Paolo Tullio: Classics perfected to a tee
A few years ago, I had a great idea for a review that I was going to submit for an April Fool edition.
I'd write a review of the Dáil restaurant, pretending to have been there as a guest of an unnamed TD, and I'd go into great detail describing the menu. This fantasy menu would be stuffed with caviar, white truffles, foie gras from Strasbourg, larks' tongues in aspic, chocolate covered in gold leaf and specially bottled house Champagne, produced by Krug.
All this would be at a price that was subsidised by the taxpayer, perhaps €9.99 for a four-course dinner including drink. I thought it would be fun to sit back and wait for the outraged reaction from taxpayers.
But at least two things are wrong with this idea: first, I've never reviewed a private dining room and, second, because of what we now know about the avarice, expenses fiddles and general nest-feathering of our political classes, we have become so inured to tales like this, my imaginary review would probably outrage no one.
I have reviewed clubs, but only if they were open to the public -- Roganstown Golf Club is one that springs to mind. I'd heard tell that Portarlington Golf Club was proud of its dining room, and when I heard that the dining room was open to the public I thought it might be a good idea to review it, as there aren't many restaurants in the Portarlington area.
On a damp and drizzly evening, Gerard Carthy and I drove to Portarlington and found the golf club easily enough. Do be careful where you park; like most golf clubs, lots of the parking places are reserved for club functionaries.
The dining room is upstairs and, as you go up the stairs, you'll pass lots of photographs of golfers, lists of previous captains and all the usual paraphernalia of clubdom. The first floor is big -- as you enter the dining room there's a large bar area with a grand piano and screened beyond that is the dining room proper. We took a table in the corner and studied the menu.
On the first page all the suppliers are listed, which is something I like to see, and they were all local, which is even better. The menu itself is a mix of old favourites and traditional dishes, such as prawn cocktail, steak and kidney pie, egg mayonnaise and roast rib of beef. Gerard liked the look of black and white pudding with a mustard-flavoured Hollandaise, topped with a breaded poached egg for his starter, and I looked no further than lambs' kidneys in mustard sauce.
The main courses, all of which were under €20, followed a similar theme to the starters, and Gerard picked medallions of monkfish served with a red-pepper sauce, while I went very traditional and had battered cod and chips served with mushy peas. I did notice that, apart from mushy peas, there was a Lancashire hot pot on the menu and a Bakewell tart -- all very English. Later, I learned that the kitchen is run by a husband and wife team, both chefs; she is from Ireland and he's from England, which ex-plained the menu.
Our waitress brought us bread and offered us the choice of sparkling or still water, both nicely chilled and both free of charge. I came across the same system a few months back in Coppinger Row. It's filtered mains water that is carbonated on-site, which makes good water, plus makes customers very happy not to have to pay for the sparkles.
The wine list is quite short and no wines are served by the glass; instead, there's a limited choice of quarter-bottles charged at €4.80. I picked a Chardonnay/Semillon blend and, after a sip or two, regretted it. Thankfully, the sparkling water was on endless supply, so I was happy enough to do without the wine.
Our starters arrived and I have to say Gerard's plate looked very good. Unusually, the white and black puddings had been sliced lengthways instead of across, so it looked nothing like a breakfast plate. The breaded poached egg oozed lovely soft yolk over the puddings, making a delicious sauce. It's a neat trick, breading and deep-frying a poached egg -- it takes a lot of practice eggs until you get the knack of it.
My plate didn't look as good as Gerard's, but the kidneys were perfectly cooked and the mustard sauce was nicely reduced. It was good to see that the kidneys had only been halved, because they cook much better that way than if they're chopped into little pieces.
So the meal got off to a very competent start and we both looked forward to the next course. Not a lot can go wrong with a battered fillet of cod, and what I got was good. The batter was crisp and didn't hold lots of cooking oil, and the chips were also good. It was well priced too at €11.95.
The red-pepper sauce on Gerard's monkfish was very good indeed and there was plenty of fish, making a generous portion. I was also happy to find that the flat of vegetables that came as our side dish was not just a few boiled vegetables, but rather they were stir-fried and flavoured.
We decided that we could have a shared dessert. We toyed with a seasonal apple tart, thought about the Bakewell tart, and finally settled on the steamed sponge with custard -- a dish that brought me right back to childhood. After that, an Americano for Gerard and an espresso for me finished the meal. You'll have noticed that nothing we ate was haute cuisine, but everything was done with a level of skill well above what you might expect in a club house. The bill came to a very reasonable €61.50.