Eating out: Lucinda O'Sullivan at The Lobster Pot in Ballsbridge
In a city awash with stylised, contemporary meals, Lucinda O'Sullivan went in search of good classical food. She found it, but she also encountered crap crepes and lots of attitude
I was asked by a lady in Co Waterford to recommend a Dublin restaurant for "a special occasion, which she didn't want to go wrong". As you can imagine, recommending a restaurant for a special occasion is a poisoned chalice, so it is something I never do on a one-to-one basis. There is only one person to blame if it goes belly up!
That apart, her requirements were very specific - it must have a "similar menu to White Horses Restaurant in Ardmore, with good steaks, a good selection of seafood, good quality Irish cooking and not be pretentious".
This got me thinking. Dublin is awash with restaurants, but most serve very contemporary stylised food. This is what brought me, in a roundabout way, to the long-standing Lobster Pot in Ballsbridge, which has been on the go since 1980. Located comfortably over two first-floor rooms, white napery and elaborate gold mirrors abound. It has enjoyed a well-heeled local clientele down the years, coupled with that of tourists, and had the same guest profile on our visit. It is also one of the few places you will still find old-style Dublin waiters who have a sense of 'humour' all their own.
Ordering two Kir (€7 each), my friend Mary and I took in the menu, plus a display of fresh seafood presented at the table which, in fact, made us wonder if we really wanted to see a lump of cod, or a lobster cocktail that didn't look that enticing in the raw. Starters (€9.50-€15.25) included stalwarts of oysters; melon au port and goujons of sole, while mains (€21.95-€33.50) included prawns Mornay; lamb kidneys Turbigo; and steak tartare.
Mary decided on the Early Bird menu of 2/3 courses at €23.95/€26.95. She had, however, to take an urgent call outside and, as she sat down, the man who was maitre d' that evening - Tommy Crean, who founded the restaurant - presented himself, order-pad poised. "Can you give us five minutes? I know we are very close to the Early Bird cut-off time," I asked with a smile; we were only there ten minutes and only two tables were occupied at that point. "I'm not leaving this table until I get an order - it will get very busy later," he replied, not moving. "Aren't you lucky," I said. Feeling the pressure, I promptly ordered Coquilles St Jacques (€15.25) from the a la carte menu. Mary ordered calamari and we nibbled on three pieces of Melba toast and two half slices of brown bread in a wicker basket with butter twirls and a packet of low-calorie butter. However, potato-piped Coquilles St Jacques arrived and had such wonderful flavour it was worth anything! Mary's calamari also proved to be fine.
Sole Caprice (€33.50) is a very simple dish of deep-fried sole fillets served with a sauteed banana and a swathe of mango chutney, but they managed here to have the lightest dusting on the sole and it was just perfection.
Mary's "roast duckling with Grand Marnier sauce" was pitifully small and more bony ribcage than duck flesh. The maitre d' approached and I told him. Looking down at the little bird on the plate, he looked at me and said, with a laugh, "it's an early bird" and walked off! Vegetables were old-style country hotel.
Commercial-looking desserts were on a trolley, so I asked a waiter if they were made in-house. He said they were. However, on asking another waiter, he said, "No, they're bought in" - naming the company who makes them, whose style I already recognised. We ordered the retro speciality of crepes Suzette (€24.50) and the flambee trolley arrived with the maitre d' in action.
After much sizzling, four pancakes came from the kitchen to be tossed in the pan. Looking at the ensuing stodgy mush on my plate as he moved away, he said, "the juice is all absorbed in them". More Crap Suzette than Crepes Suzette at any price; at €24.50 they were an outrageous insult to one's intelligence. With a Peter Yealands Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2013 (€29) and €17 service charge, our bill was €157.70.
The Lobster Pot,
9 Ballsbridge Terrace, Dublin 4, Tel: (01) 668-0025, lobsterpot.ie
THREE TO TRY
TRIED & TRUE, Coolbawn, Midleton, Co Cork. Tel: (021) 463-2771. farmgate.ie
Style: Farmgate celebrated its 31st birthday by adding a new garden room. Stunning artwork provides the backdrop for regional food served with a natural style. Great scallops, prawns and fish from Ballycotton have made Farmgate a legend
Price: Mains, €18-€30
Try: Grilled turbot with a lemon beurre blanc, €28
Wine: From €21
WHITE HORSES, Main Street, Ardmore, Co Waterford. Tel: (024) 94040. facebook.com/White-Horses-Restaurant
Style: You'll find chic New England decor with Lloyd Loom chairs and a buzzy atmosphere here. Great luscious food with an emphasis on seafood, succulent duck, great steaks, gratin dauphinois and amazing desserts
Price: Mains, €22-€33
Try: Sauteed Dublin Bay king prawns in garlic creme and pine nuts on a timbale of rice, €33
Wine: From €21
MAN FRIDAY, Scilly, Kinsale, Co Cork. Tel: (021) 477-2260. manfridaykinsale.ie
Style: One of the oldest restaurants in the country, Man Friday has a tropical ambiance and great food. Choices include oysters, scampi, seafood platters and duck Armagnac
Price: Mains, €19.50-€31
Try: Black Sole Colbert, €31
Wine: From €25