Eating out: Paolo Tullio at The Dublin Wine Rooms
"There's a strong sense in the Dublin Wine Rooms that each and every person working there is passionate and enthusiastic about what they do."
It happens a few times a year. I get excited about about a restaurant because it has somehow managed to tick all of my boxes. I've been trying to pin down exactly what makes this happen, but the answer seems elusive.
Good food is an obvious ingredient, as is good service and pleasing surroundings, but there's more to it than that. I think the final ingredient that transforms ordinary to exceptional is passion and enthusiasm. That's not something you can quantify, it doesn't get marks out of ten, but it's something you sense.
When that sense of passion pervades every aspect of a restaurant, then you have one of those rare cases. The serving staff seem to actually care if you're enjoying your meal, the sommeliers really know wines and specifically their wine list, and the menu reflects the fact that the chefs are trying hard to be original and inventive.
That's not a combination of circumstances I find every week, but I did this week. I went for dinner with Gerard Carthy of Taste of Ireland to the Dublin Wine Rooms, which Gerard assured me I was going to like. Turns out he was right.
Let's start with the menus. If you're in for wine rather than food, there's a menu of ‘small plates', priced from €3.50 to
€7.50 — dishes such as mushroom ravioli, crispy crab lasagne, Spanish sausage, langoustines in a pawa crust and grilled brochettes (skewers) of beef with a chimichurri sauce.
As its name suggests, this place takes its wines seriously. They use the Enomatic system for dispensing tasting measures, so you can spend just a little and taste wines until you find one exactly to your liking. That should be easy, as the wine list is extensive with plenty of wines available by the glass and plenty of wines priced at under €30. I chose a glass of white Bordeaux called Château les Moutins, a deliciously crisp wine at €7.25 a glass.
If you have deep pockets, there's a page of ‘wines for special occasions', where €40 gives you a choice of two Saint Emilion grand crus, or €50 will get you Château les Ormes de Pez 2005.
The dinner menu is where the chefs have let their imagination flow, with interesting combinations of flavours and ingredients in nearly every dish. Despite this, both Gerard and I started our meal with dishes from the ‘small plates' menu, the Andalusian sausage (chistorra) for Gerard and the crispy crab lasagne for me.
The chistorra turned out to be rather like a fat chorizo and it was served sliced and fried, which is a particularly good way of serving Spanish sausage, since much of the fat is rendered. It came with good sour dough bread. The crispy crab lasagne turned out to be three crab crisps interspersed with avocado puree, making up the ‘lasagne'. Personally I might have called it a millefeuille if you wanted to use a classical name, or crispy crab and avocado sandwich if you wanted to be more prosaic.
For main courses Gerard had chosen the pressed duck breast, which came with mousseline potatoes, spring greens and a really delicious jus. It was a dish that also looked well on the plate. I'd chosen another starter from the dinner menu for my main course, the terrine of langoustine and leeks with watercress and dill vinaigrette. Again, I felt the menu description wasn't entirely accurate. You might assume that a ‘terrine of langoustines and leeks' would combine those elements in the terrine. What actually arrived was a leek terrine with some prawns laid across the top. The dish was good and I enjoyed it, but the words langoustines and prawns are not interchangeable, they are very different animals — one from warm tropical waters, the other from cold northern seas. Apart from that, langoustines are a good deal larger than prawns.
For dessert, Gerard had the date pudding with ice cream and I had the arancini. These are rice balls, a savoury Sicilian speciality, but this was
the pudding version. I thought they were very good, different and well executed.
There's a strong sense in the Dublin Wine Rooms that each and every person working there is passionate and enthusiastic about what they do. I've rarely encountered sommeliers that know as much about wine and rarely had a waiter that could explain the menu so well. When you combine that with good food and an interesting wine list you have what I believe is a winning combination.
As to the food, the head chef is James Ainscough, who has an impressive CV. He cut his teeth in Bilson's, a restaurant in Sydney, where chef Guillaume Brahimi was his mentor. This accounts for both the skilled food, as well as the interesting fusion of elements.
We finished with an espresso for me and an Americano for Gerard, which brought our bill to just over €72.50 — great value I thought for this meal.
On a budget: Pick a dish or two from the 'small plates' menu and make use of the Enomatic system to try some wines. Doing this, €20 will get you a good sample of what's on offer.
On a blowout: If you go for dinner and eat from the à la carte, three courses will cost you about €35. If you have more to spend, the page on the wine list called 'wines for special occasions' is a good place to spend money.
High point: The passion and enthusiasm that this place has in spades really endeared it to me.
Low point: A bit more rigour in the menu descriptions would keep pedants
Food: 8/10, ambiance: 8/10, Value for money 9/10