I think it might be an age thing, but a while ago I was bemoaning the fact that I had no portrait of myself. I mean, there comes a time in life when you think, "I should get myself painted. It's only fair for posterity."
Now I'm not short of painters in my family. My son's a painter, so is my daughter, so is her husband and so is my ex wife. Actually I'm surrounded by them. But did any of these come up with a portrait? No, they did not.
Sophie Kenny, daughter of Marian Kenny, is partnered with David Uda, and guess what, he's a painter as well. When I finished building my outdoor pizza oven, barbecue and smoke house, Marian gave me a present - a portrait by David Uda, who signs himself Duda. It now has pride of place in the pizza hut (above right).
Which explains why my dining companion this week was David. We had the kind of drive together to get to the restaurant that can only be understood by people who have driven very old cars. My 58-year-old MGA was what we drove in and it had decided to overheat every 500 yards in heavy traffic. Eventually we took out the thermostat at the side of the road and limped to Monkstown Crescent, where I wanted to try a new arrival on the strip - Brasserie 8a.
Monkstown Crescent is one of those places where restaurants congregate. A bit like Georges Street and its continuations, or Kinsale. You might think that having all those restaurants right next to one another would mean there'd be few diners to share, but instead the very concentration of restaurants means that there's always a lot of people looking to dine, secure in the knowledge that if they don't get into one, they'll get into another.
We had arrived early in the evening, so we had no trouble getting a table. As ever, we got two menus, an a la carte and an early evening set menu. The set menu had five starters, five main courses and three desserts to choose from and was priced at two courses for €22 or three for €26, which has become pretty standard now around Dublin.
I looked down the main courses. Chicken breast stuffed with spinach and Parmesan - I don't like chicken breast. Papardelle pasta with roasted vegetables and Taleggio cheese - I don't trust non-Italian restaurants to make pasta. Belly of pork - couldn't face it again. Pan-fried sea trout - I won't eat farmed fish when we live on an island. Lastly steak, but with a supplemental charge of €5.
With all that in mind, the only choice was to choose from the a la carte. All the starters were under €10 and a couple looked interesting, a tomato and Parmesan soup, a flat mushroom roasted with thyme; slow cooked ribs; chipotle prawn tacos with avocado salsa; toasted goats cheese and duck liver paté.
The main courses were more mainstream - a duo of duck, chicken supreme, organic salmon, a sirloin steak and a fillet steak, papardelle pasta, fillet of hake and fish and chips. David ordered the glazed ribs to start and the duo of duck to follow, while I chose the tomato soup and followed that with a sirloin steak.
Some good homemade bread came to the table and we ordered a large bottle of sparkling water, a non-alcoholic beer for David and an 8 Degrees artisan ale for me.
I liked my soup enormously when it arrived, it had a good blend of flavours, although I really wasn't tasting the Parmesan. The pesto oil yes, the tomato yes, but the Parmesan must have been so in the background I couldn't pick it out. David's ribs were a real surprise to me. So often ribs are just bones with a tiny covering of skin and gristle, but not these. He put one on my plate and I found lots of meat and just a tiny bit of bone, the opposite to the norm. The maple glaze was also good, so it was the best of our starters.
We really hadn't put the kitchen to much of a test by ordering a sirloin steak and a duo of duck. These are two standard dishes and need only to be watched to get the timing right. I'll tell you now the steak was one of the better pieces of meat that has come my way of late and Dave's duck was also well done, the breast crispy outside and pink inside, the confit leg fall-off-the-bone.
With these main courses we also got onion rings, sage mash, green beans, a puy lentil ragout and 8a fries, which turned out to be cubed and fried potatoes flavoured with garlic and herbs. I'd chosen a Bearnaise sauce to go with my steak - I could have had garlic butter or pepper sauce - and it was a disappointment. Someone had doused the sauce too generously with vinegar, so all I could taste was acetic acid. Pity, as otherwise it was well made.
All the desserts were priced at €5.95. Dave ordered the chocolate marquise, and I ordered the sticky toffee pudding. Of the two, the marquise was the better, because the pudding part of the sticky toffee was very dry. I would have needed a lot more butterscotch sauce than I had to make it go down easily.
A couple of coffees ended the meal and brought us a bill of €91.80.
On a budget
If you don't want to eat from the early bird menu, you can come even earlier and eat from the brunch menu
On a blowout
Brasserie 8a isn't expensive, so even dining from the à la carte won't break the bank. I thought the glazed ribs at €8.50 were good value as is fish and chips for €18.50
The superb quality of my steak. It had the kind of taste that only comes from dry ageing and it was amazingly tender. A delight at €24
That has to be the Bearnaise. Pity, because I was looking forward to having it on my steak, chips and vegetables
7/10 value for money
Brasserie 8a, Monkstown Cresent, Dun Laoghaire, Co. Dublin
Whispers from the Gastronomicon
The third annual Westport Food Festival takes place September 5-7 with live demonstrations, a Food Fest Forum, Foody Tours, Bike Buffet and kids' pizza-making.
Sunday night brings an exciting new headline event entitled 'Secret Supper' which is like Come Dine with Me but with a twist. Diners buy €35 tickets for a five-course 'taste experience' meal but nobody knows where they will eat until that night when dining venues will be unveiled at a pre-dinner restaurant lottery.
Guests go to their mystery restaurant for dinner at 7.30pm followed by a wrap party where all diners will score their meal and the winner of Best Taste Experience will be crowned.