Paolo Tullio: Harry raises the bar
Harry's Bar, 21 Upper George's Street, Dun Laoghaire. Telephone: 01 280 8337
There's an expression in Italy to describe someone who bores you to tears -- 'He's the sort of person who'd discuss the weather with you'.
You see, there's not much to say about Italian weather. Winters are cold, spring gets warmer, summer is hot and autumn starts to cool down. It's predictable. Now that's a word you can't apply to Irish weather. Four seasons in one day isn't unusual, prompting the old joke that if you don't like the weather in Ireland, wait five minutes.
So why am I boring you with talk of weather? Because this past week has been so peculiar I can't not comment.
The other night I went to bed with a deep blanket of snow outside, my car immobile and my drive impassable. I awoke to no snow at all, and a deep, booming roar that I couldn't place at first. It was the river, swollen larger than I've seen for 20 years, and it was rushing on to the road outside my house. During the morning, it was deep enough on the road to stop traffic until it slowly subsided.
This sudden thaw did have its benefits as well as its drawbacks, though. Overnight my car was free again, and I was able to get out to what I do: review restaurants.
I wanted to get to Dun Laoghaire. It's been a year since I dined there and I wanted to try out Harry's Bar, which has recently opened for dinner.
The world has become populated with 'Harry's Bars' since the first one opened in Venice in 1931. It was famous for its clients, such as Ernest Hemingway, and for having invented the Bellini, a cocktail made of Prosecco and peach juice. The Dun Laoghaire one isn't actually a bar, but a restaurant.
From outside it really doesn't look very inviting, but as the old adage goes, you can't judge a book by its cover.
I was dining with Marian Kenny and we got a table easily enough, Marian taking a seat on the banquette that lined the wall and me sitting opposite. There were some interesting line drawings of animals on the walls and the kitchen was open to view through a wide hatch. The décor is simple and the tables and chairs are very much designed for the daytime trade of coffees and snacks. But any impression of a place for snacks is dispelled as soon as you read the menu.
Frankly, it reads well and, better still, it's very well priced. As I read through the offerings I noticed things such as ginger jam, saffron aioli and a Parmigiana -- not things that you find readily on budget menus. It's a menu with a bit of imagination and there are dishes on it that have an interesting twist, as well as the dishes you'd expect to find.
On the starters, I found a chicken liver parfait, salmon rillettes, a small charcuterie plate, spicy chicken wings, mussels Marinière and a salad Niçoise. The starters are priced between €5 and €8 and some are available in main course-size portions ranging in price from €8 to €11.50.
The main courses don't hurt the pocket either -- they're priced between €9 and €14 and there are quite a few to choose from. I thought about the Toulouse sausages, the aubergine Parmigiana, the slow-cooked beef Bourgignon, but finally settled on the fish pie and the mussels Marinière to start with. Marian ordered the salad Niçoise to start and the classic burger for her main course.
While we waited, some good, fresh bread came to the table and I had a bottle of Moretti beer to quench my thirst. We ordered a couple of bottles of mineral water and a glass of Pinot Grigio at €5 for my fish pie.
The wine list is short -- six reds and six whites -- but it's well chosen and fairly priced. The Pinot Grigio came from the Cantina Tollo, a good winery, and two wines from the Spanish winery Cune are listed. Most of the well-known grape varieties are present in this short list, so finding a wine to suit is easy enough.
The starters arrived and it was obvious that Harry's Bar doesn't stint on quantities. Marian had ordered the small Niçoise salad, but it looked pretty big on her plate. Nicely made too, with decent ingredients. My only quibble was the fridge-cold boiled egg; room temperature would have been better.
I had an equally big plate of mussels and the Marinière sauce was very good. We had to remind ourselves that these two dishes were €6 and €5 respectively -- very good value.
The main courses arrived and they were well presented and generously proportioned. Again I had a small problem: my fish pie was cold in the middle.
It was quickly changed and soon I was digging into a very well-made pie, while Marian made a brave attempt at finishing the large burger on her plate. It tasted very good and the chips were excellent, but I would have preferred the burger to have been less finely minced. A very fine mince meant that the burger looked very solid. A coarser mince would have made it look more home-made and the consistency would have been less dense.
After this, we could have had apple pie and ice-cream for €4.50, a chocolate fudge truffle for €5.50 or a crème brulée for €6, but we were both so well fed after the two courses we'd eaten it was just an espresso for me.
This and a second glass of wine brought the bill to €55.85 without service charge, excellent value for what we'd eaten.
VALUE FOR MONEY 9/10
25-30 = EXCELLENT
20-25 = GOOD
15-20 = FA IR
0-15 = POOR