Sunday 21 January 2018

A kitchen in need of a good chef

Restaurant Review: Nede, Meeting House Square, Temple Bar, Dublin 2, TEL: 01 6705372 1 STAR

NEDE, Meeting House Square, Temple Bar, Dublin 2.
NEDE, Meeting House Square, Temple Bar, Dublin 2.

Aingeala Flannery

First impressions matter. And they don't begin when you walk into a restaurant. They begin when you call to make a reservation. Bearing that in mind, I'll let you be the judge of my first encounter with NEDE ...

"Good afternoon . . . NEDE."

"Hello, I'd like to make a reservation for dinner on Saturday night."

"How many people – at what time?"

"Two people at 8, would you have a table outside?"

"Hi, are you from Bulmers?"

"Hello . . sorry . . . hello?"

"Yes, I'll just deal with this and . . . yes two people for Saturday, what's the name?"

"It's O'Reilly . . ."

"Yes, these are the guys from Bulmers, I'll look after them in a minute . . . sorry what was your name?"

"O'Reilly."

"Can you spell that please?"

"Yes, I can spell O'Reilly. O, apostrophe, R – as in 'rude'. Let me tell you something: you ought to work on your phone manner. Given how restaurants are struggling, surely you NEDE your customers more than they NEDE you. So can you just take my reservation and let the Bulmers reps wait?"

But of course, I didn't say any of that. I thanked the voice at the other end of the phone rather curtly and hung up.

Fast forward to Saturday night. There isn't a sinner in town. They've left for the Cat's Laugh in Kilkenny and Forbidden Fruit in Kilmainham.

The terrace at NEDE is empty.

We are met by the mâitre d' who is charming and pretty and helpful.

"You'll probably enjoy sitting inside more," she says. And she is right; I don't want to spend the evening watching the guards disperse a convergence of stoned teenagers from Meeting House Square.

Ui Rathaile has never eaten in NEDE before – even when it was EDEN. He is confused by the décor. "I thought restaurants were supposed to be cosy," he says. "This feels like sitting in an abandoned aquarium." The walls are tiled to infinity, there's metal and concrete, and a wall of glass that looks out onto the Square.

The furniture is white resin and giant baskets of foliage cascade from the faraway ceiling. I tell him I like it . . . but concede it would put you in mind of an aquarium. Ui Rathaile is a shark. And I'm a bottlenose dolphin.

As he struggles with a burgeoning sense of captivity, I grapple with the concept behind the name change from EDEN to NEDE. As palindromes go, it's not funny or ironic, or anything. "Did you hear the one about dyslexic atheist?" I ask Ui Rathaile. "He didn't believe in dogs." "That's not funny, he snarls." "I know," I say. Poop.

Something I can appreciate about EDEN's rebirth is that it's recruited a chef named Yannick who earned his stripes at the super-celebrated, Michelin-etoiled Noma in Copenhagen. There isn't a snowball's chance in hell of me getting to eat there, so if NEDE is as close to Noma as I can get, bring it on.

At first glance, the menu offers little by way of Nordic cheffery and culinary hi-jinks. No salmon foam or seaweed tuile or lingonberry fizz. In fact, the à la carte is stupendously dull: chicken, steak, hake, and risotto are our only options. We turn instead to the five-course tasting menu, which is laid out in the same minimalist fashion as Noma's.

There are 10 options. I pick out five in no particular order. Ui Rathaile does the same. We choose some of the same dishes.

For the sake of timing and practicality, tasting menus usually require everyone at the table to eat the same thing at the same time.

I am surprised that NEDE doesn't follow this template, a logistical pain for the chef, I'd have thought.

Wine. The tasting menu comes with a list of suggested wine pairings. By my reckoning, had we gone with the five recommended glasses of wine we would have been broke. The bill per head would have been €93 before tip.

This rankled me, so I issued a diktat: one bottle of Picpoul de Pinet was a good enough match for most of what we had ordered.

First up was a bowl of field vegetables with light-smoked goat cheese.

Setting aside the ludicrous pretence that there's something remarkable about growing vegetables in a field, the dish consisted of: three curls of raw carrot, beetroot, a few creamy smudges of cheese and what looked like whole untrimmed baby radishes, but after sucking through their bland starch, I detected a taste of turnip, or baby navet.

It was a macrobiotic nibble in the vegetable box, swanky bunny food, momentarily revived by some very good smoked goat cheese.

Broccoli with hazelnuts was precisely as described. There were four stems of vibrant, fresh broccoli, heavily salted and sprinkled with crunchy roasted hazelnuts. To be fair, it also featured a splash of odourless, tasteless white liquid. Was it . . . could it be . . . milk?

After a very long wait – maybe 20 minutes, maybe more – the next tasting appeared. Two oysters with horseradish and tiny chilled balls of cucumber.

Ui Rathaile opened his jaws and they vanished down his throat. Yes, they were nicely presented, yes they were appropriately chilled, beyond that oysters are merely a ritual.

The langoustines were good – the pair of them – split down the middle, I scavenged through the hard shells for sweet garlicky meat. They came with a triangle of toasted sourdough, which tasted fried and greasy.

Next up: lightly smoked white and pencil asparagus. Was it smoked? Or was that just a rumour? The vegetables were pristine, but where was the skill from the kitchen?

Where was the genius at work? I was bored and beginning to wonder if somebody was having a laugh at my considerable expense.

I baulked and refused to eat the next tasting: warm salad of pulses with verbena and cod cheeks. It was a bowl of peas and broad beans. It sounded summery and vibrant on the menu, but the pulses were sitting in a green murky puddle, which tasted only of salt.

The cod cheeks, bobbing about in the mix, were meaty and with a robust flavour that requires freshness – a few wisps of verbena were not up to the job.

I told the waiter I thought it was awful.

He brought me two desserts instead of one, and suddenly we went from having little or no food on the table to having: a wedge of pungent and delicious Wicklow Blue, a giant bowl of perfectly ripe strawberries, with ice cream and shards of meringue, and a soft chunk of chocolate cake with coffee bean ice cream melting into the dark nutty sponge.

The tragedy of being a spectacular dessert is that people are usually too full to appreciate you.

Not this time. We licked our bowls clean and left NEDE frustrated, disappointed and wishing we'd spent all that money on Forbidden Fruit instead.

TYPICAL DISH: Salad of pulses with verbena and cod cheeks

RECOMMENDED: Dessert

THE DAMAGE: €140.00 for two tasting menus, one bottle and two glasses of wine

ON THE STEREO: Bossanova

AT THE TABLE: Out of towners

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