Eating out: Paolo Tullio at Morels, Dun Laoghaire
Paolo Tullio doubles his pleasure with two restaurants
Ever since I started reviewing restaurants, I've been a fan of Alan O'Reilly's work. He's the chef behind a string of successful restaurants — successful because they were very good.
The well-known Alexis restaurant in Dun Laoghaire's Patrick Street was his, and it was a restaurant I really liked, mainly because the quality of the food was far higher than the price would lead you to believe.
Alexis closed down last year and Morels has opened in its place. I went to try the new venture with my old friend Michael Lowsley, who was over from England for a brief visit.
By the way, this isn't the first Morels. There was one in Blackrock, then in Glasthule, then one in Leeson Street, so there's a heritage here.
We met up in the new Morels and took a table by the window. The interior had changed since my last visit; there's a structure in the middle of the dining room whose purpose is to help reduce reverberated sounds. This was a problem when the dining room was at its busiest — all the hard surfaces meaning that decibel levels could climb alarmingly high. But the new structure seems to have improved things enormously.
Every time I read a menu designed by chef O'Reilly I see interesting dishes at very average prices. Good food at affordable prices seems to be the watchword. Starters include veal ravioli with roasted hazelnut vinaigrette, crispy kataifi shrimp with mango salsa, and roast breast of wild wood pigeon with bacon and cabbage, all under €10. Main courses include slowroast Edenderry farm pork, savoy cab-
bage, mustard mash and apple compote, slow-cooked top rib of beef with creamy mash and red wine sauce, and undyed natural smoked haddock, poached hen’s egg, sauteed baby spinach and creamed potato. This last dish is probably one of my favourites, especially with the undyed smoked haddock.
We began with the wild wood pigeon breast for Michael and the tomato soup for me. When Michael lived in Ireland we used to shoot together and we often cooked game — venison, pheasant and pigeon. Pigeon breast is like liver in that if you overcook it it becomes tough and inedible. What Michael got, apart from being nicely presented, was cooked exactly right.
My soup came in a white marmite bowl accompanied with a toasted slice of sourdough bread topped with chopped tomatoes and basil — a very tasty crostino.
Both good dishes. For our mains Michael had chosen the rib of beef, while I couldn't resist the smoked haddock. Again the presentation of both dishes was exemplary: simple, deep white plates serving as a backdrop for the carefully arranged food. To me the plates looked like the presentation you get in far more expensive restaurants. You can check out the gallery of photographs at morels.ie.
I thoroughly enjoyed my smoked haddock. There's something about the combination of elements of this dish that really pleases me. I love how the runny egg yolk coats the haddock and then flavours the creamy mash underneath, and I love the combination of textures — the softness of the potato puree, the firmness of the haddock and the slippery egg. And when the whole lot is topped with crunchy samphire, as it was here, my enjoyment is complete.
This was a meal that celebrated the savoury, so we decided to finish it with more savoury — cheese rather than dessert. A very generous cheese plate arrived on a slate with four Irish artisan cheeses and plenty of different crackers to accompany them. While Michael tucked into that, I had a decent espresso to finish my meal, which brought our bill to €89.45.
8/10 value for money
17/18 Patrick Street,
Dun Laoghaire, Co Dublin
Tel: (01) 280-8872
11a–12a The Crescent,
Monkstown, Co Dublin
Tel: (01) 202-0230
I can't finish without mentioning Salt in Monkstown. It's part of the Avoca chain and has been open for a while. I reviewed it shortly after it opened, and since then Marian and I have eaten there on a few occasions. I rarely get to have repeat visits to restaurants that I like, mainly because I'm always looking for something new, but we've eaten in Salt a few times over the past year, mainly because it's not far from Marian's house.
I liked it when I first reviewed it, but it has improved since. The menu and dishes have been tweaked, taking the quality of the cooking to a new level.
A couple of weeks ago we were there again, this time to try the rotisserie chicken, which we hadn't tried before. At €35.90 it's a dish for two, so it's not available if one person in a party wants it, unless they want to eat an entire chicken. There's not a lot simpler than rotisserie chicken, but when the bird is of good quality and wellcooked, it’s a treat. Couple with crispy fries and green beans and it's a delight. With a superb white onion soup as a starter for me and a plum tart as a dessert for Marian, plus some sparkling water, we got a bill for €62.90 — terrific value.
8/10 value for money
ON A BUDGET
There's a set Sunday lunch menu in Morels with two courses for €19.50 or three for €24.50. That includes the smoked haddock I liked so much. In Salt the lunch menu offers two courses for €24.95 and three for €27.95, and it includes the white onion soup that I enjoyed.
ON A BLOWOUT
On Salt's a la carte, you'll find James Whelan's sirloin of beef with Lyonnaise potato, Jerusalem artichoke puree, buttered leeks and port and tarragon butter for €26.95 — their most expensive main course. In Morels, €28.50 will get you butterpoached local lobster with soft garlic, spinach and baby new potatoes.
WHISPERS FROM THE GASTRONOMICON
The Cookery School at Donnybrook Fair has teamed up with chef Robert Jacob to create a masterclass for two, followed by a Valentine’s supper featuring all the dishes created that evening.
The Valentine’s Day class for two is €120 per couple and comes with all the trimmings to make it a truly romantic affair.
Niall Murphy, executive chef at the school, has not forgotten those cooking solo and has created the perfect antidote to Valentine’s Day — Cooking for One. It follows Valentine’s Day, taking place from 10am to 2pm on Saturday, February 15.
All classes take place above Donnybrook Fair fine food store on Morehampton Road. Call (01) 668-3556 or check out donnybrookfair.ie.