition of sage and a mysteriously impotent gremolata did nothing to cut through the sloppiness. Three large gulps of wine had a more cleansing effect.
On that note, we were ordering wine by the glass and it seemed to me our waitress could have ably extracted seven glasses per bottle. Aside from meanness, there was no consistency in the pour; at one point The Drama Queen had already taken two or three sips from her glass of Olivier Depardon Morgon, but when I was poured a fresh glass of Chardonnay I had less than her.
But let us move discontentedly on to the main course, where the choice included partridge served with ceps purée, and a seasonal-sounding chestnut gnocchi. The Drama Queen played it safe with a Donald Russell ribeye. A sumptuous beast of a steak, it was gorgeously caramelised, with a perfect, pink, fleshy interior that oozed rich, red juices. Nicely chewy and woody girolles weren't quite warm enough and the golden fries were skinny, yet pillowy. But The Drama Queen's face puckered at the accompanying jus, which she insisted tasted like cold Bisto gravy.
The greatest disappointment, however, came with my main course of scallops, served with baby leeks and a dark, sticky bisque emulsion, which was barely tepid, bitter to the point of being acrid and brought me back to my life as a Kiwi bride, when Vegemite on toast was the breakfast de rigeur. I tried to ignore it and make the most of the scallops, which were beautiful to look at, but again were cold.
We did, however, enjoy a moment of catharsis when our shared dessert -- chocolate fondant with pistachio ice-cream and raspberries -- hit all the right notes. It was a rich and spectacular finale to what was a dismal performance by one of the city's brightest culinary stars.
TYPICAL DISH: Scallops, brandade and baby leeks
RECOMMENDED: Chocolate fondant
THE DAMAGE: €136.50 for two starters, two mains, two sides, one dessert and six glasses of wine
ON THE STEREO: Bobby McFerrin
AT THE TABLE: Foodies