Refuel: The Restaurant
3RD FLOOR, BROWN THOMAS, GRAFTON STREET, DUBLIN 2.
The Posh Blonde has a Brown Thomas loyalty card. I'm sure lots of posh blondes have them, but I knew that my Posh Blonde owned one when I was paying our bill in its third-floor restaurant and she plucked it from her purse with a dexterity that would leave Wild Bill Hickok in the dust. Aware of my data-protection issues, she sprang to her defence. Everybody does it, she snapped, unfurling a strip of plastic.
Just because "everybody does it" doesn't make it right. Yeah, yeah, she replies, but can I have your points anyway? I decide to make it my random act of kindness for the day, but I feel compromised.
If my butcher wants to show his appreciation for my custom, he throws me a couple of free chops. With no song and dance. The same applies to restaurants -- if you're a regular, you should be greeted with a complimentary glass of Prosecco, or gifted the occasional dessert. It's a small gesture, which makes a big impact.
Loyalty card aside, we're lucky to be in Brown Thomas at all. I don't like eating in department stores, or any place where you can't see the exit. But for BT, I'm willing to make an exception -- but only because The Restaurant is run by Peaches and Domini Kemp, a sisterhood of smart, industrious foodies. In short, they "give a shit" -- an ethos you won't see reprinted on the menu.
No, no, it's all very polite. Waiters are experts in how to mollify Foxrock fannies and the rural well-to-do, who shield themselves from recessionary gloom by refusing to leave this hallowed ground. You could while away an entire afternoon in The Restaurant and it would cost you less than a pair of Wolford tights. The menu is full of stuff you might even try to make yourself: soy-and-ginger-glazed salmon; eggs Benedict, chowder.
Other than soup, there's not much in the way of starters, but the kitchen was obliging and allowed the Posh Blonde and I to share a chicken Caesar salad, which they served in two bowls. We were impressed -- typically when you ask to share a salad, requesting an extra plate is treated like an imposition. It was a substantial affair, as you'd expect for €15.50: the chicken was moist and voluptuous; the Parmesan was coarse, nutty and plentiful; the baby cos leaves were coated in a dressing that failed to divulge even a hint of anchovy. That salty function fell to the tiny pieces of pancetta that flecked the bowl, while mixed pumpkin and sunflower seeds added a toasty flavour and crunch to what was an enjoyable dish.
Fishcakes were priced like a main course (€13.90), but looked like a starter. Just two small patties, mostly golden, but occasionally charred, they had a crisp exterior and a moist interior, comprising mostly undyed haddock, which was subtle and smoky, and accompanied by occasional cubes of potato. They were small, but delicious, and came with creamy caper-and-lemon dressing and salad leaves cut with chives, parsley and dill.
Compared to the fishcakes, the burger was a colossus. A giant bap, topped with a slab of meat that looked, and was, over-cooked. Yes, you have to be careful with mince, but incineration is destruction, not precaution. All the juice and flavour had been scorched out of the beef, which was a pity because the supporting cast didn't miss a beat: squiggles of crispy onion; roasted cherry tomatoes, splitting with sweet juices; good bacon; melting cheese; and excellent chips with their skins partially intact. This could be the best burger in town -- if it wasn't for the burger.
Draining our wine glasses -- a buttery, unoaked Aussie Chardonnay for me and a steely French Sauvignon Blanc pour le Blonde -- we shared a slice of lemon tart for dessert. It was by no means the richest or most acerbic tart in BT that afternoon, but it was respectable. And the coffee was okay.
On balance, The Restaurant at BT is reasonably priced, the service is excellent, and the cooking straightforward and competent. If it wasn't in a department store, and if there weren't so many causes more deserving of my loyalty, I'd be more inclined to eat there.