Paolo Tullio: Worth howling about
If you're a regular reader of restaurant reviews, you'll probably have noticed that there's an unspoken and unwritten competition between reviewers. It's the race to be the first in print with a review of a new restaurant.
Theoretically, there's nothing wrong with this. It shows a reviewer to be au fait with the restaurant scene, someone who hears about openings before the rest of the pack. A restaurant that's open for business and takes your money for a meal is surely fair game for a review. And yes, theoretically that's true. However, only a confirmed optimist or someone looking for things to go wrong would go to a restaurant within days of its opening.
There are so many variables involved in a restaurant that planning in advance for all of them can be, at best, just a hope. Events with real people will throw up problems that the designers and management hadn't predicted. Like any new business, a restaurant needs a week or two to iron out its teething problems. A review of a restaurant before it's found its feet is likely to be off the mark.
I tell you this because this week I went to a restaurant called Wolfe's that has been open for just over a month and that has already had a couple of rather excoriating reviews. I went there for lunch with Tom Doorley, my TV-partner critic, and he's a man who isn't easily impressed.
Wolfe's is almost next door to where Gary Rhodes had his D7 restaurant on Capel Street. Downstairs, it's a deli and they've recently opened upstairs as a restaurant. The chef, sous chef and front-of-house restaurant manager are all from Bentley's, so they're all of the Corrigan school.
There are two upstairs rooms that are simply furnished and the tables have plenty of space between them. The menu is also simple, relying on good artisan produce that's acknowledged on the menu. The stated aim of Wolfe's is to produce good, wholesome food from passionate artisan producers.
Tom and I got a table by a window and looked over the hubbub of life that is Capel Street. We had two menus to look at: the day's special lunch menu, which offers two courses for €15 or three for €20, and the à la carte. Although the set lunches looked good and offered great value, both Tom and I were hooked by dishes on the à la carte. Well, one dish in particular, the bacon and cabbage with parsley sauce. We couldn't both have it for a review lunch, so I rather gallantly left that with Tom and chose the pork and leek sausages with mash instead. All the main courses were €10, and other options were a club sandwich and chips, a steak sandwich with truffle mayonnaise and chips, mussels and fries, a six-ounce burger and chips, and whole, grilled, line-caught mackerel with sautéed potatoes and salad.
If you're wondering why we were both so keen on the bacon and cabbage, it was because this is a classic Irish dish and it works if, and only if, the bacon is top quality. So if Wolfe's were serious about their mission statement, this was a dish that needed to be well sourced and well cooked.
The wine list is a short one but it's entirely from Liberty Wines, one of the better wholesalers, so there are good wines on the list. Since we were only having a glass each, we asked for a recommendation and the suggestion was the Mâcon-Villages white from Domaine Perraut. An excellent recommendation it turned out to be too; it had the substance and style of an expensive Burgundy but at the price of a Mâconnais -- €8 a glass or €31 a bottle.
We needed to choose a starter and we both chose the chicken terrine, but this time I didn't change my choice. It was a large slice of a well-made terrine, nicely flavoured, and we had some excellent bread to eat it with. We also had three dips, one of which was an exceptional olive oil -- Spanish it turned out -- that had the fresh, spicy notes of a good oil that had been properly stored. I almost enjoyed the bread and oil best.
The main courses arrived and we were not disappointed. The bacon turned out to be free range and had been dry-cured by Crowes of Tipperary. Dry cure has to be the best way to cure bacon, and free-range pork is something that we should all encourage, because battery-bred pigs may give us cheap pork but their living conditions are horrendous, a tragedy for such intelligent animals.
Tom and I did what we do on 'The Restaurant': we swapped plates and tastes. I thought the bacon and cabbage dish was superb, the cabbage cooked just right, the parsley sauce doing its job well. Tom thought the parsley sauce would have been better had the parsley been more coarsely chopped, but that was a minor thing, and like me he thought the dish well done. The sausages worked well too; they were served on a bed of tasty mash and were big, firm and very tasty. How nice to have a simple restaurant where you can get old favourites that are specifically Irish.
We shared a dessert -- all of which are priced at €6 -- of sinful little chocolate cups filled with a luscious chocolate filling, what we used to call 'death by chocolate', and a rhubarb crème brûlée. The chocolate didn't kill us, and it was delicious.
There's a young team in Wolfe's and they're trying hard to do something interesting and good. In my judgement they're doing it well, and I sincerely hope that their hard work and dedication will succeed. The bill came to €54, which was great value and, better still, Tom paid it.
Value for money: 10/10