All around the suburbs of the city are restaurants that cater for their immediate surroundings – they are the restaurants that we call local restaurants. They are the stalwarts of the 'burbs and they tend to have loyal customers.
What differentiates the local restaurant from the city centre venue is that it's rarely a destination restaurant. Their customers are locals, they don't come from far away. And that's the key to their success – it's their very connection to the locality that makes them work.
This week I went to meet Weekend fashion editor Bairbre Power in Mayfield, a restaurant on the Terenure Road that is the very quintessence of a local restaurant.
It began life as a tiny outlet serving coffees and cakes, and little by little, in an organic way, it grew. Now it occupies two more premises that were alongside the original and it has a large courtyard that on sunnier days is filled with tables and customers.
This organic growth means that the dining areas are an intriguing series of interconnected rooms, each with its own look. There's a pleasing mix of styles, from painted breeze block walls covered in bevelled glass mirrors to chandeliers of all styles and epochs, a huge red velvet plush banquette and all kinds of bric-a-brac for the eye to fall on to.
An example – the newest additional space was an old butcher's shop. They have left the interior as it was, with the white enamel tiles and the iron bars for hanging meat on.
The whole place is decorated with a most eclectic gathering of items and styles, but I rather liked it. It's quirky. The first thing to catch my eye on entering was a candelabra wrapped in brown paper and string.
As we looked down the menu I learned that the front of house manager is called Kevin Byrne, and the chef in the kitchen is also called Kevin Byrne. I can't think of any other place where kitchen and front of house share the same name, but I do remember travelling to Central America to learn about coffee production with Bewley's buyer Paul O'Toole, which created some confusion between our names.
The dinner menu in Mayfield is divided into three sections: sharing plates, which are platters of cheese, charcuterie and antipasti, then there's seven starters and 10 main courses.
It didn't take us long to make our choices – French onion soup followed by lemon chicken for Bairbre, and pan-fried chicken livers followed by slow-cooked beef cheeks for me.
The wine list is short, with six whites and six reds listed, but unusually the two house wines come in litre and half-litre size – a litre costing €24, and the half costing €12, which is good value. We had a glass of house red each, at €5.50.
The starters were well done. The French onion soup was good and dark, made with caramelised onions and beef stock and served with a cheesy crouton covered with Gruyère. I enjoyed my chicken livers, cooked perfectly and served with a creamy sauce flavoured with brandy and mustard. The livers were presented on a slice of toasted brioche, which also helped to soak up the very tasty sauce.
The main courses worked just as well. Bairbre's chicken dish was simple, but well executed. She gave me a taste and I found the lemon flavour had been delicately infused while the chicken breast itself remained moist.
Beef cheek, sometimes called daube of beef, is a cut that needs long, slow cooking. What you get in return for the effort you put in is a real mouthful of flavour. It reminded me that in the 19th century fillet steak was eaten by disabled people, specifically people who lacked the capacity to chew. Everyone else ate the tastier cuts.
We were tempted by the desserts, in particular the bread and butter pudding and the sticky toffee pudding. We ordered them both and tucked in. Of the two I preferred the sticky toffee. The bread and butter pudding was good, but was not traditional. A pudding like that, with its huge nostalgia effect, really needs to be as traditional as possible for the full nostalgic effect to work.
I finished up with a decent espresso that came with granulated sugar – always a plus in my view – before we took a small tour of the extensive premises. If you live anywhere near Terenure, Mayfield is really worth knowing. You can get a good dinner, it's open for lunch and they do breakfast as well. On top of that, the prices don't hurt – the bill for our dinner came to only €72.60.
As I said at the start, Mayfield is the quintessential local restaurant. You can eat there at any time of day and, judging by the dinner, you'll eat well. When the sun starts to shine again, I can see myself sitting in the courtyard ordering eggs Benedict (€9.50, including a muffin) and drinking a fluffy cappuccino. That idea almost makes Mayfield a destination restaurant.
8/10 value for money
Whispers from the gastronomicon
* The town of Ariccia in Lazio is famous for porchetta – whole, boned and roasted pig. In every Italian market you'll see it laid out, where it's sliced and put inside a roll. I've never seen it in Ireland until now, but it has arrived and you can try it in Pizza e Porchetta on Grand Canal Quay. The pizzas are cooked in a wood-fired oven and Ronan Ryan has the front of house in hand.
* To celebrate the month of love, Bijou Restaurant is giving away a special Bijou Valentine's gift to a lucky couple. The competition will run throughout February, with any couple who gets engaged at the restaurant being entered into the draw for an amazing prize – a five-star weekend break in The g Hotel, Galway, with a romantic dinner and Champagne. In addition, all couples who get engaged at the restaurant during the Valentine's weekend (Thursday to Sunday) will be given a bottle of Champagne to toast the happy occasion.