Classy food at very reasonable prices in a relaxed, friendly atmosphere. Lucinda O'Sullivan finds that Sebastien Masi and Kirsten Batt's reinvention of an old favourite hits the nail smack on the head
'Eleven out of 10," said a departing diner to the maitre d' in the new Locks Brasserie, which overlooks the Grand Canal at Portobello and its gliding swans.
He was right, and, from the cross-table conversation he had been enjoying with another solo gentleman, it appeared he was a seasoned and discerning diner. In fact, quite oblivious to those around them, the duo had conducted a vehement assessment of restaurants in Dublin. "The arrogance of that fellow," one had said. "Yes, I had the same treatment." "Was it the dark one with the glasses"? "Yes, and the smaller fellow was just as bad -- the pure arrogance." A long-standing French restaurant was thus torn apart. Our lovely waitress was as bemused and amused as ourselves, as the two competed for having sat at the best tables in the country. Anyway, they were both delighted with themselves, as they were with Locks in its new incarnation.
One of the nicest rooms in Ireland, Locks was very successful for more than 20 years under its initial ownership. It reopened in 2007, but it ran into trouble with the recession, and with prices that were no longer in tune with the times, and, eventually, it closed.
Happily, it has been reinvented by Sebastien Masi and Kirsten Batt, who run the superb, upmarket Pearl Brasserie in Upper Merrion Street. With ex-Four Seasons/L'Ecrivain chef Rory Carville at their new venture, Masi and Batt have hit the nail smack on the head, offering a very reasonably priced, well-thought-out menu of delicious, classy food in a relaxed, friendly atmosphere.
Starters were mainly under a tenner, including white onion soup with fondant potato and smoked bacon foam; chicken and ham hock terrine with celeriac remoulade, apple, and Pommery mustard. Monkfish cheek with daube of beef, baby cress, and foie gras sauce was €15 -- they kindly brought us an amuse bouche to sample this starter and it was delish! Seared loin of tuna with tartare of tuna, avocado and pickled cucumber was €12.50; and oysters were six for €12, or nine for €18. We chose baby gem salad (€7.50) for me, and squash risotto (€9) for my friend Rena. I loved the wonderfully fresh concoction of baby gem leaves tossed with shredded confit of duck in a salty anchovy dressing and croutons, down through all of which oozed the juices of a perfectly judged poached duck. Rena is a discerning risotto head and, when it passes muster with her, that's something. Her risotto dish had a stunning flavour with the combination of risotto rice enhanced by gremolata, sage and aged Parmesan.
Mains are €16 to €26, with the more expensive choices being a rump and breast of lamb combo; rib-eye beef; and scallops. Corn-fed chicken breast with confit leg, celeriac, and a Bourguignon sauce is €18, as is pan-fried hake with aubergine, crab mayo and a confit tomato dressing. I was sorely tempted by the hake, but another favourite in the form of sea bream (€21) won out.
I was delighted I chose it, as a perfectly cooked, chunky fillet of this great fish came beautifully presented on a big, rectangular, hot slate with saffron potato and shaved fennel, dressed with a delectable pickled clam vinaigrette. Rare-breed confit of pork belly (€19) for Rena was topped with foaming tortellini and a spiced carrot puree. We had side orders of gratin Dauphinoise and proper petit pois a la Francaise, both at €3.50 each. Delicious!
We shared a featherlight, perfect cocktail glass of strawberry fool (€8.50), its jelly base topped with swansdown-like meringue, vanilla sable and a ball of ice cream.
Our total bill, including a bottle of New Zealand One Tree Sauvignon Blanc 2009 (€27) and optional service, came to €109.
Locks rocks again.
1 Windsor Terrace,
Tel: (01) 420-0555