Restaurant Review: The Bad Ass Cafe, 9-11 Crown Alley, Temple Bar, Dublin 2. Tel. 01 675 3005
There are a few rules that I follow when I'm looking for a restaurant abroad. First, if there are photographs on the menu then it's one to avoid. If the menu is in English, that's another danger sign. And if the restaurant appears to be full of tourists, with not a local in sight, you should definitely avoid it.
But what, I asked myself, if I was a tourist in Dublin? Those rules would be as useful as an ashtray on a motorbike. So I began to wonder what would be in store for the proverbial visiting couple. Once the Viking Splash Tour had finished, the trip to the Guinness Hop Store was over, and the cultural pit stop of a look at the Book of Kells had been completed, what remains?
Why, a visit to the cultural centre of Dublin, Temple Bar.
I don't think I'm unique in avoiding Temple Bar; after all, it wasn't set up for Irish residents. Every guide book to Dublin has it down as party central, the place to go to find that peculiarly Irish thing, craic.
I'd arrived with food writer Caitriona McBride to investigate what Temple Bar had to offer. Past the Central Bank we saw The Storehouse, where I'd gone to meet some Italian friends a few months back. They were completely delighted with the place, were happy with the bar food and particularly liked the Irish musicians. So there's a place that pleases tourists.
We weren't looking for pub food, so we looked across the road to The Bad Ass Café, It was almost completely full and there was live music which sounded pretty good. "Let's do it," said Caitriona.
Inside it was buzzing, but we got a table for two near the back of the room. The decor worked rather well, looking more like a pub interior than a restaurant. And the musicians, who I later discovered were called The Beverley Brothers, were playing a great version of The Righteous Brothers' 'Bring Back That Lovin' Feeling'. Before they finished their set, we were treated to The Everlys' 'Bye Bye Love', 'Jean Genie' and some Elvis, too.
So to the menu. First impressions are that it's like a gastropub menu, with dishes that are quite quick to prepare, apart from the nine pizzas and four pasta dishes. Just as I wouldn't sit in a Roman restaurant and order Irish stew, I didn't even consider a pizza or a pasta dish. But Caitriona was gamer than me – after her order of chicken wings to start, she chose the Bad Ass pizza, which by way of describing the topping said 'everything but the kitchen sink'.
I was less adventurous and chose the Kick Ass salad to start and the Crazy Cowboy burger to follow. A glass of house Shiraz for Caitriona and a bottle of sparkling water for me completed our order.
Before I go on, I have to say that the service was very good, being both friendly and very professional, which is a combination that you won't find too often.
A big bowl of chicken wings arrived for Caitriona and, for me, the salad. I rather liked the taste of the chicken wings – they were well flavoured and cooked well. My salad was disappointing, not because of the ingredients, but because it was fridge cold. That meant that the pieces of chargrilled chicken which were placed on top had also become cold.
It's possible that keeping salads in the fridge until needed is a health and safety imposition, but serving food at fridge temperature kills all flavours and is at best unpleasant to eat. Surely there's a 'health and safety' way to serve salad at room temperature and chicken hot from the grill?
A big 12in pizza was placed before Caitriona and a burger before me. Certainly the pizza was not over-priced at €13.95, and, as promised, it did include a huge number of ingredients in the topping. Now, I'm a purist in these things, so I'd be put off by pieces of uncooked peppers, but most people are not purists, so they might well be happy with the jumble of ingredients that came with the Bad Ass pizza.
When I tasted a bit – having removed the uncooked peppers – I thought the base could have been crisper. That's the trouble with a lot of wet ingredients in the topping: it's almost impossible to get a crisp base.
My Crazy Cowboy burger was perfectly acceptable. It came with smoked cheese and crispy bacon and I enjoyed its simplicity. This is the sort of dish you'd expect the Bad Ass Café to do well, like their fish and chips, bangers and mash and braised lamb shanks.
We finished with two espressos, which were obviously made with a decent coffee. However, as is so often the case in Dublin, you can take a good coffee and make a poor espresso with it. An espresso with no crema is not an espresso in my view.
If Caitriona and I had been a tourist couple, we might not have hit culinary perfection, but we were well entertained, the service was excellent and we were not ripped off: our bill came to €67.05.
On a budget
You could satisfy a hungry man with one of their pizzas. There's a few to choose from at €12.95 or, if pizza is not your thing, classic fish and chips at €13.95 might do the trick.
on a blowout
The most expensive dish on the menu is the sirloin steak at €17.95, so if you had that and a charcuterie board at €9.95 to start, you'd have maxed out on the menu.
The great music.
The cold salad.