While other recent celebrity efforts have fallen short, this chef’s venture in Ballsbridge is bang on the money, says our critic
Richard Corrigan’s return to the Dublin dining arena has been well-received — although he has also encountered staffing difficulties at his new venture, The Park Café in Ballsbridge, Dublin, 4, resulting in a capping of available tables in the busy December period. The same reception can’t be claimed by two other celebrity chefs who opened for business in our fair city towards the end of last year. Anna Haugh’s pop-up at the Conrad and Jamie Oliver’s Chequer Lane were panned by the critics.
For my part, I found much wrong with Haugh’s food offering on my visit, not to mention the Conrad’s operation of the venue. But I loved both the food and the setting at Oliver’s Chequer Lane, and think it’s a great addition to the Dublin brasserie dining scene.
The ebullient Corrigan is a force of nature and probably our best-known culinary export to the UK, having entertained toffee-nosed society, the theatrical fraternity, City bankers and techie billionaires in his London restaurants, Corrigan’s in Mayfair, Bentley’s Oyster Bar, and Daffodil Mulligan in Shoreditch. He’s also a regular on BBC TV’s Great British Menu, latterly as a judge, having won the competition himself four times.
I say his ‘return to Dublin’ because he opened a branch of Bentley’s in St Stephen’s Green in 2008, unfortunately coinciding with the collapse of Lehman Brothers in the US and the financial crisis. It closed after a couple of years of recession and high rents. Subsequently, he opened the fabulous Virginia Park Lodge in Cavan, where all the vegetables are grown for his restaurants, but he still had a hankering for a Dublin venue.
When the premises of Dylan McGrath’s former Shelbourne Social in Ballsbridge became available, he saw the opportunity.
I got what I expected of Corrigan on my visit: terrific contemporary classic food, value for money, great service and fun. There’s Champagne by the glass at €19; snazzy cocktails; oysters from three producers — served ‘au naturel’, Vietnamese style or Rockefeller. Petrossian caviar is there (market price), while small plates (€9-€16) include steak tartare and an omelette ‘escargot Bordelaise’. Among the mains (€22-€39), there’s a nod to Dublin’s legendary Jammet’s by way of ‘La Jammet’ kebab, as well as spatchcocked partridge, and Corrigan’s signature Bentley’s fish pie.
My companion Mary started with a bowl of crab and mussel soup (€12) which was laced with subtle Thai flavours of coconut, ginger and lime. I had a terrific crab salad (€16) scattered with celeriac, mustard seeds and mimosa. Then, lightly crisped schnitzel of yellowfin tuna (€24) with tartare sauce, a side of thin-cut fries (€6) with aioli and garden greens (€5) was next for her; she loved it.
I enjoyed a superb black sole fillet (€29) with a buttermilk beurre blanc, brown shrimp, broccolini and salted lemon. It was a reasonable cost for this king of fish.
Puddings and desserts at only €6-€8 were just the job. When I think of some of the overpriced puds presented to me in recent months, I just want to scream ‘rip-off’.
Burnt cheesecake in parchment paper topped with Bramley apple purée was delicious, as was a retro glass coupe of Park Café soft-serve ‘99’ topped with caramelised popcorn — both were €6. There was a Corleggy cheese selection at €12, served with oatcakes and pear chutney.
There are wines for the high rollers and the low ones. Mary, who visits the Veneto region of north-east Italy fairly regularly, spotted a familiar Cantina di Custoza white wine (€31), a blend of grapes including Garganega, Trebbiano and Friulano, which did the job nicely for us.
Our bill with water (€7) and service charge came to €156.20.
The Park Café’s motto is ‘Eat like a pig’ at the café and ‘Drink like a fish’ in the bar. This month’s cold, dark days are an ideal time of the year to do both, if just for a few hours.
The Park Cafe, Number 1 Ballsbridge, Shelbourne Road, Dublin 4; Telephone: 01-964-3040; parkcafe.ie