Refuel: The Chop House * * * * *
1-3 Shelbourne Road, Dublin 4. Telephone: 01 660 678
For every malignant slop-house that closes these days, a refreshing new restaurant opens. And of course reviewers are among the first to pick up on new arrivals, which is why it was disappointing, but not surprising, to find myself seated alongside a fellow critic the night that The Terminal Bachelor and I went to dinner at the as-yet-undiscovered Chop House.
On first impressions, I'd have slapped a suburban carvery label on the place before swiftly crossing the road. My fellow critic agreed, describing the exterior as "ghastly", before telling me in the most urgent and imperative of tones to have the pig on toast. It was "devastating", he said with a swoon.
Apart from the ballontine of suckling pig on toast, the choice of starters included tuna sashimi with quail eggs, radish and pickled cucumber, and oysters served hot -- with curry and mango gratin; or cold -- with vinegar and shallots. For vegetarians there's a blue cheese and poached pear salad, which looks pale and perfunctory alongside a platter of homemade charcuteries.
I sought an explanation of the 'charcuteries' and was told they were, in fact, terrines, their preparation was related in chef-speak, ie with great passion and in meticulous detail. It didn't take long to establish that our server was the owner, chef Kevin Arundel, who has hooked up with Conor Dempsey from Dax, to open The Chop House -- a neighbourhood gastropub, where the focus is on the cooking.
The suckling pig was extraordinarily good, the pork came away in thick tender strands and was stuffed with chicken and spicy black pudding. There was a tartare sauce-style remoulade with finely diced pickles and a long shard of toasted sourdough. It was a magnificent ensemble. The Terminal Bachelor ordered a pistou-based seafood soup -- a rich medley of mussels and seared baby squid, infused with basil and garlic in a silky emulsion. Again, a stunner.
A word about wine: the list is short and the longer you look at it, the less choice it seems to offer. For example: three out of seven whites are Sauvignon Blanc. I started off with the Pichon Chardonnay, which I found slightly cloying, so I switched to Pinot Grigio, although I would have preferred the Chablis, which isn't available by the glass.
And so to the main-course menu. Apart from the steak, all options are priced between €14.50 (beef cheek pie with pearl onions, mushrooms, lardons and mashed potatoes) and €18.50 (hake with red cabbage fondue, baby leeks and fondant potato). Also in the mix are roast chicken à la vinaigrette, a 10oz rib-eye served with Bearnaise and beer-battered cod -- the latter two served with chips.
The roast hake was a walloping great chunk of fish -- supple and translucent, with a lightly charred finish. I wasn't sure what to make of the red cabbage, which was distinctly flavoured with cinnamon. I bravely tried it with the fish and had to concede it was an unexpected stroke of genius. Baby leeks were cooked à point and the potato fondant was suitably buttery and firm.
'Slow Roast Belly of Old Spotted Pig', was evidently a confit, with crisp crackling outside and a melting fatty texture inside. It had the look and taste of a thing that was days in the making. Mr Arundel, no doubt, would have given us a blow-by-blow account, had we cared to hear it.
Still, there's a lot to be said for expert guidance, I've never been so thankful for a dessert recommendation. Short of spooning the lemon tart into your open hungry beak, I do not have the faculty to impart its deliciousness to you. Chocolate fondant -- with Valrhona -- was bloody incredible too.
If ever there was a restaurant not to be judged by its cover, this is it. I worry for the service when Arundel's not around, and Mercy, Mercy, Me, but the 80s music grates. Yet, I'd eat my hat -- and swallow the buckle whole -- for the first person in town to find me better cooking at this price.
TYPICAL DISH: Platter of homemade charcuteries
RECOMMENDED:Ballontine of suckling pig
THE DAMAGE: €114.00 for two starters, two mains, two desserts and eight glasses of wine
ON THE STEREO: 80s rock
AT THE TABLE: Local foodies
WHAT TO WEAR: Hugo Boss
DO SAY: Chop-chop
DON’T SAY: Clip-clop