Refuel: The hottest Kitchen in town
3 CAMDEN MARKET, GRANTHAM STREET, DUBLIN 8.
One of the great pleasures of this job has been the conversations I've had with the people who've come out to review with me. When you're paying for someone's dinner, they can't help but feel obliged and, in return, they either regale you, or confess to you. Some of this material has made it into my reviews, but the most delicious revelations I've withheld as being too salacious for even the most open-minded of subeditors to commit to print.
And then there's Ma Flannery, who is overwhelmed by giddiness whenever she enters a restaurant. No sooner had the glass of Albarino touched her lips in Camden Kitchen, when it began. Was I aware, she wanted to know, that fruit bats have oral sex? Blotches of embarrassment spread across my face. I wasn't aware that my mother knew there was such a thing as oral sex. No more wine for you, Ma, I said to myself.
The conversation between two women at an adjoining table ground to a halt, and they sat, saucer-eyed with their mouths hanging open, staring at my mother, who concluded by saying she'd only have the coq au vin, on condition it didn't contain "any cock".
The tables at Camden Kitchen are very close together, yet it eschews the poky feel of Havana -- its predecessor in this location. Kudos, then, to the new tenants for doing such an understated and classy job on the place. It looks French and there's a strong contingency of Gauls among the staff. It is, however, the latest enterprise of seasoned restaurateur Padraic Hayden -- best known for his stint at the (à mon avis) ostentatious and wildly overpriced Still in the Dylan Hotel.
The Camden Kitchen is more my kind of place. The menu, like the decor, is simple but stylish. It changes according to season and availability. At lunchtime there's no distinction between starters and mains, so you might kick off with vine tomato broth with spring vegetables and fresh herbs (€6.50), or guinea fowl terrine with celeriac remoulade and croutons (€9). We chose chicken liver parfait (€7), which was silky smooth with a deep, almost gamey, flavour. A splash of red plum chutney gave it a sweet and juicy lift, and it came served with a bale of sourdough toast.
Aside from the coq au vin, which we'll come to momentarily, the options for a more substantial appetite included smoked haddock omelette with crème fraiche and chives (€12), or mushroom and broad bean risotto with Parmesan shavings (€12). I opted for fillet of ocean trout (€14). I do not give praise lightly -- but it was a knockout. Once again, I was reminded of how superior sea trout is to salmon -- a more complex and delicate flavour, better texture, more moist than fatty.
Anyway, it was served with firm, nutty orzo, an alternative to rice that we don't see nearly enough of on menus, and this was cut with slivers of chorizo and sweet, crunchy sugar snaps, crowned with a liberal squeeze of lime juice. The marriage of sweetness, citrus and smoke is heaven made, and if it's still on the Camden Kitchen menu when you go, I insist you order it.
The controversial coq au vin appeared as a free-range chicken thigh, which was muddy in appearance and light on flavour. The red wine gravy was also disconcertingly light, but Ma wasn't perturbed by the relative blandness. It came with pureed potato and green beans, both of which she loved.
The dessert menu doesn't blind you with options. We took a trio of Madeleines: vanilla, cocoa-scented chocolate and another that was soft and damp with lemon zest. They came with a spoonful of homemade vanilla ice-cream, and were divine. Coffee was unjustifiably bitter, alas. The wine list, however, is excellent, with many interesting and affordable options by the glass.
Add to that one charming and beautiful Argentinean manager -- last seen at Conrad Gallagher's Salon des Saveurs, and Camden Kitchen has enough potential and all the ingredients to become the capital's most popular restaurant this summer.