Tuesday 21 November 2017

Refuel: No howlers served here

Aingeala Flannery

The Drama Queen swept into Wolfe's like the Trojan army was on her tail. Her leather coat was slick with rain, a giant diamante fascinator attempted (and failed) to subdue her lawless hair, but her lipstick, as always, was crimson and perfect. Such a foul and filthy night, I have not seen, she cried. Now, where's the boy with my drink?

There are two things you must not do around the Drama Queen: the first is trifle; the second -- tremble. The waiter did both by bringing the wrong wine and apologising rather too profusely.

I created a diversion by drawing her attention to the menu and telling her to order whatever she wanted -- bar the lobster, I wasn't paying €38. But she insisted we should eat from the pre-theatre menu so that I could gracefully segue into a treatise about the Arts. I should urge people to go to more plays. I should demand that they support The National Campaign for the Arts Day of Action (too late buckaroos, it was last Friday). I should order the lobster. Why?

Because I can. Artists in Ireland today eat their fingernails to survive. The lucky ones find food trapped beneath them.

I promised to write to my local TD (that's you, Mary Upton) and complain about cuts to Arts funding. In return, The Drama Queen promised to shut up and eat. First up was a lamb and cabbage roll -- the meat was ground, mixed with herbs, and either rice or bulgar (we couldn't be sure) to tone down the intensity. It was posh kofta -- deeply savoury but fragrant, the cabbage-leaf skin added subtle pungency. Swirls of mint oil floated on the rich buttery sauce. It was quite sublime.

Our second starter was a slab of chicken and wild-mushroom terrine; dark and rustic, it required crusty bread -- which we had to ask for. A coriander-laced carrot purée was sweet and vibrant, but some cornichons would have been better to cut through the fatty flavour of the terrine, which was undeniably good.

Between courses we exchanged interim verdicts on Wolfe's. We agreed there was great value on the pre-theatre menu (two courses for €15), while the à la carte managed to be accessible but stylish. Choices there range from fish and chips with mushy peas to scallops with creamed girolle mushrooms, pancetta and truffles. Torn between brill with chorizo and brown shrimp and a more austere-sounding sea trout, I chose the latter.

The fish was faultless, accurately timed on the pan to retain its sweet moistness, and two generous fillets came on a bed of crisp and lush baby spinach. My only reservation was about the whole chestnut mushrooms that circled the plate. They were fat, juicy and coated in beurre noisette, all of which was delightful, but they were an unlikely match for the trout, which would have been better served with simple spuds, risotto or some class of starch.

The Drama Queen's rack of free-range pork was quite the thing. Pork is often tough and tasteless, but here the fat sealed in plenty of juice and flavour, the jus had a tang of treacle and was splendid, while the mustard-cut mash was shamelessly packed with butter and, therefore, delicious.

The dessert menu at Wolfe's needs a rethink, as all the options are smooth and infantile: ice-cream, panacotta, crème brûlée, mousse; or else strawberries, or banana fritters. We chose the crème brûlée -- prepared with ginger and stewed rhubarb, both of which were arguably too aggressive for the delicate brûlée. With some excellent coffee, and plenty of wine, our bill came to €85.95 -- a good deal whatever way you look at it.

If the Northside isn't your stomping ground, Wolfe's is well worth the trek across the Liffey. If I say it's still a work in progress, it's only because I think it could be brilliant.

As for the play I had to endure afterwards ... suffice to say, there's a cast and a director prancing about the city today who are very lucky I'm not a theatre critic.

Irish Independent

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