Paolo Tullio: Do it yourself
The Counter, The Pembroke Quarter, Dundrum Town Centre
I'm looking out of my window at exactly 11.5in of snow covering the land outside. I know it's that deep because I've just been outside with a ruler. It makes the Avonmore Valley look very pretty indeed, but it does have some drawbacks -- immobility for one.
My driveway is just over 200m long, so digging my way out isn't really an option. On the other hand, I do own two pairs of cross-country skis, which means that, in an emergency, I could ski my way to civilisation.
The last time we had snow this deep was in 1982 and back then the skis came in handy. I haven't used them much since, but today I pulled them out of the shed just in case.
Being cut off isn't such a bad thing -- it's a great excuse for not doing things. I've said the words "I'm sorry, I'd love to, but I'm snowed in" more than once lately. The house is warm, I'm well stocked with rice and pasta, bizarrely the hens are still laying and I've plenty of wine under the stairs.
I'm good for a couple of weeks, I reckon.
Being cut off reminded me of the famous headline in the London Times years ago: "Fog in Channel, Continent Cut Off." That's exactly how it looks from here: Dublin is cut off.
However, that did pose a problem for me. There are no restaurants within skiing distance, so how was I to get a review done? Good neighbours is how, and Denis lent me a car that could reach the road. Once on the main road, travel was possible. Which leads me to write a sentence I never thought I'd write -- this review comes to you thanks to Wicklow Co Council. They've done a superb job of keeping the upland roads open and, thanks to their efforts, I got to Dublin between blizzards.
I had a destination in mind: Dundrum. It's been a while since I dined there and I wanted to try out The Counter, which has opened in the newly finished Pembroke Quarter. The Counter does burgers, but they do it with a novel twist. And really, if you want to sell burgers these days, you need something to set your offering apart from the thousands of burger outlets that already exist. We've had 'gourmet burgers' over the past few years which moved the product up the quality ladder, and that was definitely a change for the better. Now we have The Counter, where you construct your own burger. You don't actually cook the thing, you fill in a form with lots of options to create the burger of your dreams.
Step one: Decide if you want a beef, turkey, chicken or veggie burger, then pick the size you want -- a third of a pound, two-thirds or a pound. That last one is 16oz, a truly enormous burger. Then you decide if you want it without a bun and, if so, whether you want it on a bed of lettuce or mixed greens. With me so far?
Now step two. Choose from 10 cheeses to top your burger, which leads to step three: pick four toppings from a list of 26. Then, step four, choose a dipping sauce from the 18 listed and, lastly (step five), pick your bun from a choice of three. If all these choices are too much for you, you can simply order a classic burger with no forms to fill out.
There were seven of us: Max, Sophie, Marian and me, who arrived together, and Gemma, Gavin and Alex, who had come from town on the Luas directly to Dundrum Town Centre, declaring that it was the easiest possible of trips. Definitely easier than mine, where I had to make use of a shovel to get me through the worst of the snow drifts.
Gemma and Gavin had eaten in The Counter before, so Gemma helped me fill out my order. You get a clipboard, your form and a pencil on the table when you arrive, so we all constructed our various versions of the perfect burger. I'll bore you with the details of my selection. First, I decided on the Irish Hereford beef and I didn't want a bun, just a big burger, so I picked the two-thirds of a pound weight. Then I chose Emmental for my cheese and, not being a greedy person, I chose just three toppings: a free-range egg, honey-cured bacon and a dill pickle. My dipping sauce was the Dijon mustard balsamic dressing. When I'd finished I was almost drooling in anticipation -- a perfect burger for me was on the way.
Now, it's worth describing the form I filled out. The very left-hand side was missing, so there were things like 'eef', 'ashel Blue' and 'eetroot' all down that edge. What I didn't know as I filled out my form was that the box to tick for beef was to the left of the 'eef', so, not seeing one, I ticked the box to the right of 'eef'. Turned out that was the box for turkey, probably my least favourite meat and certainly not a meat I'd want in burger.
Which is how I ended up with a turkey burger topped with Emmental, a slice of bacon and a free-range egg. I was immediately offered the chance to change to beef, but that would have meant waiting for about 15 minutes while the others happily ate precisely and exactly what they wanted. So I decided to soldier on with the turkey burger. If you like turkey, I'm sure it was good, but it really wasn't for me.
There's a basic wine list of about 20 wines ranging in price from €18.50 to €30 and all are available by the glass. There's one bubbly, a Cava at €34.95, and it's available only by the bottle. There's also a list of beers, both bottled and draught, but I thought I'd go with the classic accompaniment to a burger: a cola. All the minerals are priced at €2.95.
To go with our various burgers we ordered two 'Fifty-Fiftys' -- one was a platter with chips and onion rings, the other sweet potato chips and onion rings, both priced at €6.25. Good chips and very good onion rings.
We finished with a couple of desserts: a caramel brownie and an apple pie à la mode, which we all dipped into. I had a depressingly bad espresso for €2.50 and got a bill for €134.20, not bad for seven people.
Value for money 8/10
25-30 = Excellent
20-25 = Good
15-20 = Fair
0-15 = Poor
The Counter, The Pembroke Quarter, Dundrum Town Centre.
Tel: 01-216 4929
Read Paolo at www.tasteofireland.ie