Refuel: Bewley's * *
Grafton Street, Dublin 2, Telepphone: 01 6727720
Six years ago, Bewley's on Grafton Street closed down, only to rise from the dead shortly thereafter, with Jay Bourke of Café Bar Deli, playing the role of Lazarus. If this sounds facetious, it's not meant to be. I have a great fondness for Bewley's. Back in the 20th century, my late father owned several Bewley's franchises, and all of his children worked in them at one stage or another. Whether we wanted to, or not.
Last weekend, I found myself back working in Bewley's, albeit sans the frilly bib and bonnet. I hadn't been in Bewley's of Grafton Street for years and the dining room seemed to have aged beautifully in my absence.
When I arrived, The Teamster and The Cartoonist were already gemutlich. Three -- as the saying goes -- is a crowd. But it is also the optimum number of mouths required to try out Bewley's new €15 set menu. On the face of it, it looks like a good deal -- no early bird restrictions, you can order it all evening, every evening. It's a revolving door of salad, pasta and pizza.
In March, this meant a choice of two starters: soup of the day, or bread with dips. We opted for the latter, a CBD staple for almost a decade that hasn't aged particularly well. The pesto was curiously lacking in the more expensive flavours of Parmesan and pine nuts, and seemed to comprise just basil and oil. The hummus lacked its pungency and could have done with a squirt of lemon juice, it was more of a tahini dip, and as such was plausible enough. The unanimous favourite was the sundried tomato dip, which was sweet and tangy.
The first of the three main courses met with modest approval -- a giant-sized portion of ziti in a creamy chili sauce, with pork, goat cheese and cherry tomatoes. The pasta was perfectly cooked, while the acidity of the tomatoes offset the pungent cheese, and The Teamster, for once, was content with his lot. Asked to elaborate, he did suggest that the pork was "slightly" bland and "a little bit" tough, it added only texture to the dish, which would perhaps have "a broader appeal" if it was vegetarian ...
My salad was genuinely abominable: a hail of dry, shredded bacon and sour-tasting Cashel Blue. I picked at the mixed leaves and then took to eating The Cartoonist's pizza.
The set pizza for March came with chorizo and feta. It had a proper thin, crispy base, rich tomato sauce and though the chorizo wasn't exactly hopping with either chilli or garlic, it was a fine pie.
Dessert was rock-hard chocolate brownie and a sundae bowl of fresh fruit salad, which had been prepped and left to sit in its own juice for so long that it mimicked canned fruit.
Bewleys is unique and it enjoys a lot of goodwill and affection. However, it has in recent times struggled to keep pace with prevailing trends. Yes, we're in a recession, but spending €15 on a meal that goes largely uneaten, is not good value. I'm inclined to think they should have stuck to their buns.