Refuel: Maia * * *
47 Shelbourne Road, Ballsbridge, Dublin 4
Rule number one of restaurant reviewing: don't make friends with your subject. Sooner or later, the axe will fall and never mind the blood-splattered wall, the wounded look of misplaced trust will chill you to the bone. I'm not friends with the people I review, and the ones I know by default go down on a to-do list for the lucky sod who replaces me when I'm away.
Rule number two of restaurant reviewing: make sure the person you bring on review isn't friends with your subject. I couldn't be clearer about this. It's up there on the confidentiality agreement I make them sign. The Terminal Bachelor has been doing this gig with me for long enough to know the score. But now I see that he's a bit too familiar with it. Last week he openly flouted rule number two -- putting my patience and our friendship to the test.
To make matters worse, he tried to pull a Judas when he was greeted in Maia with a vigorous, half-a-minute handshake. I don't actually know that guy, he lied. But you called each other by name, I said. This, he claimed, was a lucky guess. The owner's name is Sasha. They're a dime a dozen -- men called Sasha. I kept a watchful eye on the pair of them for the rest of the night, and though Sasha seemed well-acquainted with the Terminal Bachelor, he didn't appear to know, or unduly care, who I was.
The menu at Maia covers all bases: chowder, chicken wings and prawn pil pil to start, followed by roast chicken, fish and chips, steak, a burger and a couple of pasta dishes. Under these circumstances, it suited fine to play the "whatever you recommend yourself" card. If Sasha was to be strung up, he might as well be hung by a rope of his own choosing.
He recommended the goat cheese tartlet, confessing it was something he wouldn't normally order himself, but, modesty aside, he believed Maia's goat cheese tart to be exceptional. I'd never had an exceptional goat cheese tart. And I still haven't. It was more like goat cheese on toast, with poached pear and lots of red onion -- caramelised to the point of being jammy -- a cluster of crisp rocket and, of course, the creamy, pungent chèvre, which was quality stuff. I wouldn't have called it exceptional, but it was tasty and well turned out.
I was quite taken by the recommended wine -- a Malvasia from the Peligna Valley in Abruzzo that was young and fresh with just a suggestion of pear. It matched the goat cheese perfectly and made a very good impression on the Bachelor's starter, also. He opted for scallops, which were halved, seared golden and glistening on the outside, and soft and buttery inside. Now we were heading in the direction of exception. They came with Clonakilty black pudding, which had been puréed and piped into a spicy paste that performed magnificently with the scallops.
We shared a bottle of Rioja with our main course, again it was an excellent suggestion. A medium-bodied Tempranillo that went down easy with my paella. It was decent and authentic, packed with mussels, clams, squid and langoustine, and chorizo added a smokey base. The rice soaked up all the richness without becoming sodden. It was a great big comfort of a dish.
The Bachelor's rib-eye was a darker shade of pink, but was not entirely spoiled. He took umbrage at this "criticism", and defensively refused to let me have a taste. Instead, he passed me a bundle of asparagus spears, wrapped in Parma and impaled on the prongs of his fork. A bad move, for the asparagus was tasteless, or at best overpowered by the salty ham. The potato gratin, on the other hand, was quite delicious.
For dessert, we shared tiramisu and any misgivings I had were smothered by cream.
Maia isn't breaking new ground, but the chef is solid, and the owner's presence ensures attention to detail: good service, pleasant music, clean tables. They sell takeout coffee and proper panini from an adjoining deli at lunchtime. I'm thinking Herbert Park on a sunny day ... we can but dream, dear reader.
TYPICAL DISH: Prawn pil pil
THE DAMAGE: €108.95 for two starters, two mains, one dessert, two glasses and one bottle of wine, one coffee
ON THE STEREO: Bjork
AT THE TABLE: Locals
WHAT TO WEAR: A Leinster jersey
DO SAY: Strictly business...
DON’T SAY: Let’s be friends