Eating out: Paolo Tullio at House
Paolo rates Leeson Street's buzz spot...
I've enthused in this column more than once about Residence, where chef Graham Neville creates some truly extraordinary food. Residence is a club on St Stephen's Green, but you can dine in the restaurant even if you're not a member.
What's nice about it isn't just the food. As its name implies, it's more of a place to hang out, with comfortable rooms for sitting in, an outside for the remaining smokers among us and a general sense of home comfort. It performs all the functions of an old-fashioned club, but with none of the stuffiness.
I remember thinking after my last visit that it would be nice to have a place like that, one that didn't need you to be a member. A comfortable, easy place that anyone could walk in to and take a seat. Well, such a place exists. It's on Leeson Street and it's called House. Not a million miles from Residence either, in name and distance.
House is big. Those Georgian houses in Leeson Street were built big to begin with, and House combines two of them. That changes the feel of the interior enormously. I lived for eight years in Herbert Street in a similar house, and the over-riding sensation was that the size of House was from top to bottom. It wasn't the width that impressed.
However, if you double up everything, from the entrance hall to rooms now on either side, and you have a double width garden, you have a very big space to play with. And it's that sense of space that's the first thing that greets you as you enter House. The first thing you encounter is a room full of comfortable sofas and armchairs where you can sit and have a drink. Farther back you find other spaces for sitting, and farther back again you'll find the garden and restaurant.
The restaurant is in the roofed- over garden, and next to it is the garden proper, where you'll see a couple of venerable olive trees as well as an orange and a lemon tree, which appear to be thriving despite our northerly location.
A couple of years ago I reviewed The Gourmet Food Parlour in Dun Laoghaire – a tapas bar that now has a few outlets around the city. They do good tapas and they're responsible for the food in House.
In February I was present for a dinner to launch the Travel Department's offerings for 2014, and that was my first experience of House. I decided then to come back for a review, and this week I did just that, accompanied by Marian Kenny and her two sons, Max and Alex.
We had several options of where to eat, but Marian likes the occasional cigarette, so we sat in the smoking area of the garden, under a lemon tree. For the first hour, we got live jazz, which I really liked. Turns out the jazz is a Thursday thing, every week in the garden from 6 to 9pm.
The nice thing about tapas is, you can order lots of different things just to get a taste of each. We ended up ordering 12 different tapas, which at three each didn't seem excessive. However, take it from me, even with two young men with young men's appetites, we couldn't eat all the food that arrived.
We were happy for our choices to arrive in whatever order they were cooked, and what we got were onion rings, ham croquettes, beef sliders, fried chorizo slices, deep-fried mushrooms, marinated lamb, patatas bravas, a chicken Waldorf salad, steak crostini, meatballs, chicken skewers and prawns pil pil.
A couple of these were truly spectacularly good, especially the marinated lamb. I must have been accompanied by Ms Kenny for a lot of meals now, but I've never heard her enthuse the way she did over the lamb dish. Here we are a week or so later and she's still talking about it. "Are you going to mention the lamb when you write the review?" Yes, dear, I will. I mean, I have. There. Max and Alex were impressed with the sliders: three mini-burgers with sweet peppers and Cashel Blue cheese, and also with the chicken skewers, which had pancetta and sweet pepper cream. I found myself favouring the Waldorf salad and the fried chorizo – a dish I always enjoy.
Only one dish didn't make the grade, and it surprised me as it's not difficult to make. The ham croquettes just didn't work. I don't know what happened to them, but the outside had become a hard skin that peeled away, leaving an overcooked interior spilling out.
There's a long drinks menu, on which, unusually, the spirits outnumber the wines. You can get a glass of house wine for €6.50, or if money's no object you can buy a bottle of Roederer Cristal for €400. In between there's a fair selection with a higher-than-usual mark-up, but then you need to pay something towards your surroundings.
I liked House. The service was excellent, and our bill was €128.80, which for four people is pretty good considering it included three beers, soft drinks, tea and coffee.
House: 27 Lower Leeson Street, Dublin Tel: (01) 905-9090
On a blowout
With a tapas menu, the easiest way for a blowout is to order a lot of plates. There are a few dishes that break the tenner barrier — the steak crostini and the sliders. The wine will also bring up your bill to blowout levels.
No doubt, the marinated lamb. A terrific dish for €10.
The strangely textured ham croquettes
9/10 value for money
WHISPERS FROM THE GASTRONOMICON
‘The Permaculture Kitchen: Love Food, Love People, Love the Planet’ (Permanent Publications) offers back-to-basics cooking that is better for us and the environment.
Using fresh, seasonal produce alongside store cupboard staples, author Carl Legge brings us tasty, simple and satisfying meals.
He also provides tips for making the most of vegetables and herbs, as well as recipes for stocks and preserves, to minimise food waste