Restaurant review: Paolo Tullio at Louie’s, Dublin 1
Between 1745 and 1748, James Fitzgerald, Earl of Kildare, did something very unusual -- he built his Dublin residence on the unfashionable south side of Dublin. Until he made his surprising move, the aristocracy and gentry lived on the north side, on squares we now call Mountjoy and Parnell.
The earl, who later became the Duke of Leinster and renamed his ducal palace Leinster House, always maintained that where he led, others would follow. They did as he predicted, and soon the Dublin quality had moved south of the river and the grand houses of the north side drifted into neglect.
I can remember when some of the houses on the south side of Mountjoy Square had fallen into total ruin. Although they have been rescued from complete dereliction, somehow Mountjoy Square remained undeveloped throughout our tiger years.
It's hard to imagine how houses as grand as these would have been allowed to suffer such degradation in any other country, especially given their proximity to the city centre.
This week, one of my dinner guests was Mary Mitchell O'Connor TD, whose place of work is Leinster House, so my plan of going to dinner in Louie's of Mountjoy Square seemed to close a circle. Louie's is on the east side of the square and the house has been extensively renovated, the restaurant itself being in the basement.
I arrived for dinner with Marian Kenny and Mary, so I found myself with two glamorous blondes for company. Downstairs we found a simply decorated dining room, with a fine tiled floor, bare brick exposed on some walls and well-spaced tables. The furniture was simple wood, the chairs hard enough to ensure you wouldn't be lingering too long over your coffee. The overall effect was of clean lines and simplicity.
When the first thing you see on a lunch menu is 'soup of the day and homemade bread €3.95', you know you've got a menu that's keeping prices to a minimum. In fact, Louie's offers some pretty good deals, such as dinner for two (three courses) plus tea or coffee and a bottle of wine for €60.
Even the Ã la carte is very affordable -- no starter over €7.50, and mains running from €15.75 to €22.50, with only the Angus steaks and scallops costing more.
There's a simple wine list with most of the wines in the €20-€30 bracket, and house wines start at €21.50.
With neither of the glamorous blondes drinking wine and me doing the driving, studying the wine list was a little bit of an academic exercise. I only wanted a glass of wine, and our waiter suggested a glass of Viura, a white wine from the Rioja, which I ordered. We also ordered three large bottles of sparkling water and diet cokes.
While the ladies ordered from the Ã la carte, I ordered from the early-bird menu, which offered three courses for €24.95. Mary decided on two starters -- first the goujons of lemon sole then, to follow, the goat's-cheese salad -- while Marian started with goat's cheese salad and followed that with the day's special of sea bass. My choices on the early bird for starters were soup, chowder, Caesar salad or goat's cheese, so following the ladies I also started with the goat's cheese then chose fish 'n' chips -- a beer-battered haddock.
There was good, homemade bread on the table and we enjoyed that while we waited for the starters. The goat's cheese was baked and was served on dressed leaves, accompanied by figs, which were almost ripe -- a rarity on this island. But the star of the starters was Mary's dish. Lemon sole is one of those underestimated fish, possibly because it's cheap. Done as goujons -- that's as little crumbed fillets -- it's a fine dish and Mary was delighted with it.
I was pleased that there was no attempt to take away the excellent bread when the mains arrived -- well, two mains and another starter, to be exact. Mary happily ate her goat's cheese, while Marian thought her sea bass was a little tasteless. She was right, but there are some curious laws in this country when it comes to fish, and I took a moment to explain them to the only TD at our table.
Restaurants are only allowed to sell farmed sea bass, most of it coming from Greece. They could theoretically import sea bass from Northern Ireland or Scotland, but Irish line-caught sea bass remains illegal for restaurants. And that's true for salmon and sea trout as well.
Even more bizarrely, hand-dived scallops are illegal, while dredged scallops, which involves dredging the sea floor with a five-tonne dredge, devastating the marine floor environment, is legal.
On my plate, I had two fillets of haddock, the batter crisp and not oily, and a small pot of hand-cut chips which, somewhat unwillingly, I was forced to share. Again, haddock is another underestimated fish, every bit as tasty as cod, to which it is closely related. It's also a good deal less endangered than cod, so it makes a green alternative.
With our mains cleared, our thoughts turned to desserts. The ladies announced that they could eat no more, so I ordered the Kahlua and praline tart for my dessert. With immense foresight, our waiter brought three sets of dessert cutlery, because of course the dessert became a shared dish. Tasty it was, too.
We ended the meal with a tea and an espresso, which brought the bill to very reasonable €117.75. Well done Louie's -- there were sugar lumps for the tea, but there was caster sugar for my espresso.
Before we left, Marian and I went to try out the smoking terrace at the back, which you reach through a very prettily decorated conservatory -- a fine place to be in good weather.
Dublin 1 is not overfilled with restaurants, so Louie's is a welcome addition to the area.
20 Mountjoy Square,
Tel: 01-836 4588
VALUE FOR MONEY 9/10