Watching Fellini's 'Satyricon' recently, I was reminded that we're not the first society to have celebrity chefs. Two thousand years ago the Romans had theirs, superstars who were paid huge sums of money to produce banquets that weren't just gastronomy, but theatre as for the amusement of the guests.
8/10 value for money
For the Romans, civilisation was defined by clean, running water, wine and gastronomy. These were the elements that set the Roman world apart from the barbarians, who couldn't cook, didn't wash and, horror of horrors, drank beer.
We know our celebrity chefs through the medium of television, where they produce beautiful plates of food that we can see, but never taste or smell. For me, the real celebrity chefs are the ones who actually cook for real people in the real world - the ones who have restaurants.
The change in our economic circumstances that have taken us from being the 'richest' nation in Europe to being the most indebted has had its effects on our restaurants. The top end, where once people spent money as though it had no value, are working hard to give customers value for money.
Mid-range restaurants have re-designed menus so that they can offer three courses for €25, using less expensive cuts of meat or by doing a lot more prep in the kitchen.
But one of our celebrity chefs, the enfant terrible of gastronomy, took an entirely different route. Dylan McGrath made his name with his spectacular cooking in Mint, which got him a well-deserved Michelin star. His next venture was not more high-end cooking; instead he introduced us to the hot stone, where the customers do their own cooking. The Rustic Stone is still packed every night with people cooking their own meat and fish on hot lava stones.
His next venture was Fade Street Social, which combined a number of elements. There is a restaurant that makes use of a brick-domed oven, and there's what you could call a 'tapas' bar. It's tapas in the sense of small tasting plates, rather than in the sense of Spanish food.
In fact it isn't easy to pigeon-hole the menu; there are influences from all around the world as well as re-workings of Irish dishes.
Here's a few examples from the menu, which keeps all the dishes under €10: beef carpaccio with celeriac and apple remoulade bound with wasabi mayonnaise, apple puree and horseradish; air-dried lamb with onion, fig puree, black olives and celery leaves; crispy salt brandade and squid with pickled red peppers, chickpeas and chorizo; or if you're adventurous, the salted popcorn with crispy, free-range chicken cooked in tapioca flour, rolled in sumac and truffle butter. You'll notice that the dishes I've listed have a lot of components, and that holds true of all the others as well. A lot of work has gone into these plates.
I'd arranged to meet Bairbre Power there and I got there more than a little early. I considered sitting and reading, but the offer of a plateful of beef carpaccio while I waited was too good to refuse, so I picked on that. It arrived on a board and the slices of beef were topped with slivers of radish and little blobs of wasabi mayonnaise. It was both pleasing to the eye and to the palate. And that care in presentation turned out to be the constant theme in the plates we got - every plate was perfectly presented.
When Bairbre arrived we got some crab toasties, a plate of Iberico ham, octopus rolled in herbs and a pot of potatoes cooked in beef dripping and topped with Hollandaise.
The crab toasties, which were like crab crostini, came with melted cheese, duck egg Hollandaise, skinny fries and a very good truffle mayonnaise. If you've never had Iberico ham before, it's a real treat. It's like Parma ham, in that it's an air-cured ham, but it's made from the Pata Negra pig, which spend the last six months of their lives outdoors, foraging for their food in forests.
This makes the flesh very different from battery raised pigs - it's darker, denser and far fuller in flavour. Of course, it costs a lot more than ordinary ham, but once tasted, you can see the point of paying for it.
The octopus dish was another winner, served as very thin slices and brushed with pork-fat scented with rosemary. We ate the octopus and the ham on the fresh breads that we'd also ordered. The bread came still warm from the oven and with it came two pats of butter, one plain and the other flavoured with mushrooms.
As for drinks, Bairbre had a glass of house Merlot and I had a glass of Belfast lager, new to me, but like most artisan beers, full of flavour and decidedly hoppy.
We also had a couple of bottles of sparkling water. They charge just €1 for this, which is something that I think deserves praise. We've got used to paying prices for water that continentals pay for wine, sometimes as much as €5 a bottle, so seeing water charged at just €1 brought a smile to my face.
We finished up with an espresso and a tea, which brought the bill to €65.90. Clever food, prettily presented and good value.
ON A BUDGET
You can eat pretty well for under a tenner if you choose carefully, for example the leek and egg salad and chunky chips
ON A BLOWOUT
The tapas bar is not the place for a blowout. Eat in the restaurant part instead
The octopus: well presented and very tasty
A blunt knife followed by another blunt knife made eating the fibrous leeks very difficult
The Food Safety Authority of Ireland has published the findings of two surveys examining the authenticity of beef and lamb products. The first found no traces of horse DNA in beef samples, so it seems the industry is behaving.
Another survey revealed the presence of meats other than lamb in 7 of the 20 foods sampled from independent takeaways, which were described on the menu as containing lamb.
Six of the seven foods with undeclared meat were described on the menus/menu boards as lamb kebabs, but most of these did not contain any lamb at all. You have been warned.