Thursday 26 April 2018

Refuel: Roast **


Aingeala Flannery

We'd set it up weeks in advance -- our post mortem of #GE11. A three-way debate between The Cartoonist, The Teamster and The News Editor (that's me, in case you don't know what I do when I'm not eating). The forum: Roast in Ballsbridge -- an upstairs chowhouse a stone's throw from the giant tallyman's abacus that is the RDS election count centre.

We were all pleased by the election outcome -- me because new blood and fresh faces in the Dail guarantees a more interesting news day; The Cartoonist because the pageant of pointy-bearded potheads, benevolent hippy developers and Gerry Adams' baker's dozen of tiocfaidh ár lá-mhíní will provide a rich canvas for political lampoonery.

As for The Teamster, the prospect of gurgling into the earhole of a Labour minister for the next four years makes the spectre of austerity measures and public sector reform significantly less painful.

On the afternoon of our proposed meeting, The Teamster sent me a text: "The tide has turned. Won't be joining you in D4 -- taking down election posters. See you later for pints in the Socialist Republic of Dublin South Central? The Oak @ 8?"

Which was more bemusing: The Teamster's determination to conduct his social life within constituency boundaries? Or the unspoken admission that it wouldn't be kosher if he was seen donning the blue collar at a restaurant in leafy, ambassadorial Ballsbridge?

So, then there were two. We arrived in Roast at the arse-end of Sunday lunch -- if there was a crowd or an atmosphere about the place, both had long since departed.

Roast has been open for less than a year, but already it looks dated -- vinyl seating, dark wood veneers, subdued lighting and a mid-Noughties feel to the place. It was eerily quiet -- as though nobody had bothered to tell the host that the party was over.

Despite it being Sunday and the restaurant being called Roast, the only roast meat on the menu was chicken served with fondant potato, creamed leeks and shallot.

That was where the surprises began and ended. I couldn't tell you the last time I went to a restaurant where the starters didn't include chicken livers, ham hock terrine, or goat's cheese and beetroot.

Roast, in a blinding flash of conformity, offers all three. Another unwise move was to dispense with the customary provision of side plates, forcing us to butter our bread (convenience store-style demi-baguette) on our very generous, stiffly starched napkins.

Our starters arrived in great haste and ahead of the wine. It was disconcerting to see carrot and celery bobbing in my seafood chowder. I know some people see fit to add vegetables beyond the requisite spuds to chowder, but I'm not among them.

The best chowder is creamy with a smokey kiss of bacon, packed with fat, juicy molluscs and firm chunks of fish. This chowder was more froth than cream, which I could have handled if the fishy element didn't rely on a mix of vulcanised squid rings, grey chewy mussels and the prawns that were so microscopic they could have been reclassified as insects.

Starters, incidentally, are uniformly priced at €6.50. This made The Cartoonist's smoked salmon salad a pretty good deal. The salmon was vibrant and fleshy, the woodsmoked flavour was shy but convincing.

It was joined by some out-of-season, but nicely pungent asparagus spears, pale crunchy fava beans and a crop of baby spinach leaves. A simple, but well-executed and attractively presented starter by any reckoning.

Our mains arrived hot on the heels of the starters. I thought I was playing it safe with rump steak and chips. Rump is notoriously tough and muscular but, even armed with a steak knife that was lethal enough to dissect a live bull elephant, I had to wrestle with the beef.

I was expecting to forfeit tenderness for flavour, but the meat failed to deliver on that score either. It tasted solely of the pan -- not least because it was cooked medium-well and not medium, as I had ordered it. The accompanying Bearnaise was lumpy and overloaded with tarragon. The chips were good.

The Cartoonist accused me of being finicky. Easy for him to say -- he'd lucked out with the salmon, and now his main course, duck confit, was proving infinitely tastier than mine.

The crisp outside/tender inside duck was packed with rich, glistening flavour. It wore its gameyness lightly and, as usual with The Cartoonist, I had to explain the rule about how the reviewer gets to eat everything, no matter how hungry, greedy or unwilling to share her guest is.

Jeez. Much as I coveted the duck, and enjoyed the braised puy lentils and root vegetables that surrounded it, I was less enamoured with the grainy celeriac puree. Mashed potato would have been a better match. Still, a laudable dish and good value for €16.

The dessert menu was yawnsome: crème brulee, cheesecake, ice-cream or a brownie. We tried the brownie, and it was properly dense and gooey, and mercifully free of the muddy brittleness that usually dissuades me from ordering brownies in the first place.

Coffee was decent, but as we departed Ballsbridge for Inchicore, I felt frustrated with Roast for making a hames of the simple stuff and for being so conservative and bloody ordinary in what we are led to believe are extraordinary times.

TYPICAL DISH: Pork belly with red cabbage

RECOMMENDED: Smoked salmon

THE DAMAGE: €64.45 for two starters, two mains, one dessert, one glass of wine and two coffees



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