Paolo Tullio: Steak out this Meaty find
Some of my earliest memories are of the restaurant that my parents bought in O'Connell Street in Dublin in the 1960s. It was called the Green Rooster and it was one of the very few restaurants in those days that was open after 6pm.
It was a time in Irish history when eating out was a rare event, restaurants were thin on the ground and hotel restaurants tended to offer poor-quality food.
It was the purchase of this restaurant that brought my family to Ireland. I can remember a lot about the Green Rooster -- it occupied two floors, there was a liveried doorman at night, the wine list was short and the menu was heavily dominated by meat.
Until then, I'd grown up in England, and between the English diet and the Italian tradition followed in my mother's kitchen, meat was not an everyday food. It came as a surprise to me how meat formed such a large part of the Irish diet.
The change in our eating habits since then has been nothing short of a revolution. In my youth, pizza, pasta, olive oil, mayonnaise and espressos were entirely unknown here. Eating out was saved for exceptional celebrations.
Today, we would be a little shocked at how much on the menus was fried and how chips were fundamental to every single dish.
The menu in the Green Rooster wasn't groundbreaking or adventurous -- it offered exactly what people wanted: steak and chips, chicken and chips, and mixed grills and chips. However, it occurs to me that our love affair with meat is still going strong.
It's not hard to see why. Irish lamb and beef are probably the best available in Europe. Both of these animals are raised outdoors on lush Irish grass, as opposed to indoors on concrete slats and fed on meal, which is becoming the norm elsewhere in Europe. This heritage is something that we should treasure, as factory farming becomes a bandwagon across the world. The traditional way of raising lamb and beef results in healthier animals and higher-quality meat.
A couple of months ago I reviewed Dylan McGrath's Rustic Stone. I remarked that, since he was specialising in beef, he'd almost certainly do well, since he wasn't trying to change people's tastes but was catering to them. I'd take much the same line with this week's restaurant review of The Butcher Grill in Ranelagh.
As its name suggests, it's unashamedly carnivore. Its logo is the classic butchers' depiction of a bullock, with the cuts all delineated and named. Indeed, the interior is designed so as to evoke the look of a butcher's shop.
I was there with Bairbre Power, and before we even saw a menu we had already decided that beef would be a definite choice for both of us. That was probably for the best, because beef does figure very largely on the menu.
It's a short menu, with seven starters and seven main courses. Of the mains, five are from a wood-smoked grill and four of those five are beef dishes. This restaurant specialises in beef, so its success will depend on how well it cooks its signature dishes.
Fresh bread arrived and with it came a small dish of olive oil, which had spoiled from too long an exposure to the air and light. It's not a major thing, but restaurants that like to serve olive oil as a dip should check it frequently for freshness.
The wine list isn't long either, but it does have some decent wines and most of the list is priced between €20 and €50. We decided on a glass of red wine each and took a suggestion from our server to try one of the three house wines, a Caburnio at €6.50.
In fact, all six house wines are Italian, and are labelled by number, Bovine 1, 2 and 3. Bovine -- geddit? Wine for beef.
We started with gambas for Bairbre and devilled kidneys for me, exactly what Bairbre predicted I'd choose. The gambas, fat Tiger prawns, were cooked simply and well with lemon and garlic and served with a splash of Romesco sauce, a sweet red-pepper sauce from northern Spain. It all worked rather well together, I thought.
The devilled kidneys are served on bruschetta, but I'd asked for them without the bread. They had been nicely cooked, but the devilled bit in the name -- the bit that contains the mustard, paprika and Worcester sauce -- was almost too subtle to taste.
And so to the main event. We'd decided on beef, but then we had to choose between the menu options. We settled on the côte de boeuf, a rib-steak cut designed for two and priced at €45 for a 24oz steak.
The menu tells you to allow 40 minutes for this, which is as it should be. It needs that length of time to cook properly; that's to say with a caramelised exterior and just warm enough inside to get the marbling fat to render.
We asked for it pink and that was exactly how it came, served as it is traditionally in France with the bone to one side and the meat sliced. It looked great, presented on a wooden board. It was delicious and tender.
Surprisingly, we managed a dessert to share. We picked the crème brûlée, which was tasty but, as we got further into it, we discovered it was still liquid at the bottom of the ramekin. It didn't affect the taste, but it's not a difficult dessert to do right.
A couple of espressos finished the meal and brought our bill to €102.50 without a service charge. Good service, good meat and good wine meant a good dining experience.