Tuesday 12 December 2017

Refuel: Olesya's * * *

Exchequer Street, Dublin 2. Telephone: 01 672 4087

Aingeala Flannery

I went to Olesya's with The Accidental Anarchist. He'd been before, I hadn't. I guess there's not so much demand for anarchists these days, hence, redundant and neutered of their cause, they convene in Baltic wine bars, slugging Barolo and talking about a new world order. Was it for this I put on my best dress and three coats of lipstick?

Olesya, the Anarchist informed me, is a Russian girl's name. He added gravely that it means "defender of men". He had, I surmised, known plenty of 'Olesyas'. And each and every one of them would have wiped the cold stone floor with me -- if the look on the Anarchist's face was anything to go by. God above in heaven, don't you have a well-rounded teacher or a spare guard to send me? Why do you mock and shower me with bruised apples? I am not an Olesya -- born to defend embattled men.

And yet here I am, with this disciple of Dario Fo, in a Russian wine bar, which in itself is a misnomer. Do Russians make wine? Do Russians drink wine? Our waiter was most definitely French -- or at least he had the slender wrists of a Gaul. The wine list slid out of his hand and landed on the table with a 10-pound thud. Some-zing to drink, he said. Grateful for something to fidget with, I flipped the many, many pages of what Olesya has stashed in her cellar.

Hundreds of bottles by the look of it. French, Italian, Iberian, German, New World and Lebanese. In the event of having to beat a hasty retreat, a whole bottle would have slowed me down, so I hastily scanned the selection of wines by the glass. Dozens of choices. At least 10 of them French. Does Olesya's sell enough wine to keep this many open bottles and fresh? Somehow I doubted it, so I chose what I thought they might sell plenty of: Bourgogne Pinot Noir. The Anarchist said he'd have the same.

A quick glance around the room, and I saw that most people were sharing antipasto platters. This is very much what the menu at Olesya's is about. Giant plates of cheese and charcuterie, smoked fish and pâté.

The deluxe platter -- at €25.45 -- seemed expensive, albeit that three or possibly four people could have satisfied themselves with the range of salami, Parma ham, saucisson and gravadlax. It was a selection that recognised no borders, unremarkable pesto sat alongside decent chicken liver pâté. Then there was a selection of Irish cheese, with a handful of dried apricots and walnuts. I found it wanting, foremost because the cheese had come straight from the fridge and there was no roundness or edge to any of it. And though I like the milky and malten look of porter cheddar, it's a cheese that rarely delivers on flavour. I also thought the basket of table water crackers and sliced baguette was somewhat austere, given the price.

In fact, Olesya's is more out of step with fiscal reality than a three-legged donkey. The Eastern European aspect of the menu is especially steep: €8 for traditional smoked meat soup, €35 for a seafood platter, €23 for beef Stroganoff.

The Anarchist, naturally enough, gravitated towards the Italian side of the menu. An ill-judged move. He chose the wild mushroom risotto: a swell of bloated rice, coated with salty froth, it was devoid of the dark, woody flavours you'd expect from a dish that is easy to do right, but which, more often than not, is done wrong.

My main course was infinitely better, I'd go so far as to say it was bloody good. It was a Catalan-style salad of dense meaty chorizo and grilled prawns with halved baby potatoes and fresh young spinach leaves, topped with shredded pickled carrot.

Although there's logic in offering food that comes from the same regions as your wines, Olesya's kitchen is playing catch up with the cellar, and lagging far behind.

More urgently, the prices need to be slashed. With some adjustment, I can see how if you were in good company, with plenty of wine and a platter to share, Olesya's could be a riot. Of sorts.

Irish Independent

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