The review... Brother Hubbard
Brother Hubbard, 135 Capel Street, Dublin 1, (01) 441 1112
If you had to pick one person who has influenced the way we eat now, compared to how we ate a decade ago, who would it be? You might be inclined to say René Redzepi, the chef at Noma in Copenhagen, to whom the ubiquity of 'foraged' ingredients on Irish restaurant menus can be traced back.
Not that Redzepi invented foraging of course, because that's been going on since caveman times, but he is certainly responsible for bringing it into the mainstream. But Redzepi is still considered a little 'out there', and his influence is not as apparent in home cooking as it is in restaurants.
Or you might think of Jamie Oliver, who has done more to democratise cooking from scratch and encourage the widespread eating of good quality food than anyone else.
One of the names you might also consider is that of Yotam Ottolenghi, who with his business partner Sami Tamimi is the man behind the Ottolenghi restaurants in London and the cookbooks - Ottolenghi, Jerusalem, Plenty and Plenty More - that have revolutionised the middle-class suburban dinner party. I wrote a few months back about a new Dublin restaurant that is so under the Ottolenghi influence that its menu includes dishes taken from those very books and its premises look almost identical to Ottolenghi's own restaurants in London, down to the furniture, décor and even typeface that it uses. Unfortunately, that restaurant seems to have everything right bar the food, which looks amazing but tastes flat and dull.
Almost everyone loves Ottolenghi-type food. Taking its influences mainly from the Middle East, it's colourful, vibrant and exciting, and it's big on vegetables and whole grains, so it's perceived as healthy. It feels modern, the way that we want to eat now. The only problem is the amount of time that it takes to prepare. It's labour-intensive food, and it works best when there are several complementary dishes. There's a lot of chopping and getting the seeds out of pomegranates and pulling the leaves off herbs involved. In my house we call it 'chopathon' food and we've come to an agreement that if we decide that we're going to have an Ottolenghi-esque meal, then everyone has to participate in its preparation, because it's just too much work for one person, and it's hard to cook with love when you're losing the will to live.
All this is a long-winded way of saying that this kind of food is really best prepared in a restaurant, by a team of people, with plenty of customers to feed. It's not complicated, cheffy food, but it's not as easy as you might think to get it right. It takes talent and an excellent palate to get the spicing and combinations of ingredients just so.
Brother Hubbard is a popular café with simple tables and stools (not, it has to be said, the most comfortable restaurant I've ever been to) on Dublin's Capel Sreet, and a sibling to Sister Sadie on Harrington Street in Dublin 8. During the day it serves breakfast and lunch, and at the weekend its brunch is deservedly mobbed. Over the summer it started to open for dinner, and the offering is very much in the Ottolenghi vein, with a set Middle Eastern menu priced at €27.95 for three courses and €22.95 for two. You can order individual main courses if you prefer, but on the evidence of our meal there last week I would encourage you to work up an appetite and go the whole three-course hog.
We started with the mezze platter, served with za'atar flat-bread and pickled carrots and beetroot, which included sweet potato, coriander and chickpea falafel with a tahini and lemon sauce, spiced cauliflower florets with lime and fennel yoghurt, beetroot hummus with dukkah and Moroccan harira lentil soup with baba-ganoush dressing. We loved the presentation, and that the platter had been so carefully arranged that there were three distinct portions of each element other than the hummus, so there was no need to try to divide anything, or squabble over who got what. Everything tasted bright and exhilarating and I can only imagine the amount of time that it would have taken to prepare it all at home.
We each chose a main course from a selection that included a couple of vegetarian options. (Brother Hubbard would, by the way, be an excellent choice for non-meat-eaters). The beef koftas recommended by our waiter were delicate and gently spiced, still slightly pink in the middle, and came with feta and mint in a tasty tomato and red pepper sauce. Baharat lamb cutlets, two lovely, rare, tender little morsels, were served with char-grilled red onion with sumac and salsa verde, and decorated with pomegranate and rose petal, while harissa-marinated mackerel, with delightfully crisp skin, was accompanied by a green tahini dressing, toasted walnut and oat crumble, and a zesty beetroot and watercress salad. It was our least favourite dish, but only because the beef and lamb were so exceptional that it paled somewhat in comparison. Alongside, a dish of 'wedding' couscous, with lentils, caramelised onions, raisins, herbs and flowers, and charred tenderstem broccoli and long yellow beans doused in a memorable spiced butter that was utterly delicious.
The dessert platter comprised walnut and orange blossom baklava, Turkish lokum (a version of Turkish delight, but much nicer), chocolate ice cream with hazelnut praline and a refreshing plate of fresh fig and spiced orange slices, anointed with a mint and pomegranate syrup. None of us has much of a sweet tooth, but we loved each and every element of this selection, and the way that it was presented.
With a bottle of 7 Rue de Pompe, a syrah from the Languedoc, with hints of dark chocolate and dried fruit, and some sparkling water, the bill for two was €85.80 before service, which is excellent value.
9/10 value for money
ON A BUDGET
You could have the beef koftas with a side of the charred broccoli and yellow beans for €14.90. Or a starter platter with a taste of all the starters for €8.95.
ON A BLOW OUT
The three-course feast that we had is €27.95 and that's the most expensive option on the menu. The priciest wine is €33.95 a bottle.
THE HIGH POINT
Exhilarating food and genuinely charming service: it's a winning combination. (And not having to do any of the chopping).
THE LOW POINT
The stools. Fine for a quick lunch, less appealing for a lingering dinner.
Whispers from the gastronomicon
The sixth meeting of The Fatted Calf Beef Club will take place on Friday, October 30, 2015 @ 7:45pm.
Head chef, Deirdre Adamson, and chef-proprietor, Feargal O'Donnell, of the brand new Fatted Calf, relocated to Church St in Athlone from Glasson, have teamed up with Allan Morris of John Stone Beef, and Gavin Keogh of Wines Direct, for a tasting menu with matching wines. The price is €55 per person, to make a reservation, call 0906 433371 / firstname.lastname@example.org. The new Fatted Calf serves dinner Tuesday to Saturday from 5:30pm and will be open for lunch Friday and Saturday from the end of September.