At your service... Locks
Locks, 1 Windsor Terrace, Dublin 8. (01) 4163655
First things first: Locks has new owners, new chefs, and amended décor. It also has new floor staff. It is a completely brand new restaurant and you should try it, rather than assume that things are the same as when you last went.
My career as a restaurant reviewer began when I was a student at Trinity, and persuaded the editor of Piranha magazine that he should introduce a restaurant review and that I should write it. Finances being tight, the selection of places to be reviewed was dependent on the generosity of family members who might occasionally take me out for a meal that I could write about, and also on the kindness of restaurant owners who provided free meals as part-payment for advertising. (This is obviously not the case in Weekend where we review anonymously and pay for the meals in full.) When Piranha was picking up the tab, the review locations were limited to cheap and cheerful spots such as Murph's - the chicken liver pâté baguette lingers in my memory - and ironic choices such as McDonald's… We prided ourselves on a dry sense of humour.
In any event, Locks was one of the very first restaurants that I wrote about. In those days it was the canteen of choice for the advertising industry and a place in which a long, red wine-fuelled lunch could very easily last late into the evening. I have reviewed it several times since, through its numerous incarnations, including when it briefly had a Michelin star, and through many changes of ownership and chef. It has had its ups and downs, and the last time I visited, earlier this year, I experienced some of the worst, rudest service that I'd ever encountered in a Dublin restaurant. That has all changed now, and the new Locks is a different and much better beast.
American restaurateur, Danny Meyer, was at the American ambassador's residence in Dublin a couple of weeks ago, interviewed as part of Kevin O'Malley's Creative Minds series of events. Meyer opened his first New York restaurant, The Union Square Café, at the age of 27 and, in a city of 26,000 restaurants, it's a testament to his talent that it's still going strong, 30 years later. Meyer, also the founder of Shake Shack, recently became the first restaurateur to outlaw tipping in his restaurants, by upping prices to cover increased wages for both kitchen and floor staff. His book, Setting The Table, outlines his vision of hospitality. It's all about making customers feel that they are being well looked after, and that the staff care enough to make sure that they have a good experience. Meyer's message is that customers will forgive food that's not perfect, and return, but they will never forgive being treated badly.
I'm thinking about this as I reflect on our meal at Locks. Three of us were sitting at a circular table in the middle of the room and spotted a couple of friends peering in the window for a look at their new neighbourhood restaurant. We beckoned them in and the staff immediately found chairs for them and had glasses of wine in their hands within a couple of minutes. There was no fuss, no huffing and puffing, just an unruffled willingness to make them feel welcome. It was a pleasure to witness.
And, so, to the food. We visited on a Tuesday evening, and were offered the short Market Menu with an additional choice of specials that attract a supplement. There's more choice at the weekend. We began with some 'snacks' of oysters with a shallot dressing that we thought a tad too sweet, good sourdough with an intense house-made cultured butter with ham and dill (I'll have more of that, please) and some tiny, spherical haddock fishcakes with an intense smoked eel mayonnaise.
For starters, a crisp croquette of pig's head meat, deep-fried, with smoked eel, pickled pear and radish, ingredients that spoke to each other with confidence in the rightness of their being assembled together on the same plate. Salt-baked baby beetroot with sheep's cheese, apple and watercress looked pretty and tasted pretty fine (but was still a riff on the ubiquitous beetroot and goat's cheese salad), while charred mackerel with crab, cucumber and dill was meaty and full of flavour. A cassoulet of cod and root vegetable, with morteau sausage, herb crust and lovage pesto was dull, bland even, too virtuous, but that was the only dud of the meal. My companions fared better with braised lamb shoulder with fennel, gnocchi, olives and sun-dried tomatoes, a full-flavoured taste of the Med, and the steak and kidney suet pudding with roast swede and onion gravy; rich and hearty on a chilly evening, although they'd have managed bigger portions. With desserts of chocolate tart with Knockmealdown ice-cream and blackcurrant, an individual apple tart with salt caramel and biscuit ice cream (both good), and cheese, with wonderful house-made spelt crackers, the bill for three, including two sides, supplements, water and two bottles of Bourgogne Rouge en Montre Cul at €45 each, came to €219 before service. Locks is on the right track, and the food will only get more assured.
PS: Be sure to order the fries with anchovy hollandaise. Ooof.
On a budget
The two-course Market Menu, served Tuesday to Thursday all evening, is €22 and a good introduction to what the new Locks is all about.
On a blowout
From the a la carte menu, you could choose charred mackerel with Liscannor crab, followed by chateaubriand for two, with chocolate tart and Knockmealdown ice cream to finish at a cost (for two) of €108 before snacks or wine.
The high point
Some of the best service we'd had in a Dublin restaurant in ages. Relaxed, smiling, and efficient.
The low point
A cod dish that was dull and disappointing.
7/10 value for money
Whispers from the gastronomicon
Dingle has some of the best restaurants in the country and last year was officially named Ireland's first foodie town. Martin Bealin's cooking at Global Village is on a par with anything in Dublin, while Helen and Brian Heaton's luxurious Castlewood House serves the best breakfast in town. To celebrate their 10th year in business, Castlewood has a range of packages - The Terrific Ten - for the winter months. Foodies will like the one that includes a half-day course at the Dingle Cookery School (pictured). Prices start from €200pp for a two-night stay with champagne and Dingle Gin chocolates.