Meeting House Square, Dublin 2
Tel: 01 6705372
Our Christmas dinner was not a turkey
So this is Christmas. I figure it's important to do something festive, especially as I have yet to do such festive things as Christmas shopping, cake-making or goose-cooking. Dublin city is swarming with shoppers and merry makers. The traffic on my way into town is appalling and I am stuck in a taxi with a driver who wants to talk about the Mayan calendar.
He tells me that the Adrian Kennedy radio show will be talking about the projected end of the world later on that night. Even when I'm trying my hardest to be festive, I get stuck talking about doom and damnation. Did that end of the world prediction not pass peacefully a few weeks back, I ask him?
No! It is due to happen in a few days time (as you are reading this, in fact). But despite his faith, the taxi driver says he doesn't believe all of the factors are in place yet and then goes into detail about earthquakes, flooding, riots and Satan. When he starts on the topic of homosexuality, I start to feel deflated. The traffic is moving at a crawl, so I make an executive decision and get out and walk the rest of the way. If the world really is ending today, I don't want to have wasted too much time listening to someone passing judgement on others.
It's tough to find a Christmas dinner in Dublin. If you can make it past the hurdle of everything being booked solid with office Christmas parties, you're faced with another obstacle, which seems to be a new development, and that is Christmas menus only being available to group diners. After much calling around, I manage to establish that Eden Restaurant in Meeting House Square will serve their Christmas menu to a lowly two-party table.
This Eden is the big sister of the bar and grill that opened earlier this year on South William Street. I've been coming here since my college days and have fond memories of their Christmas dinner, which was our big treat of the year and made us feel very grown up. Back then, we had turkey with cranberries, but tonight, as I scan the Christmas menu, I am dismayed to see not a single turkey or ham option.
Maybe the taxi driver was right. If the secularisation of Christmas has spread even to Christmas menus perhaps we really are in end times. Still, I spot that there is at least some Christmas pudding to look forward to.
I'm with my friend, who I shall call The Cynic. He's a newspaperman and we move quickly from predicting the end of the world to talking about the newspaper equivalent of 2012 – what will happen to print media?
We take a break from our days' end predictions to order. He has the soup of the day – mushroom with truffle oil – and I have the Castletownbrere crab salad, which is lightly curried and comes on top of a beetroot concasse with wasabi caviar.
It doesn't look pretty but it tastes incredible, a mixture of textures and flavours working perfectly together. It certainly beats smoked salmon on brown bread! Maybe this new-fangled Christmas menu is not so bad after all.
Next up we order mains. I have hake with a tomato risotto with chorizo and The Cynic orders the twice-baked goat's cheese soufflé with polenta cake, peppers and olives.
The Cynic is a vegetarian, so these are the only options available to him on the menu (although he could have had a goat's cheese tart for a starter, but that would be too much even for the biggest cheese lover amongst us.
He tells me he doesn't even like goat's cheese that much but ends up eating it all the time because it's the number-one go-to ingredient for restaurants when it comes to drawing up their veggie options. With this in mind, he says it is very good indeed and eats it all, which must be high praise. My risotto is very rich with the strong flavour of the chorizo working well with the giant fillet of hake.
The waiter refills our glasses – we've ordered some prosecco to be Christmassy. Unlike its much more relaxed sister, the original Eden has always managed to mix a friendly approach with a certain formality that reflects the food served. The waiters are extremely well-informed and well-turned-out in white shirts and long aprons (whereas in Eden South William Street, they simply wear their own clothes, which reflects the relaxed grill-style food).
They serve the food and drink with a flourish and all appear to be career waiters of the sort you only usually see in France. Anyway, it shows in the service, which is excellent.
By the time desserts come around, I am very excited to be able to order a properly traditional Christmas dish – the pudding with brandy ice cream and vanilla custard.
It's topped with some red berries and tastes like Christmas on a spoon. Its spices and flavours travel directly to my nerve centre and hit the Christmas switch. Finally, the effect I was looking for has been achieved.
The Cynic has a cranberry and white chocolate cheesecake, which comes with a winter berry compote, and passes his standards test.
So often one is disappointed by cheesecake, he says, then collapses in laughter as he realises what he has just said – I mean, here I am whining about cheesecake when the world is going to end. (He's not called The Cynic for nothing.)
The food has all been excellent and while Eden's Christmas menu may not conform to the traditional requirements and expectations, it is undoubtedly festive and celebratory in the ingredients it has chosen. Set against the twinkling fairy lights and the groups of happy faces at table, it certainly feels Christmassy.
Later on, in the taxi home, I realise the driver is listening to Adrian Kennedy ... did I miss the End Of The World discussion, I ask? He looks at me as if I am crazy, then says, yes, you just missed it and we drive all the way home in sweet silence.
The damage: €122 for two three-course Christmas dinners (@ €42 each) and one bottle of prosecco.
Recommended: Crab; Christmas pudding.
At table: A famous historian, Christmas groups of friends, couples and families