February is the month of the Seville Tapas Festival but, whatever about that, Ole! Ole! Ole! was alive and well in Dublin when we arrived on a Friday evening to the new Cafe H at the Grand Canal Square. The place was heaving with twentysomethings -- mainly girls -- and mainly, we were told, from the nearby Google offices. Off duty and without their toys, white wine was the order of the day, and the noise level was deafening.
Cafe H is owned by the Big H himself, Harry Crosbie, who popped in while we were there and, to add further interest to the venture, well-known chef Johnny Cooke is in the kitchen. Located in a modern unit, a great atmosphere has been created with Nubian torch-bearing figures high on the bar counter, and very tall, carved feature doors straight from a palacio or hacienda.
Hams hang down from rails, a blackboard lists specials, and an enormous illuminated H is suspended from the ceiling, perhaps so you'll remember where you are by the end of the night. There are a couple of high tables, and then lots of small tables packed tightly together -- if it's noise and buzz you want, it's here in spades.
A dozen and a half tapas (€3.50-€12.50) included crab cakes with Romesco sauce; pimientos de piquillo with salt cod in a squid-ink sauce; McH mini-burgers with foie gras and truffle mayo; black-bean stew with chorizo and morcilla sausage; the ubiquitous calamares, and char-grilled beef skewers with sofrito sauce. My friend Carmen and I were packed in between two groups of girls, like Mammy and Auntie.
We kicked off with pan con tomate y ajillo (€3.50) -- flatbread with tomato and olive oil -- and almonds (€3.75). Gambas al ajillo (€9.50) were average tiger prawns with plenty of garlic and oil -- I reckon they work out at about €1 each.
Boquerones (€5.50) came artistically stretched along the plate garnished with capers and marinated baby onions -- nice, but I would really like more of the anchovies. Croquetas del dia (€8.50) proved to be three veal croquettes with pomegranate molasses. The waitress, through the din, said, "Would you like to try the sweetbreads with truffle brochette?" I guess it must have been the noise,
because up arrived three more croquettes, which seemed exactly the same. We then twigged that they were probably 'veal sweetbread' croquettes. Unfortunately, we didn't much like the flavour -- and €17 seemed an awful lot for six croquettes. With three glasses of Rioja (€15) our bill, without service, came to €54.25. I guess this would be really nice for light bites when less busy.
The Port House, who are already in South William Street, have opened a brilliant spot in Dundrum Town Centre. Set in two old-world converted cottages in the Pembroke Quarter, this is more cantina-style than bar -- it's beautifully furnished, retaining the old brickwork and beautiful cream-leather seating. They have a really huge range of tapas (€3-€11), and platters (€12.50-€15).
Pulpo a la gallega (€11) was a good bowl of octopus in olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt and smoked paprika, while a "McFoie" Burger (€5.50) was absolutely divine slivers of fresh sauteed foie gras on warm Galician bread.
Boquerones (€4.50) too proved to be a decent bowl of marinated anchovies, while a thick tranche of tortilla espanola (€4) was a warm, comforting combination of potato and egg.
We also had pa amb pernil (€3.50) -- toasted rustic bread with garlic, tomato, and topped with serrano ham. With a large glass of Mas Rabell tinto (€8.80) and glass of PX sherry (€6.25) our bill, with optional service, came to €48.05.
Cafe H, Grand Canal Square, Dublin 2. Tel: (01) 899-2216
The Port House Ibericos,
5/6 Pembroke Cottages,
Tel: (01) 216-6133
Sunday Indo Life Magazine