Wednesday 20 September 2017

Refuel: Rustic Stone * * *

17 South Great Georges Street, D2. Tel: 017079596

17 South Great Georges Street, D2. Tel: 017079596
17 South Great Georges Street, D2. Tel: 017079596

Aingeala Flannery

The menu at Rustic Stone is a beast of a thing -- onerous to read and impossible to steal. But somehow I managed both. The theft was thrilling. What if I was caught?

Would Dylan McGrath himself be summoned to discipline me? Would he bawl me out? Would he kick me out? The old Dylan -- whose reign of terror at Mint was well-documented -- would. My backside would have felt the full force of his shoe leather as it hit the ground in a hail of thundering expletives.

That was then, this is now. And now there's a new Dylan McGrath. A kind and wholesome soul, humbled by the experience of having won it all and lost in all in the space of a year. Rustic Stone is McGrath's resurrection. It's been met with curiosity, cynicism and a giant scoop of schadenfreude. It's the Irish way -- don't kick a man when he's down, wait until he's trying to get back up.

McGrath gets the boot in before his detractors. On a menu punctuated with commentary from the chef, he toys with his reputation for grumpiness. If you don't like my shouting, you can cook it yourself ... he says, by way of introducing the concept of searing your own steak on a hot stone. This is Rustic Stone's big idea -- and I wasn't gone on it. If I want to cook my own steak, I'll go to a butcher, not a restaurant.

Deciphering the various symbols on the menu was also a pain -- an unnecessary palaver involving coloured dots and dietary codes: GF, SF, DF, WF, LF, S and V. At best this is passé, and at worst it fails to recognise that people have gone back to viewing restaurants as an indulgence, so lash in butter, salt and sugar and don't, don't, don't, remind me how bad I'm being.

Ui Rathaile was getting impatient. "Can we get on with it?" he growled. "I'd eat the stone, never mind the bloody steak." I told him I was hungry for a bit of the old Mint magic, so we'd be dabbling in as many of the menu's eight sections as possible. He grunted, told the waitress he'd be having steak on the stone, and directed her to me for further instruction.

I kicked off with a couple of dishes from the part of the menu headlined "bites". In search of some vintage McGrath, I ordered salmon tempura: two chunks of fish bound in a crispy seaweed skin. The salty nori drew the sweet oily flavour of the fish to the fore. Broccoli added bulk and crunch, while slivers of minted cucumber and creamy yogurt added delicacy. Stylish presentation sealed the triumph.

My next foray into the finger-food section yielded a trio of duck 'n' beef sandwiches. "No bread here!" said the menu in a smarmy holier-than-thou tone, which I could have forgiven except the lo-carb goat cheese completely overpowered both the salt-cured beef and the citrus-scented duck.

A platter of salad hearts filled with dollops, dips and chutneys failed to excite. Some of the fillings -- tzatziki and babaganoush specifically -- tasted pretty good, but the pageant of chutneys had no business hanging out with lettuce.

I ordered the Superfood Salad next, which came with no less than six dietary dots. It was LF, WF, GF, DF, V and S. It was also painfully dull, relying on salt for flavour.

And so to the stone ... and the biggest surprise of the night. I loved it! The beef fillet was exceptional, velvet in texture, deeply flavoursome, it arrived rare and sizzling on the stone and Ui Rathaile transferred it to his plate, where he got into a system of slicing and searing that was quite awesome to behold. The frothy chervil and tarragon hollandaise was a revelation and I adored the woody mushrooms. Bloody hell, was McGrath going to pull it out of the bag in the end? A bowl of OMG HI-GLY chips with truffle and Parmesan mayonnaise made sure he did.

Dessert -- a blueberry knickerbocker glory was so bloody self-righteous, we had to wash our mouths out with a Venus in Furs cocktail. Nothing like a bit of S&M to lower the tone.

I'm all for taking risks, but McGrath needs to knock this health-freak thing on the head. Either that, or open a gym.

TYPICAL DISH: Steak

RECOMMENDED: Beef fillet

THEDAMAGE: €132.85 for two bites, one starter, two mains, one dessert, one cocktail, eight glasses of wine

ON THE STEREO: Jazz

AT THE TABLE: Curious foodies

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