The Capel Building, Mary's Abbey, Dublin 7
Tel: 01 4707770
Tiger haunt enjoys fresh lease of life
How things change. In the 2006 world of endless credit and designer handbag lust, the celebrity chef Gary Rhodes opened his restaurant, Rhodes D7, on Capel Street in Dublin, just along the then newly built Luas tracks. By 2009, the restaurant had closed, ostensibly to undergo 'remodelling', but it never reopened. It sat idle, a 250-seat great white elephant collapsed in the midst of the burgeoning food mecca that Capel Street has become.
This street, too, has changed from the days when it was a ramshackle cluster of furniture shops and greasy spoons. The furniture shops and greasy spoons are still there, but now they sit alongside the gorgeous Brother Hubbard and a range of ethnic-food restaurants, from Italian to Japanese, and a host of bars including the uber-cool Panti or the more traditional Nealons, just across the road.
In the face of the can-do success of those small restaurants, the empty Rhodes D7 restaurant was a painful relic of the Celtic Tiger era. I only ever ate in Rhodes D7 once and I remember the food being good, but the bill being harder to swallow.
Since December, the restaurant has reopened as Brasserie 7, a keenly priced traditional brasserie-style restaurant and it appears to have taken inspiration from the surrounding restaurants by devising a good-value menu along with special offers that should make it a popular lunch or after-work destination.
Brasserie 7's most expensive main on the a la carte menu is €24 (the fillet steak); the early-bird menu offers two courses for €20. Meanwhile you can spend your lunch hour here with a toasted sandwich for just €6.95. Gary Rhodes's head must be spinning, but it's all part of the new world order.
I arrive a little early and am instantly offered a seat by the bar and a drink. How attentive. The maitre d' is the perfect combination of courtesy and easy chat, and he makes me feel completely comfortable by myself at the bar.
My friend arrives and we decide to sit up near the rest of the diners, on the main level, although if anyone is coming here on a romantic date I would suggest sitting downstairs, as the dimmed lighting and personal booths are more intimate. On the main level, the atmosphere is more informal, with a large group of young diners, some women dining a deux and a few couples.
I can't resist the prawn cocktail (€7.25) and my pal orders the seared scallops with black pudding (€9.95), which are good.
My prawn cocktail is perfect. Served in a wide champagne glass, with intricately layered lettuce and tomato and plenty of prawns. I feel a little like I'm on Come Dine With Me with this fabulously retro starter, but I am a fan of old-fashioned classics done well.
Continuing on my mission to find the best steak in Dublin, I order the sirloin with chips (€20). The chips are huge, with their skins on, which I like, but to me they taste a little overdone. The steak is good and cooked to my specification, but it is too big for me to finish. I always take this as a sort of personal failure. The waitress, too, seems to think she has failed as she asks what happened, is everything okay with the steak?
My pal has the braised lamb shank (€17.95), two giant pieces of meat on the bone served with champ and gravy. It looks like the kind of meal you would give to a man after a long day labouring in the fields.
My pal is only delighted with himself and prods the meat to see how deep his fork will go before hitting the bone.
He is surprised at how much meat there is and makes short work of it.
The desserts are as charmingly traditional as the prawn cocktail starter – cheese cake, a selection of ice creams, a chocolate fondant and warm apple pie. I go for the latter and my pal has the ice cream, three scoops of chocolate, strawberry and vanilla, both €5 and both perfectly acceptable.
One of the problems with Brasserie 7 is a legacy problem. The room is quite simply an odd space. Architecturally, it's probably very interesting, but as a dining space, it's slightly confusing. There is an outer dining vestibule, which is a very Irish sort of terrace – totally enclosed in glass – and then there is the inner, brightly lit main dining room.
Then there is the downstairs bar area with its atmospheric lighting and dark brown furnishings. And finally, an upstairs area. All of these dining areas are quite separate from each other, which must be tricky to organise from a staffing perspective, but thankfully there does seem to be a prevalence of common sense on the night we eat there, with everyone seated in the one area, which gives the impression of a full and thriving restaurant.
Most of the diners have left by around 10pm, with just a couple of tables remaining. I had previously intended to go for dinner here on the Tuesday before, but the person I spoke to on the phone told me we would be the only diners there because all their other bookings for that night were for their early-bird menu.
As the other diners leave and the giant space starts to feel very large and empty, I can see how wise a suggestion this was. Not only from a customer point of view but also from a business point of view – keeping a 250-seater restaurant open for two diners doesn't make much sense either.
Brasserie 7 is not doing anything new or exciting here, and that's probably a clever move. It's taken a solid approach by pairing decent food at decent prices with excellent, genuinely open and friendly service that will appeal to tourists and local workers as well as those looking to fill their stomachs with a square meal before a night out on the positively un-square Capel Street.
THE DAMAGE: €92.15 for three courses each, four glasses of wine and one coffee.
RECOMMENDED: The lamb shank
AT TABLE: Couples and groups of friends
ON THE STEREO: A random selection of soft rock hits, including Xtreme's More Than Words.