Restaurant review: Paolo Tullio at The Bailey, Dublin 2
Long before I began my pastoral idyll in the depths of the Wicklow Hills, I was an urbanite. From my earliest youth, I lived in cities, surrounded by shops, crowds and small parks.
The land beyond the city walls was somewhere that we visited as a family on the weekends, dipping our feet, as it were, into the rural world.
In my late teens, I lived in Herbert Street, just a short walk from my studies in Trinity College, and I ended up there for eight years.
As a recent arrival from England, there was much I needed to know about my new country of residence, and a big part of that learning curve was discovering the delights of the Irish pub.
The camaraderie, the warmth and the general craic that the Irish pub had to offer was a very different experience from the English version and, in truth, it was one that I preferred.
There were two pubs that I visited regularly. The nearest one to me in Herbert Street was Sean Murphy's, which sat between Upper and Lower Mount Street and was universally known as Scruffy Murphy's. And when I was in the city centre, my other regular haunt was The Bailey.
Looking back, I think I got my view of literary Dublin from JP Donleavy's 'The Ginger Man'; the pub was the meeting place of minds, their interaction oiled by the liberal application of alcohol.
And deep in this literary tradition was The Bailey, which had on prominent display that most literary of artefacts, Leopold Bloom's front door from his house in Eccles Street.
Every Bloomsday, the door was a point of pilgrimage. On the other days of the year, it gave the regulars in The Bailey a sense that literary greatness was ever in reach.
After I made the move to the Wicklow Hills I didn't get back to The Bailey for 10 years or so. Not surprisingly when I walked in, there wasn't a face I recognised, such is the turnover of regulars in city-centre pubs.
Nothing, of course, stays the same, and The Bailey -- like everywhere else -- has reinvented itself. The seafood restaurant that I knew on the first floor has long gone; the outside terrace is now possibly its greatest attraction when the weather is clement; Bloom's door has moved to the Joyce Museum and now you can eat tapas.
I reacquainted myself with The Bailey this week when I went there to meet Gerard Carthy of www.tasteofireland.com. On the day, Gerard had learned that the menu is designed and produced by Matt Fuller, a chef who impressed me enormously when he was head chef in the Salon des Saveurs.
In fact, he impressed enough people that he was nominated for Chef of the Year in 2010 and 2011.
The new menu is a two-page affair, tapas on one side and wines on the other. There are a dozen or so classic tapas, plus a few other dishes, such as Caprese salad, Clonakilty black pudding and mini fish and chips.
Most of the tapas are between €3 and €9 and, although the wine list is short, nearly all the wines are available by the glass, with only the bubbles costing more than €7.
Gerard, like me, has had a long association with Spain and, like me, really enjoys Spanish food. We decided on six tapas between us: ham croquettes, prawns in garlic and chilli, patatas bravas, Spanish omelette, meatballs in tomato sauce and fried chorizo.
We also ordered two glasses of a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc called Stoneleigh at €6 each and a large bottle of sparkling water.
This last request was unavailable -- water was only to be had in small bottles. Why pubs insist on doing this is beyond me. If they want to provide food, water is integral to that and offering it only in small bottles makes it absurdly expensive.
If there is a battle to be had, here, it is: stop the small-bottle rip-off.
Our tapas arrived and they did look good. Of course, it turned out to be far too much food and we left much of it, but a few of the tapas were finished despite no appetite, simply because they were so good.
The tapa that really pleased me was the simple ham croquette, made Spanish style not with potato but with bechamel. The fried chorizo also disappeared.
You might think that frying chorizo would make it more fatty, but the opposite happens. Once fried until crisp, the fat renders and runs off, leaving the chorizo slices very tasty and with much less fat.
The Spanish omelette was a very generous slice and we ate much of it, and we also enjoyed the patatas bravas, a Catalan speciality.
In Spain, they're served with the 'brava' sauce covering the potatoes, whereas here the sauce was served separately along with a pot of aioli, also separate -- an arrangement that might suit many.
I think I've mentioned this before, but in my view meatballs should not be made of coarse mince. For me, the test is simple: if you cut one in half, it should become two halves. If it disintegrates when cut then the mince is too coarse. This isn't a major whinge, just a small point.
Other than this, I found the meatballs to be tasty -- a good mix of beef and pork.
The only dish that didn't impress me was the prawns. They were exactly as described, cooked with chilli and garlic, but I couldn't get excited. Perhaps it's just that I've had my fill of warm-water prawns.
If the weather improves even a little, the fact that you can now sit on the terrace outside The Bailey and get very good tapas while enjoying the delights of Dublin's shopping centre has to be welcome addition. I thought we'd eaten well.
A decent espresso and coffee finished our meal and our bill came to €60.80.
On a budget
If it’s not raining, take a seat on the terrace and enjoy the world passing you by. There are a few wines for €5 a glass, and you could pick on the ham croquettes for €3.50 and enjoy an espresso for €1.90.
On a blowout
The seafood dishes are the expensive ones. The squid rings are €7 and the prawns in garlic and chilli are €9.80. Accompany these with a glass of Prosecco, either white or rosé, for €8.
1-4 Duke Street,
Tel: 01-670 4939