Sunday 17 November 2019

A red-hot new arrival

Paolo Tullio

Have you noticed that restaurants tend to cluster? I've been noticing it for years, but I still haven't understood why it happens.

A long time ago, the phenomenon seemed to be confined to Kinsale, then it arrived in Dublin, in Monkstown Crescent specifically, and then the same happened in the Ranelagh Strip.

More recently, George's Street and its continuations are filling with restaurants, making it another centre of gastronomy.

Now the same thing seems to be happening in Cabinteely. Curiously, this explosion of restaurants has happened since Cabinteely Village got bypassed by the new N11, so perhaps now that it's a quiet backwater it's become a place to visit, rather than drive through.

Only a few months ago, I was there to review the tapas bar called Las Tapas, and I was there again this week with my son, Rocco, and his partner, Ruby Slevin, to try another new arrival, La Rouge.

La Rouge is owned by Ann Marie Nohl, who has the well-established and much-loved Expresso Bar in Mary's Road. She's a lady with a long history in the catering trade, so we arrived with high expectations.

Certainly, first impressions are good. From outside you notice subdued lighting and, as you step in, you realise why it's called La Rouge.

The dominant theme in the decor is red -- red plush on the bentwood seat cushions and on the banquette running the length of the back wall.

This is matched by deep-plum walls, gilt mirrors and sconces, and cut-glass chandeliers set off against a dark brown ceiling.

The whole effect is of fin de siecle elegance, and I rather liked it.

We took a table by the window and found it set with very handsome glassware, which added a further touch of elegance.

As ever, there were two menus: an a la carte and a set menu, which offered two courses for €22.95 or three for €26.95. The a la carte isn't a long menu, but it does have some interesting dishes.

Rocco said: "Well, I know what you'll be ordering for starters, Dad." He was right; he'd spotted, as I had, the lamb kidneys.

While I was slowly taking in the implication that I was entirely predictable, Ruby announced that everything she wanted to eat was on the early bird menu, and she'd be dining from that.

The early bird had three choices for starter, main and dessert, all of which could be found on the a la carte.

Ruby decided on the goat's cheese salad to start, and a yam and mushroom pithivier for her main. This last was described as a 'pithier', but, spelled right or wrong, it's still a shortcrust-pastry pie.

Rocco decided that he'd have no starter, but would have the chicken dish for his main -- roast, stuffed supreme of chicken with goat's cheese, chorizo mousse, braised leeks, sage mash and red-wine jus.

As for me, it was kidneys for my starter and then slow-cooked rump of lamb for my main.

For drinks, we ordered one glass of the house red, which cost €6.50, and two large bottles of sparkling water. The wine list is quite short, with eight whites and nine reds listed, and has only four wines listed for less than €25.

I believe that this end of the wine list, the bit between €20 and €25, really ought to be fleshed out more, as it's the price range most people are happiest to buy into.

The starters were very good; Ruby thoroughly enjoyed her salad and I really liked my starter of kidneys. They'd been very well- prepared and cooked just enough, with a few wild mushrooms and a splash of brandy, and all the flavours came together very nicely. I even ended up using bread to mop up the sauce.

I was curious to see how Rocco would like his chicken dish. I never order chicken in restaurants.

Rocco pronounced his dish excellent. "It's one of the better chicken dishes I've eaten," he said. "It actually has a taste of chicken."

Across the table, Ruby was cutting into her pithivier. As she did, I could smell it. The wild- mushroom smell reached my nostrils with just perhaps a hint of truffle oil as well.

I found my lamb rump exactly as I thought it would be -- very tender and full of flavour. A few rounds of roasted aubergine came with it, as did Dauphinoise potatoes, and the port jus finished the dish very well.

We decided that we'd share two desserts between the three of us -- a classic creme brulee and another classic, bread-and-butter pudding.

The bread-and-butter pudding was supposed to come with ice cream, but it was off, and instead it came with cinnamon cream, which turned out very well.

I did have a problem with the creme brulee, though. It's a dish that was traditionally finished under a grill, which did two things: it caramelised the sugar on the top and warmed the custard through.

These days, chefs are inclined to use a blow-torch, which does a good job of caramelising the surface, but doesn't heat the dish through. You get a warm topping, but underneath the custard remains fridge cold.

With that as my only complaint, I can tell you that we enjoyed our visit. The bill for €105.95 for the three of us is confirmation that the prices are reasonable.

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