Refuel: The butcher grill ****
92 Ranelagh Village, Dublin.
As you may have noticed, I've been missing for a number of weeks. I'm not going to whine about it, except to say that after 21 days gagged and bound, I managed to escape from captivity and raise the alarm.
Perhaps I should have stayed in the cellar. Freedom, it transpires, is relative, and certainly not all it's cracked up to be. In my absence, the IMF took over the running of the country, and fripperies such as dining out -- along with shopping trips to New York -- have been consigned to the annals of ancient consumer history. I subsequently learned that nobody could afford to pay the ransom.
I have also learned that there is still money out there -- and most of it is stashed in Ranelagh. I know this because when I called The Butcher Grill to make a booking, there wasn't a table to be had. I elbowed my way to the top of the cancellation list with a combination of begging, pleading and thinly veiled threats.
And, sure enough, with some help from my cold-blooded accomplices Jack Frost and The Abominable Snowman, a couple of reservation-holders were dispensed with, and myself and The Cartoonist were furnished with two stools at the bar for 9pm.
Since the arrival of the IMF, it's safe to say that the have-nots, have-nothings and the haves merely have less. In the case of the latter, they are discerning and rightly picky about how and where they share their wealth. The Butcher Grill, for them, is a safe bet. Although it's only open a month, it has, like its neighbouring sister restaurant, Dillinger's, hit the ground like Usain Bolt. And that can be largely put down to a team of staff who perform their individual roles with joy and ease, under the direction of restaurant stalwart John Farrell.
It's a wee place -- an erstwhile butcher's (hence the name), and more recently a burrito bar (no need to mention that) that's been stylishly refitted with New York-style subway tiles, a zinc bar, and a conversation-piece soap dispenser that was sourced in the Marais. Such coolness comes at a cost -- more about that later. But first to the grub ...
While Dillinger's has enlisted veggie icon Dennis Cotter to draw up a posh meat-free menu, The Butcher Grill makes no such concessions. Unless you eat fish, the menu is uncompromisingly carnivorous. There's a similar approach to children -- they're welcome during brunch and lunch -- but "will be grilled after 6pm".
Yes, yes, the menu. Starters include oysters, au naturel with red wine vinegar, or baked with spinach, butter and breadcrumbs -- AKA Rockefeller. There's also seared scallops with suckling pig belly or beef carpaccio with goat's curd and beetroot. The special starter was chicken noodle soup. The Cartoonist opted for a robust gamey terrine with wild rabbit and ham hock, that was loosely bound with foie gras. It was shamelessly luxurious, heart-stopping hunter food. The intense meatiness was counterbalanced by a punchy celeriac wholegrain mustard. Stellar winter stuff.
I got my first taste of the wood-smoked grill on a skewer of six fat gambas, with a glistening pink complexion, that were sweet and moist and just bloody gorgeous. No need for fuss, just a squeeze of lemon, and ruddy smooth Romesco sauce for dipping -- a whisper of smoke, a hint of nut and a glug of oil -- perfection.
I moved on to the Donald Russell ribeye. I'd a feral pang for red meat, and this, cooked precisely medium rare, had a wonderfully caramelised crust and was all juice and flavour inside. Animals shouldn't die in vain, and this creature was given the send off it deserved. Chips were skinny and crispy, roasted fat bulbs of shallot were sweet and delicious.
From the remaining choice of mains, which included a veal striploin, baby back ribs, and an oxtail hotpot, The Cartoonist chose fish. A pristine fillet of halibut with a golden crest that came away in thick petals. Fresh and meaty, a delicate lemon shrimp butter coaxed all the flavour from the fish and added a shot of zest to the crunchy side of green beans. Out of curiosity, we tried a side of smoky black-eyed beans, which were, I thought, slightly undercooked, not exactly complementary to the fish, but well-suited to the hungry weather nonetheless.
Wine is a big feature -- Farrell has a longstanding love affair with Italian wines -- and has chosen and labelled the house wine as Bovine I, II, and III. We had a bottle of Bovine I, a fruity, easy drinker and a few glasses of Falanghina in between. While I got the lowdown on the wine, the Cartoonist sneaked coffee and dessert -- a panacotta with red berries, or so I deduced from the scant evidence left on his plate.
It was a joy to forget about the weather and the recession for a couple of hours in this cosy, buzzing place. It ain't cheap, but it is top-notch grub -- if you can afford it. And if you can't, I'm happy to do it for you. We all must eat, albeit vicariously.
TYPICAL DISH: Steak
THE DAMAGE: €132.50 for two starters, two mains, one dessert, one side, one coffee, one bottle and four glasses of wine
ON THE STEREO:The Smiths
AT THE TABLE: The top 4pc of earners