Deal of the week - Hugo's Merrion Row, Dublin
I've always liked the look of Hugo's on Merrion Row, often walking past it peering in. Overall Hugo's is dark, intimate and quite glam - the gilt mirror, flock patterned wallpaper, lots of dark wood and the oversized chandeliers.
It's good that Hugo's have put real options into the mix, as most set menus seem to fail on the subject of choice. Usually, you can find a way of negotiating from course one to course three, but here I was left scratching my head.
Choosing the starters was ok, but the mains left ample opportunity for a bout of serious indecision. There were the usual suspects, the corn fed chicken and the steak options, but as I veered between sauteed piri-piri Tiger prawns or roast Toulouse sausage and confit duck, into the mix came organic rice pasta with roasted aubergine and parmesan and then things actually became difficult, even baffling. For a set menu, this was a treat.
Of the starters, the game terrine isn't too gamey to exclude most tastes. Served with a red chilli preserve it gave a warm, ripe flavour, more like Seville orange than sharp chilli. Yet the stand out choice was the smoked mackerel salad. Four neat corners of caramelised beetroot and generous folds of juicy, warm smoked mackerel amongst fresh dressed leaves. Simple and delicious.
In the end, the pasta won out for the main, and the piri-piri Tiger prawns live to see another day. As it so happens, the rice pasta and pesto with roasted vegetables was a sound option. Devoid of that strange sweetness that often spoils pesto dishes, if ever the aubergine and roasted vegetables had threatened to blend too far into the whole, the parmesan gave just the required amount of tilt to the whole taste.
On the other side of the table my companion opted for the steak. Unable as he is to refuse fluffy, golden, hand cut chips crisply fried with dripping, it was just too tempting. When the steak duly landed, sat beside some firm green beans, I began to see his point. Over a good glass of Shiraz, all choices chosen and debate now stifled, we decided that the chips were the winner, and we moved on to dessert.
Passing the cheese selection to spoon my way through a well presented vanilla creme brulee, I caught myself making envious glances toward an equally well presented chocolate brownie on the opposite plate. As I sipped at my coffee, it occurred to me that, in this case, too much choice isn't actually bad thing, in fact, too much choice certainly works for me. I hereby vow to return for the sauteed prawns. Excellent food.
The pre-theatre menu at Hugo's is available daily between 5pm and 7pm and is priced at €24 per person for three courses. Wines from €6 per glass. Hugo's is located on Merrion Row, Dublin. Call 01676 5955 to book.