Eating out: Marco holds court
I'll tell you right at the start – I'm a fan of Marco Pierre White. I'm a fan not only because I like his approach to food and cooking, but also because he happens to be a really nice bloke.
A few years ago, I had a delightful dinner in his company at his first Irish venture – the steak house in Dawson Street. This was a joint venture with the Fitzers group and it's still going strong. The marriage must be a good one, because they're still together and they've begun a new venture in Donnybrook in The Courtyard.
The Courtyard is a big space with plenty of tables both inside and outside. By all accounts, the official opening was one of the best-attended openings in Dublin for years, with Marco on hand to charm everyone who was there.
The brother-in-law, Chris de Burgh, was there with daughter Rosanna and, the next day, he was on the phone to me saying that we needed to go together.
So that's what we did. We arranged to meet there on a midweek night and, just as I was arriving, I got a call from Chris telling me two things. First, he was held up for ten minutes or so and, second, that we had a third person joining us.
"A surprise," said Chris. The surprise turned out to be old friend Murrough Kavanagh and he was already at the table when I arrived.
Being a big space, The Courtyard gives you plenty of room between the tables, so we had a sense of privacy and Murrough and I chatted happily until Chris joined us.
The menu comes on a large sheet of card and it's divided up into sections: hors d'oeuvres, steaks, grills and roasts, fish and side orders. The hors d'oeuvres, or starters, range in price from €6.95 for soup to €14.95 for a prawn cocktail.
The steaks run from €26 to €34; the grills from €17.95 for a burger to €29.95 for a veal entrecote, and the fish dishes run from €24.95 for a fish pie to €40 for black sole. You can see that in each case the prices are a few euro more than you normally find, so I was curious to see would the meal live up to the price.
Chris picked up the wine list and after a little while said, "How about a Malbec?" I had a few smashers this year and, unhesitatingly, said yes and so did Murrough. I took the wine list and had a look. There are only two wines under €30, one red and one white.
Twelve whites and nine reds are available by the glass, ranging in price from €7.50 to €15. Again, these are higher prices than you'd normally find, but I'd balance that against a good selection of wines from very good suppliers. The Malbec was €40, and we also ordered three glasses of the rosé from Chateau Haut Rian at €9 each. My dining companions, who had the luxury of being driven home later, also managed four gin and tonics between them, while I heroically stuck with the sparkling water.
Both Chris and Murrough chose the same starter, the foie gras with a duck egg served on brioche. I chose something a little lighter, the asparagus served simply with a drizzle of Hollandaise. The foie gras looked well on the plate, a circle of brioche topped with a fried duck egg and the foie gras placed on top of that. Both of these dishes were well prepared and tasted good.
For mains, we'd all ordered something different. Chris had chosen the chicken Kiev, Murrough chose the black sole and I chose the steak tartare.
When I asked how they presented it, I was told, "We bring it already mixed and prepared." That may well please many people but, for me, half the enjoyment of a steak tartare is mixing it. I asked if they would let me do my own blend and they happily agreed, so I got the minced fillet, egg yolk, capers, chopped onions, mustard, chilli and olive oil and I set about making my perfect tartare.
Meanwhile, Chris said his chicken Kiev was making him nostalgic, while Murrough said his sole was "really fine". For sides, we ordered creamed spinach, Savoy cabbage and onion rings. Of the three, the onion rings were truly memorable.
We did manage a couple of desserts, the sticky toffee and the Eton mess. I can't help it, every time I see Eton mess I find myself saying, "Eton mess is soon forgotten". I took my espresso outside where you'll find comfy sofas and armchairs set out on carpet, making it feel very cosy.
I think The Courtyard will do well, although by pitching the price higher than most restaurants, they may end up limiting the customers that can eat here. The food is good, the service excellent and it's a pleasing dining room. With Marco looking at you from many of the walls in various guises, you won't forget who's fronting this restaurant.
Our bill came to €265, which I thought was expensive. Further examination showed that over €100 of that was drinks – wine, water and gin – which made it more like €50 a head for the food.
6/10 value for money
ON A BUDGET
If you had the soup to start at €6.95 and followed that with the burger at
€17.95, you have spent €25.90 — the least you could spend for two courses.
ON A BLOWOUT
Start with Dublin Bay prawns at €14.50 and, then, a 10-ounce sirloin with Bearnaise at €29. Add a few sides. I'd recommend the onion rings at €4.95.
My tartare was made from prime beef, so it was very tender.
I thought the wine list was over-priced.
The Courtyard, Donnybrook, Dublin 4 tel: (01) 551 0555