Refuel: Michie Sushi * * * *
11 Chelmsford Lane, Ranelagh, D6. Tel: 01 4976438
There are restaurants where people go to be seen. And there are restaurants where people go to hide. This was especially the case during the boom years.
The places to be seen, I found especially tiresome to review because they were teeming with extravagantly dressed, extravagantly paid shape-throwers. These were restaurants where what was on the plate was of less consequence than who was walking through the door.
The places people went to hide, I found more interesting. Low-lit places, with tables tucked away in areas that were out of earshot and invisible to prying eyes.
I had no need for such places myself, but it was titillating to imagine those secret trysts between lovers. Less so when the furtive behaviour involved passing brown envelopes under the table.
This business of going to a restaurant to reveal or conceal yourself, is thankfully dying out. Now there's less money splashing around, people have reverted to the more traditional, and in my view, more sensible habit of going to a restaurant simply to eat -- with people whose company you're not afraid to be seen in. These were the thoughts I had when I went for dinner last weekend, with Ui Rathaile on my arm.
Michie Sushi is all about the food. It may be hidden down an obscure lane way, but the décor is hardly conducive to romance, unless your passion is so intense that all it requires for ambience is four walls and a floor. Ui Rathaile loved it.
His joy was capped by the fact that Michie Sushi doesn't go in for colour-coded plates and the undignified snatch and grab from a meandering conveyor belt. Beyond the sliding glass door, an implausibly cheerful and polite lady, resplendent in a floral kimono, showed us to our formica table -- with an uninterrupted view of someone's garage door. It felt like we were in New York, or maybe Berlin. Cities where you stumble across treasure in the most unlikely places.
Michie Sushi has, in fact, been around a while. Over the past few years, it has become the caterer of choice for local businesses, or house party hostesses seeking something more imaginative than prawns in filo and sausage on a stick.
We took our time over the menu, slugging on bottles of Asahi as we went. I ordered a bowl of warm and vaguely saline edamame to whet our appetites. Sucking sweet soy beans from their pods goes well with beer. They're like peanuts for health freaks, or the fatally allergic. Ui Rathaile got stuck into the list of hot side dishes: gyoza dumplings served with sesame and soy sauce, tiger prawn katsu with sweet chilli and lime, and a couple of soups: the ever present miso with seaweed and scallions, and tuna in dashi broth with scallions and smoked tuna flakes.
He chose chicken yakitori: skewers of chicken breast marinated in a teriyaki sauce that had a honeyed sweetness to it. It was a sticky and delicious glaze for the moist, tender chicken pieces, which were separated on the skewer by crunchy pale stalks of scallion. Finished with a generous sprinkle of Michie's chilli spice mix, they were perfect.
There is so much variety on Michie's menu, it occurs to me now that the best way to "have it all", is to order sushi to begin and then dip into the hot food main courses -- particularly if you're on a tight budget. Katsu curries cost under a tenner, while vegetarian soba noodles will set you back just €6.50. Other options include udon noodles with seafood, or teppanyaki stir fries involving chicken, tuna, and salmon.
We stuck with the sushi, and what amounted to a technicolour smorgasbord of norimaki stuffed with radish or cucumber, inside-out rolls flecked with sesame seeds and filled with crabmeat, tuna and salmon nigiri, and a seaweed cone stuffed with spicy sashimi and sticky rice. We went through an incendiary amount of wasabi and half a bottle of soy sauce, before it occurred to us that we'd set a new record for the most sushi consumed by two people in a single sitting.
We were sated, but not stuffed and that is the beauty of sushi.
Unfortunately, good sushi isn't easy to come by in Dublin, but Michie Sushi is head and shoulders above its competitors. The fish sparkles with freshness, the rice has the right sticky-starchy balance, everything is made to order and meticulously presented. The location might be gritty, but the premises is immaculate. Add to that exceptional service and reasonable prices and what you get is a place to eat that is refreshing and unique.
In Japanese, the word michie means "filled with joy and laughter", and that's a close approximation of how Ui Rathaile and I felt as we walked back down Chelmsford Lane, onto Ranelagh Road and vanished into the swell of rugby shirts and status handbags.
Typical Dish: Sushi
Recommended: Yakitori chicken
The Damage: €67.42 for dinner for two with five bottles of beer
On the Stereo: Pop
At the Table: Savvy locals