Restaurant reviewer: Junior's
2 Bath Avenue Dublin 4
Tel: 01 6643648
I met the brothers who run Junior's a week before going on this review. It was an incidental encounter. We weren't introduced, I just knew who they were, and judging by their reaction when I walked into their café on Bath Avenue, they knew exactly what I was about too.
It begs the question: if reviewers are recognised, does that guarantee them preferential treatment? The answer is a vulgar construct involving the Pope, a catholic, and bears in the woods. In short, yes.
In Junior's case, the wooing began with a ramekin of pimiento stuffed olives, sprinkled with oregano. The Politician's Wife was late and I needed something more than a glass of Viognier to fidget with. Junior's is a wee place that looks full when it's half empty and crammed when it's half full. It has a permanently busy air, not least because all that separates the kitchen from the dining room is a counter top. One brother works the floor, the other chops and cooks like his life depends on it. There is no place to hide.
I've been in restaurants where the staff outnumber the customers by a ratio of 3:1 and still they manage to make a balls of it. Places where the race to the bottom is so competitive, waiters fall over each other to commit ever more astounding feats of incompetence. As Junior's filled up, I was curious to see how two pairs of hands were going to cope. "We're not usually this full on a Monday," Little Brother panted. Big Brother, meanwhile, was in the zone, up to his oxters, fighting off an accidental flambé. A third pair of hands was called in. Thank God. I was starting to break out in a sweat myself.
If wall plaques were awarded for working hard with a smile on your face, Junior's wouldn't be long running out of brickwork. These guys are ambitious and this is reflected in a varied menu that changes daily, depending on what's available and what's in season. Most of the starters were easily assembled: fig, basil and mozzarella salad, an antipasti plate, potted shrimp, and puy lentil soup with crispy duck. Ready-to-run appetisers are a smart move when you need to buy time in a single-handed kitchen.
I kicked off with fried chicken livers with chanterelles on toast. I'm not an avowed liver lover, but these were deliciously dark and savoury, their juiciness soaked into the warm crusty bread, and the chanterelles were firm and full of woody flavour. A crisp salad of lamb's lettuce completed this lovely autumnal dish, very reasonably priced at €9.
The same crusty bread appeared as toast with the potted shrimp. Here it didn't work; thin triangles of Melba toast would have been a more fitting accompaniment for the delicate prawns. I expected the potted shrimp to melt into the bread, instead it sat in a heavy buttery layer on the brittle hunk of toast. The shrimp tasted a little flat, with no discernible spice; a touch of citrus or pepper wouldn't have gone amiss.
By now Junior's was packed. People continued to arrive and were quite happy to be seated outside with woollen blankets provided for warmth. Service didn't falter, our main courses arrived on time. The Politician's Wife had sea bass, roasted whole and served glistening amid a colourful array of roasted vegetables: rosemary potatoes, cherry tomatoes and fennel. The sea bass was fleshy and tasted fresh, despite this being a Monday. It was served with a kicking salsa verde comprising mostly capers, parsley and a good squeeze of lemon juice. Again, this was reasonably priced at €20.
Pork belly, though ubiquitous on Irish menus, is always hit and miss. Certainly if you don't enjoy fatty meat, it's to be avoided. Junior's pork belly was slow cooked and juicy, but the fat certainly outweighed the flesh. It was served with roasted carrots, onions and fennel. In retrospect, I would have preferred to try the clam linguini, or even the sausage with mash and red onion relish, which, with a glass of the house red will set you back a modest 20 quid.
Junior's wine list offers just four reds and four whites, all available by the glass. Presumably this is an attempt to keep fuss to a minimum. Likewise only two desserts were available: baked cheesecake and crème brûlée. The Politician's Wife tried the latter and pronounced it excellent. I had a plate of wonderfully gooey and pungent Carrigbyrne brie with figs, grapes and crackers.
Coffee was good, strong and cheap -- appropriate for these recessionary times. Junior's is a happy place, run by a conscientious pair who want to make a living, not a killing.
Now, that is refreshing. n n TYPICAL DISH: Slow roast pork belly
n RECOMMENDED: Chicken livers and chanterelles on toast
n THE DAMAGE: e101.50 for two starters, two mains, one dessert, cheese plate, six glasses of wine, one coffee
n ON THE STEREO: The Streets
n AT THE TABLE: Locals
n WHAT TO WEAR: A blankie
n DO SAY: Oh brother!
n DON'T SAY: Oh bother!