Restaurant review: Paolo Tullio at Bay, Dublin 3
If the bureaucrats in the EU have their way, restaurant menus will change dramatically. There's already a discussion document in circulation that would require restaurant menus to give a whole raft of information, such as a calorie count, whether or not the dish contains hydrogenated fats, or nuts, or gluten or any number of other ingredients.
The days of a short menu may be numbered.
It's hard to argue with the idea that more information is a good thing. Generally speaking, it's an idea I'd favour. Knowing where my food comes from, how it was produced and its nutritional value would be high on my list of priorities.
Where I might demur is on the question of the calorie count.
First, it would be very hard to be exact about this number. One chef might use a tad more butter than another, or a slightly larger portion, and that would change the calorie count. But beyond that, there's another consideration.
When I go to a restaurant to eat, I'm on holiday from my daily routine. It's a special event and I wouldn't want a calorie count to stop me ordering a dish I wanted.
At home, I'd never even consider mixing mashed potato and butter in a 50/50 mix, but I'll happily eat it when I'm out to eat.
Some restaurants have already embraced the idea of putting nutritional information on their menus. Perhaps the best known is Dylan McGrath's Rustic Stone, but he's not the only one.
This week, I went to Clontarf to a restaurant called Bay, where the menu gives you just about every bit of information you could possibly want.
It's easy to overlook the problems that people with food allergies have. They can find themselves uncomfortable by having to ask about the contents of every dish on the menu, especially if they're in company.
When the menu is as informative as it is in Bay, nobody will ever find themselves in that position. Everything you could possibly want to know is displayed.
The menu here is a multi-page affair and you need time to read it.
First, there are 16 'Allergen and Lifestyle' symbols to identify the food's different qualities -- wheat free, dairy free, high fibre, low sodium, vegan, gluten free, low fat, low sugar, coeliac and others -- plus a calorie symbol which identifies a dish with a one to four rating.
One is fewer than 300 calories, four is more than 800. I didn't check out every possible permutation, but I suspect that a coeliac vegan with an intolerance to crustaceans on a low-calorie diet could find a dish to suit.
I'm lucky enough to have no food allergies and I wasn't counting calories, so I simply read the menu looking for dishes that I liked.
This was also true for Gerard Carthy, with whom I was lunching, and we chose from the lunch special menu, which gave us two courses for €16.95, or three for €22.95.
Gerard ordered the fried Brie and avocado cake (289 kcal) followed by the chef's special, which was fried monkfish and tiger prawns (767 kcal).
I ordered the soup of the day, a potato and leek soup (47 kcal), and followed that with the lamb korma (813 kcal).
The dishes that we didn't order on the lunch menu were tomato and basil bruschetta, chicken Parmigiana and a salmon fillet baked with a herb crust.
The main menu has several pages, including a brunch menu and the 'Healthy Eating Menu'. These pages are divided into boxes, and each box gives you the name of the dish, its description and the symbols that describe the 'Allergen and Lifestyle' elements of the dish.
There are plenty of choices -- there are eight starters, eight mains and seven pasta dishes, so all tastes are catered for.
The wine list is short, but it's well priced, with a good choice of wines in the €20-€30 range.
Neither Gerard nor I were drinking this lunchtime, so we had a couple of bottles of sparkling water.
The starters arrived and they were exactly as described. Gerard tucked into the fried Brie, which was fried to quite a dark brown, and I ate every last drop of my soup.
It was well balanced and nicely seasoned, warm and nourishing -- exactly right for a winter soup.
I liked the presentation of Gerard's main course -- the monkfish was served with the large prawns on top and it came with a cauliflower purée, green beans and a fondant potato.
Korma, which is based on coconut milk, is perhaps one of the less tasty curries and this one was a mild version, no doubt adapted for the Irish palate.
What I liked about the dish was that the lamb was tender enough to cut with my fork and the rice was cooked perfectly.
We decided to finish up with a shared dessert and Gerard chose the chocolate brownie.
It arrived with a scoop of ice cream on top and was covered in a chocolate sauce. It was a good ending to a good meal, but the real treat for me came after this.
I got a really well-made espresso served in a clear glass demitasse, which showed off its thick head of crema -- the bit that ought to be atop an espresso and rarely is.
When our attention was not on the food, we had a fine view across the bay to the North Bull Island, where we could see the golf club at the end of the causeway. Beyond that we could see the Sugar Loaf and the start of the Wicklow Hills.
I enjoyed this lunch, which came to €59.70.
VALUE FOR MONEY 8/10
367/8 Clontarf Road,
Tel: 01-853 2406