It's been a while since I last had dinner with Chris de Burgh. Last time it was in Marco Pierre White's in Donnybrook. Oddly, this time we met up in Donnybrook again, in The Morehampton Brasserie, the new restaurant above Donnybrook Fair.
We got the window table, from where we could watch both the traffic and a rather splendid full moon in a clear sky.
"We've met before, haven't we?" I said as we were handed our menus. "Yes, indeed," came the reply, "in The Box Tree and in Dax." It was Stephen Murphy, and we discovered that The Morehampton Brasserie is his new venture with his wife of five weeks. So far their honeymoon has taken place in the brasserie. The joys of the hospitality industry.
As a rule, we're not overly fussy about what we call restaurants. I mean whether we call them a restaurant, a bistro or a brasserie, using French terminology, or ristorante, osteria, trattoria or pizzeria using Italian. In both of those countries these words describe particular kinds of eateries and the words are applied quite rigorously. We tend to be a bit more loose with those words here, and they're often applied quite wrongly. But here the word "brasserie" is exact. It's the menu that confirms it.
There's nothing cheffy on the menu. It lists dishes that everyone knows and likes. Chicken liver paté, a tian of crab, calamari, asparagus with hollandaise and crisp poached egg and a Caesar salad make up the starters; then salmon, fish and chips, pan-fried hake, roast chicken, pasta with red peppers, rump of lamb and a rib-eye steak are the main courses. What sets this apart from the run of the mill are two things: firstly there are some good combinations of flavours and ingredients, and secondly, even the very simple things are cooked perfectly.
For example, my starter. I'd ordered the calamari and Chris had ordered the asparagus. It's a funny thing, but battered rings of squid can be really good and, just as often, as tough as chewing an inner tube. It's timing that separates the good from the bad. For a moment, I looked across the table and envied Chris - his asparagus was coated in a rich hollandaise, a crumbed and deep-fried poached egg sat on top. As he cut into the egg, the unctuous yolk oozed out onto the asparagus making my mouth water. But as soon as I tasted my calamari my envy disappeared. They were tasty, tender, and the lemon flavoured aioli and red-pepper sauce that came with it were a perfect accompaniment.
Both of these starters were served on slates, perhaps not the most practical way of serving food, but both dishes were very pretty to look at.
There's a short wine list, some nine reds and nine whites, but there among the whites was the excellent Pieropan Soave listed at €38. Sadly, it turned out that it had been replaced with another maker's Soave, which we decided to try. Nice enough, but not as good as Signor Pieropan's. Apart from a single Australian wine, this is a European wine list, with French, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese wines making the listing.
The main courses were as well done as the starters. Chris had chosen the chicken, which was roasted with thyme. It came with a tian of colcannon, unusually made with cavolo nero (black cabbage) and with it some puy lentils and smoked bacon lardons. All very well done, and like the starters, nicely presented.
I'd ordered the fish and chips and it came - as it ought - with minted mushy peas, a tartare sauce and some really good chips, by which I mean chips like an armadillo, crunchy on the outside and soft in the middle. We'd also ordered a couple of side orders, the onion rings and courgettes in tempura. The onion rings were perfectly executed, each ring with batter that held the soft onion safely inside without breaking. The courgettes had been cut into strips before battering and frying, and although they looked terrific, they were bland to the taste.
We decided that the best we could do now was to share a pudding, the choice was apple crumble, panna cotta, crème brûlée, chocolate fondant or Cashel Blue with crackers and chutney. We decided on the crème brûlée, which was served traditional style in a shallow, oval flat. "Quite the best I've ever eaten," said Chris.
I ended the meal with an espresso, and I can tell you, it was probably the best I've ever been handed in a restaurant. A good quality coffee, making a fine espresso with a thick crema, and very stylishly served on a made-for-purpose tray with a glass of iced water. I could have been sitting at a Roman pavement café. For the first time in as long as I can remember I ordered a second one, which was every bit as good as the first. I have no idea why it should be such a rarity to get a perfect espresso, but it's a delight when you do.
There's a bit of tweaking still to do. The wine list needs a bit of work, and there are plans to revamp the interior a bit. But I like what's been done. The menu has been carefully thought out and it works. You won't find fancy, cheffy dishes, but what you'll get will be cooked as it should be. Chris and I have already made plans to return. The bill came to €112.35.
On a budget
The dinner menu offers you two courses for €25 or three for €30. However, if you come in early and avail of the early bird, you can get a glass of wine with your two courses.
On a blowout
There are a couple of dishes on the dinner menu with a supplement, for example the rump of lamb or the dry-aged rib-eye in the main courses or the crab tian in the starters. You can add a tenner if you choose these.
The high point
Both of the starters were superb. The kitchen had a great way with batter and tempura, especially the calamari and the crispy hen's egg.
The low point
Not much of a low point, but the courgettes in tempura definitely needed some extra flavour to make them work better.
8/10 Value for money
Whispers from the Gastronomicon
For once, I'm giving you plenty of notice! The Alltech Craft Brews and Food Fair, Ireland's largest international craft beer festival, will return to the National Convention Centre from Feb 27 to March 1, 2015. Tickets cost from €15 each and are on sale from the Fair's website, eu.alltechbrewsandfood.com. All tickets include four free drinks.
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Food & Drink
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