RESTAURANT REVIEW: Paolo Tullio at Govindas and Juice, Dublin
This week I did something I very rarely do: I went to a launch. The Ritz-Carlton in Enniskerry has re-thought its restaurant and the man himself, Gordon Ramsay, was over to host an evening with food journos.
I'll admit right now that I've never really seen the point of restaurants branded by celebrity chefs. They're not going to be in the kitchen doing the cooking, so what, precisely, is the deal?
If there is an answer to this question, it can only be this: they have to be skilled at picking a team that will do the actual work.
The dining room itself has undergone a major makeover, as has the outdoor terrace with its views of the Sugarloaf Mountain. Inside it's brighter, but the main change is the menu. The emphasis is now firmly on local artisan produce, the kitchen policy is 'good food, no foam', and affordable wines are now on offer.
With executive chef Eric Meloche, pastry genius Ludovic Lantier and head chef Peter Byrne, recently arrived from Chapter One, there's a wealth of real talent running the kitchen. I ate well, and came away thinking that a shift in emphasis away from the brand name towards the produce and the team that prepare it is a good move.
The rest of the week's dining didn't quite hit the same high notes. It's been a while since I went to dinner with Gill Hall, and I thought it was about time we had another sortie into the world of restaurants. Gill is a life-long vegetarian and a very fine cook. Any time I've eaten at her house, the food has been delicious.
So, on this outing, I thought we could check out a vegetarian restaurant. I didn't want one that also caters for vegetarians, I wanted one that did nothing else.
A trawl through the internet found me Govindas. There are three in Dublin; they aren't just vegetarian but are also vegan, and the chain seems to have a connection with the Hari Krishna Temple. As two old hippies who both remember Dublin's Good Karma restaurant of the 1970s, this looked like a runner. We decided that the Aungier Street branch would be our destination and Gill booked us a table.
I don't know why, but I'd come away from Govindas' website thinking we were going to a restaurant where you would be served at the table. So when we walked into Govindas, I was a little taken aback. There was a self-service counter in front of us with some trays of food laid out and two very pleasant ladies behind the counter.
The dining room was made up of rather plain tables and chairs, all of them occupied by one man. That's not one man occupying all the tables, I mean each table had a single man sitting at it. That's a complete reversal of the normal demographics in a restaurant -- it's usually 80pc female occupancy.
Behind the counter were three big trays: one had a kind of bean thing; one was paneer, which is a kind of cottage cheese in a tomato sauce, and there was the day's special which was moussaka at €10.95.
Plain rice was available, and there were a few remaining samosas and spring rolls. Gill got rice and the tomato paneer, I got rice and the moussaka. Gill took a spring roll and I took both a spring roll and a samosa and both of these came with dips. My moussaka was put into a microwave to warm up, Gill's paneer wasn't and went on to a cold plate.
There was no sparkling water to be had, so Gill took a bottle of plain water and I took a bottle of French orangeade. We took our trays to a window table and sat down to eat.
It wasn't good. If I were looking for the good bits, I can tell you that the aubergines in my moussaka had been properly cooked and the sauce was quite nice, but the slices of potato that had taken the place of lamb in the dish were hard and undercooked and there wasn't enough sauce to make the dry rice palatable.
Gill picked a bit at her lukewarm paneer, but ate little of it. Oh yes, the sweet chilli dip was rather good and made the very dry spring rolls almost edible.
I stared disconsolately out of the window. My eye fell upon a sign above a shop that read LAPTOPLAB. My internal voice read Lapto-plab, and I fell a-wondering. Something to do with weight loss? No, that's Lipo and flab. Then I noticed the window was stocked with laptops. Ah, lap-top-lab.
I turned to Gill. "I'm never going to get a thousand words out of this," I said.
"We could go down the road to Juice," she suggested. "It's a vegetarian restaurant."
So I paid an unitemised bill of €30.75 and we walked to Juice.
Now, Juice is actually a restaurant where you are served. It's quite nicely laid out, they have a menu and there's waiter service. I felt better at once. Sadly, our appetites had been dulled by eating some of our paneer, moussaka and a spring roll each, so we didn't order mains. Gill ordered tofu kebabs, which were good, and I ordered two starters, the nori maki rolls and a plate of three dips with pitta bread. Gill was able to have a glass of white wine at a very reasonable €4.95 and I finally got my sparkling water.
The plate of three dips at €7 was excellent -- a tapenade, hummus and baba ganouche, all nicely done and well-flavoured. The nori maki rolls were not good. The rice inside the rolls had set into a kind of white concrete with no individual grains present. When you're on the same street as Yamamori, it makes for poor comparisons. I gave Gill a piece to try and, in a very lady-like way, she spat it out into a napkin.
Despite the nori rolls, I liked Juice. The service was good, the interior pleasant and most of the food we ate was good. It was way better than Govindas and it turned out to be cheaper, too. After an espresso for me, the bill came to €28.20.
On a budget or blowout
Neither Juice nor Govindas are designed for blow-outs — you may need to go to Enniskerry for that. There’s an element of worthy earnestness to both of them and extravagance isn’t part of the underpinning philosophy.
As to budget dining, I’d save money by not eating in Govindas at all, or in Juice I’d go for the set-menu options, which are a two-course lunch for €7.95 or €15.50 for a three-course earlybird dinner, both of which look like good value. Juice has a short wine list of six organic wines and the most expensive is €25.95.
Govindas 4/10, Juice 6/10
Govindas 4/10, Juice 8/10
VALUE FOR MONEY
Govindas 4/10, Juice 8/10
Govindas 12/30, Juice 22/30
4 Aungier Street,
Tel: 01 475 0309
73 South Great
Georges Street, D2
Tel: 01 475 7856