No life and no soul to this all-day party
Restaurant Review: Sould Food Bistro, 46 Manor Street, Stoney batter, Dublin 7 TEL: 01 8688400 2 STARS
I've had a good run of reviews lately: two 5-star meals in a row. That doesn't happen often, believe me. And, partly because I'm greedy, but mostly because I like the tidy symmetry of scoring a hat trick, I set my sights on completing the perfect trinity. Three, as they say, is a magic number.
It's one of the fundamental rules of writing: omne trium perfectum. Who wants to read about The Twelve Little Pigs, or Goldilocks and The Single Parent Family of Mammy and Baby Bear? By the same token, two musketeers sounds considerably less audacious than three – and I'd wager that Aladdin, upon being offered two wishes would've surely had the gumption to use the second wish to ask for a third. That's just how it goes.
You can apply the rule of three to anything; religion: faith, hope and charity; romance: love, honour and cherish; revolution: liberté, égalité, fraternité. In his cookbook Three Good Things ... , Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall gushes about "the mystical significance" of three.
"While I remain somewhat agnostic about the C of E doctrine of the Holy Trinity," he writes, "I count myself as a born-again convert in the kitchen." Sounds like the good old Pagan rule of three to me.
But he is, of course, right: mozzarella, basil and tomato; rhubarb, crumble and custard; fish, chips and mushy peas . . . the possibilities for a culinary ménage a trois are endless.
But my plan for a triple whammy run of reviews was dealt a blow when Ma Flannery showed up unannounced on the day myself and Ui Rathaile were booked into Soul Full for dinner. This was not the threesome I had in mind.
It was also very awkward. Ma Flannery would almost certainly have no truck with my obsessive, compulsive need for symmetry. Ui Rathaile had been on the two perfect reviews, ergo, he had to come on the third, or it simply would not work. "Sure, the three of us can go," Ma Flannery decided – as if her arrival was in some way fortuitous. The prospect was too Moe, Larry and Curley for me to countenance, so we agreed that Ui Rathaile would be killed off before the final instalment of the trilogy was complete.
Thus, Ma Flannery and myself headed for Stoneybatter, while Ui Rathaile stayed behind – and dodged a bullet.
Soul Full is open from the half past seven in the morning until 10 o'clock at night. These kind of hours are problematic for any restaurant – making the transition from boiled eggs and soldiers in the morning to steak and wine at night ain't easy. But that doesn't mean it's impossible. Dim the lights, light some candles, put flowers on the tables and you're halfway there.
How bright was Soul Full? Bright enough for Ma Flannery to recommend that I wax my upper lip. I resisted the urge to check in the giant mirror beside our table, not that the view the other way was any better: a dumb waiter with a buzzing intercom phone, and a trolley stacked with ketchup, vinegar and the accoutrements of the lunch time trade – beyond which there loomed a darkened room filled with stacked furniture.
Hoping that Soul Full was driving an agenda of substance over style, we turned to the menu. Yes . . . the intention was clear: no fancy cheffery, no pretensions, and no concessions to fashion. Just good, wholesome grub like your Mammy used to make. Handy, wasn't it – having mine at hand to be the judge of that somewhat questionable claim?
Sure enough, the teatime stalwarts all got a look in: lasagna, bangers & mash, beef stew, fish & chips. The starter menu, with cod ceviche and smoked kippers, was more sophisticated.
We kicked off with a shared platter: Paté, Trio of Dips, and Mushroom Medley served with Toasts. And what a glum affair it was: a stack of brittle toast that may have started out as baguette, but it brought just one word to mind, and that word was Fruhstuck.
The trio of dips is a hackneyed concept – but one I'll happily partake in when the dips are good. The tapenade was unctuous and naturally salty with due deference paid to the often maligned anchovy. It was good.
The hummus, however, was dry and lumpy, while the third dip: a watery orange puree that tasted vaguely of carrot and chilli was insipidity itself.
The platter's saving grace was the medley of mushrooms – a jumble of wild flatcaps and meatier, chewier chaps we identified as girolle or chanterelle, that were dressed with sherry vinaigrette. The French country paté, meanwhile, had little to contribute. It tasted teetotal, with no savoury intensity or tang. While I griped about banal inconsistencies, Ma Flannery questioned the €12 price tag, wondering if it was worth half that.
Roast chicken breast, stuffed with spinach and mushrooms was bland and dry.
Even the ferrous, grassy notes you'd expect from spinach were absent. There was simply no rapport betwixt the bird and its stuffing, no communion of flavours, in fact, no evidence of flavour at all. The twice-baked potatoes were baby spuds, which never stand up to rigours of baking. The salad, however, was a summery treat: a crisp peppery bale of red, purple and green leaves tossed with shredded red cabbage, sour green apple, in sweet raspberry vinaigrette.
Soul Full makes a point of using local suppliers, including a butcher, which encouraged me to opt for a failsafe rib-eye steak.
I ordered it medium rare, but it arrived medium well, which to me is needless death. The meat tasted so flat and metallic that I wondered had the beast ever lived at all. I ordered a side of carrot and courgette chips, which arrived 20 minutes late: floppy, greasy and apparently deep-fried.
At this point – around about 10.30pm – the lights were dimmed and candles placed on the tables. Just in time for dessert: a hard poached pear with clumps of granola for me, and a pot of raspberry and rhubarb that was sickly sweet and jam-like – topped with more granola for Ma.
Soul Full is probably a reliable breakfast haunt, and a decent option for lunch if you're hungry and in the neighbourhood. But the wait staff need more than big, friendly smiles to make the transition to dinner.
It was a frustrating experience, not least because I left Soul Full farther than ever away from that elusive three in a row.
TYPICAL DISH: Slow-cooked Hereford beef stew
RECOMMENDED: Mushroom medley
THE DAMAGE: €93.75 for one starter platter, two mains, two desserts, six glasses of wine, two coffees
ON THE STEREO: Jazz
AT THE TABLE: Locals