Eating out: Brothers in charms
In the run-up to Christmas I try my best to avoid being in restaurants. That's because of my long-held belief that restaurants packed to capacity rarely perform at their best. But there are times when necessity dominates and this year, try as I did not to, I still had a couple of days in the city centre
Wicklow House, George's Street, Dublin 2. Tel (01) 677 8777
The first of these forays was to meet with the Travel Department, the travel operators who organise accompanied trips. I'll be doing a couple of foodie trips this year with them and we met for lunch to talk about our plans -- Brendan, Roisin and me.
I'd heard some good things about Pitt Brothers, a new restaurant in Georges Street that does barbecued meats. It's an American barbecue, and I'll tell you right now, the portions are also American in that they're positively enormous. If you should go here, do try to arrive with as much appetite as you can.
The lower end of Georges Street, the end near Dame Street, now seems to be restaurant central. Almost every second outlet is a restaurant, and just when I thought there was room for no more, along came Pitt Brothers. Inside, it's all shabby chic. The tables and chairs are canteen-style, the ceiling is covered with wooden palettes, the cutlery is in tin cans and napkins can be found in the shape of a roll of kitchen paper. I'll admit that this last idea made me feel instantly at home, because kitchen roll is what I use for napkins.
We got a table next to the ice-cream machine, and after a bit we realised how it worked. After your meal you can help yourself to an ice-cream cone, which looked like a great idea. Certainly, the people who walked away with a cone all had smiles on their faces.
Between the dining area and the kitchen there's a counter, and the front side of it has stacked hardwood logs, beech, apple and hickory, which are used for the cooking and smoking of the meats. What sets the Pitt Brothers offering apart from your average barbecued meats are the dry rubs and marinades that flavour the meat prior to smoking and cooking.
All the meats are sourced from FX Buckley, and none of the meat is factory-farmed, which in my view is a big plus.
The menu is a very simple bill of fare. On one side it lists pulled pork, brisket, ribs, sausage or half-a-chicken. These vary in price from €12.95 to €13.95 and that price includes two side orders. The side orders available are fries, slaw, onion rings, bone marrow mash, burnt end beans, mac 'n' cheese, corn on the cob and a mixed tomato salad.
Between the three of us we ordered the pulled pork, the brisket and the ribs. The sides that we ordered were fries, onion rings, mixed salad, slaw and bone marrow mash. When this all arrived at the table we all had much the same thought -- how are we ever going to eat all of this? These were truly trencherman portions, taking the idea of generous platefuls to a whole new level.
Let's be clear here: I'm not saying that barbecued meat is high-end gastronomy, it's not; but when the quality of the meat is good, when it's well flavoured and well cooked, and when it's more than you can eat for €12.95, then I'm impressed by the offering.
Of the meats at our table I particularly liked the pulled pork, although the ribs came a close second. I'd ordered the ribs and I was able to finish just one rack, though there were two on my plate. The bone marrow mash was definitely a winner -- I suspect much of the repeat business of Pitt Brothers is down to the mash. It's the sort of dish that once tasted won't be forgotten.
As for drinks, there was a good choice of artisan beers, but we all ended up drinking sparkling water or homemade lemonade, both of which were charged at €1.50. Naturally, when we'd finished eating as much as we could we got ourselves a cone each, which finished the meal very nicely.
Our bill was a fraction over €40, which seems to me extraordinary value. I'll definitely be going back to Pitt Brothers.
10/10 value for money
4 St Andrew Street, Dublin 2
Tel (01) 677 5545
Another night, Marian and I had been to an art exhibition by Lucy Doyle, and when it was over we took a walk to find a meal. We were walking down Suffolk Street and knew that just around the corner we'd find the Trocadero, which I haven't been into for a long while. We were in luck and got the last available table after a short wait at the bar.
There's something endearing about the decor in the Trocadero: it's all mirrors and chintz and then there are the faces of the theatre's great performers on the wall. There's a bit of fun trying to name them all as you pass them by.
And then there's maitre d' Robert Doggett, who has all the panache and elan of the best front of house men. If that man can't make you feel at ease and happy, you shouldn't be going out.
We started with a half portion of their "famous cannelloni" for Marian and a chicken liver pate for me. The cannelloni are normally served as a main course, but Marian was eating Italian-style, with pasta as a first course. I thought the cannelloni were surprisingly good, very close to what you'd get in Italy.
For mains Marian had chosen rack of lamb and I'd chosen the wild mushroom risotto. The lamb was really good, tender and nicely flavoured, but I felt that my dish might have been better described as a pea risotto, though there were a few mushrooms on the top of the dish. Still, however you'd describe it, I ate it all happily enough.
A chocolate slice between us finished the meal, which brought the bill to €89.04. I'm happy to report that the Trocadero is still going strong, still looking good and still serving good food.
8/10 value for money
WHISPERS FROM THE GASTRONOMICON
One of the best young chefs about at the moment is Gavin McDonagh, who runs the very successful Brioche in Dublin's Aungier Street. It serves what could be described as French tapas, single plates of good, regional French food. He has now opened a Brioche in Ranelagh, where the same idea applies. These tasting plates are slightly larger than starters, so you can try a few dishes. They're all priced around €10.