Restaurant review: 'Fail to plan ahead, and you’ll miss out on top spots like RIBA'
Riba, 4 Lr Kilmacud Rd, Stillorgan, Co Dublin. www.ribarestaurant.ie
If you've ever wondered why it's so difficult to get a weekend table at the restaurant of your choice, it's because Dublin is full of people like me who have their eating out planned months in advance.
We are the food nerds who have already made our bookings for December. We know where we're going with our cousins, our book club and our friends from school. We know where we're eating lunch on Christmas Eve - in fact, we've known since July.
Sometimes I get calls from friends asking for restaurant recommendations. They might have relatives visiting from abroad or a birthday or wedding anniversary to celebrate. They think that perhaps they'd like to try Aimsir (two Michelin stars) or Liath (one star), or Etto or Uno Mas. Which do I think would be better? Invariably, they want the table on a Saturday night - and they want it next week.
Of course not all restaurants book out months in advance, but if you want to eat at the ones listed above then you need to have your wits about you. Aimsir and Liath, for instance, release bookings online at a set time on a specific date for a period a couple of months ahead. If you are on the ball, you have as much chance of nabbing a table as anyone else.
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As the weekend looms, and a dinner-sized hole in my diary heaves into view, not having a reservation makes me nervous. The prospect of having to eat somewhere that I haven't put thought into selecting just because I'm hungry or I've made general rather than specific plans to meet someone is something that fills me with dread. Most of all it's a wasted opportunity. Fail to plan, plan to fail and all that.
Sitting at the window table of RIBA in Stillorgan on a Saturday evening a couple of weeks ago, I'm amazed by the procession of optimistic folk coming in looking for a table. What are they thinking? What have they been doing all day? Later, the front of house man tells me most nights of the week they would probably be able to accommodate them all. We're a neighbourhood restaurant, he says, so we like to be able to look after everyone.
There's an early bird and an à la carte menu, and specials chalked on the board that are winking at us in the way that oysters and steak can, especially on a Saturday night.
A dressing of lime, cucumber and coriander enhances rather than overpowers the sweet and meaty bivalves from the Grade-A waters of Carlingford Lough; there are three in a portion priced at €9. We share fritto misto of squid, prawns and cod that's a little dull; it would have been better with tentacles as well as the large, cross-hatched pieces of squid. The batter is good rather than great; the garlic aioli could do with more oomph, while a dip of soy, green peppercorn and chilli has plenty.
A rib-eye from meat maestro Rick Higgins in Sutton is a fine piece of meat, cooked impeccably and served with Ard Mhacha shiitake mushrooms grown using organic methods in Co Armagh. The salsa verde that accompanies it is more like a pesto, with none of the punch of anchovy and caper that one would expect.
A dish of Roaring Water Bay mussels with nduja and fennel cream is luscious (I have a friend who goes to Riba at least once a week to eat this), but the shards of sourdough on top are redundant. We share a slice of chocolate tart with pastry that's too thick; it comes with ice cream and some filling-threatening honeycomb.
With a bottle of the Cantine Rallo Ciella Rosso Nero d'Avolo (€28) - a natural and biodynamic wine that's a happy 12.5pc ABV - our bill comes to €110.25. It's money better spent than on the tickets for Judy in the Ormonde cinema next door, one of the most turgid scripts I've encountered in a long time, that's for sure.
Riba is treading the line between being a neighbourhood restaurant that is all things to all people, while being interesting enough to satisfy us food nerds, and making a more than decent fist of it.
ON A BUDGET
At lunchtime, any starter plus a salad or main course costs €16.95.
ON A BLOW OUT
Scallops, steak and dessert for two will cost close to €100 before drinks or service.
THE HIGH POINT
Good sourcing and provenance information, and a menu that will suit all-comers.
THE LOW POINT
Not the restaurant's fault, but the customers at the next table were unfamiliar with the concept of indoor voices.