Restaurant review: Master of 'Craft' at Harold's Cross
Craft, 208 Harold's Cross Road, Dublin 6W. (01) 497 8632
What are the requirements for a civilised life? Once the basics are taken care of, what are the things that make life worth living, that bring joy to everyday life? For some it will be access to books, art and music, or the cinema and theatre. For others it will be views and fresh air, and the time to enjoy them. Others will opt for sports. Or dogs. Or a garden to tend. For me, one of the almost-essentials is a restaurant, that you can call your own, a place where you're known, where a table will always be found for you at short notice and where - of course - you like the food.
When I lived in New York, my restaurant was La Luncheonette. Located on a dodgy street in the Lower East Side it was run by a French chef who cooked inspired and brilliant food. It was fine-dining in a diner and we ate there a lot.
In London, our local was a Turkish joint in Stoke Newington, the Hodja Nasreddin, which has the distinction of being the first doner kebab shop to open in the UK, in 1966. I just Googled it and am happy to see that it's still going strong, serving up the garlicky patlican tava that I could happily eat a plate of right now.
And since we've lived back in Dublin, we've gone through a few. There was the late lamented Dali in Blackrock, when our children were small and we never seemed able to make it in to the city centre for a whole evening undisturbed by a call from the babysitter.
And during the Noughties it was Town Bar & Grill, which operated as a canteen for the city when Dublin was at its boomiest and was a place in which you would always eat good food and have a fun time. TB&G limped along for a few years after it went under the first time but did not survive the recession. The magic had gone, and the idea of revisiting the scene of the crime never caught on. Originally set up by Ronan Ryan and Temple Garner (now the chef-owner of San Lorenzo), one of the chefs who cooked there was Phil Yeung, and latterly he spent five years as head chef at Bang on Merrion Row.
Now he has set up his own restaurant, in a premises that was formerly home to the Black Apple Café in Harold's Cross. Craft bills itself as a neighbourhood restaurant, and its offering is pitched to appeal to those living or working locally who will drop in for lunch or for an early bird rather than cooking, as well as those keen to try the full spectrum of Yeung's accomplished cooking.
As is customary in the new breed of casual fine-dining restaurants, there are 'snacks'. Jerusalem artichoke chips come with a smoked bacon mayo that's an inspired combination. (In fact, I'm finding it hard to think of anything that wouldn't go well with that smoked bacon mayo.) Crab crackers with avocado and coriander are crisp and fresh, while the pickled apple sauce with the deep-fried pork croquettes is a fine foil for the fatty meat.
We try the four starters between the three of us, as we can't agree which one to leave out. Cured salmon with black sesame, cucumber, daikon and avocado will appeal to the clean eaters, but is the least interesting of the four. A vegetable broth with ricotta dumplings and lovage pesto is wholesome and tasty, while a salad of Jerusalem artichoke, pear, hazelnut, and kale is dressed with a smoked crème fraîche that I could find plenty of good use for at home. Gorgeous. Game sausage with a risotto of pearl barley, chestnut and plum has depth of flavour; it's a rustic winter dish that's on the money in terms of seasonality.
A main course of charred rump cap and featherblade of beef comes with onion purée and a generous complement of chanterelles, presenting the two cuts in juxtaposition. The rump cap is succulent from a spell in the sous-vide, and smoky and flavoursome from the Maillard reaction - where salt-sprinkled meat encounters searing-hot cast iron - while the featherblade is sweet from being cooked long and slow. It's a great dish, as is the smoked Wicklow venison with beetroot, pear, swede and cavolo nero. We love the charred broccoli with Caesar dressing; anchovies are a natural match for dark green vegetables.
Desserts are as considered as everything that has preceded them. 'Chocolate, milk, hazelnut' is a rich dark fondant with two types of house-made ice-cream and the crunch of roasted hazelnuts. A blood orange cake is light and fragrant, with a rum and raisin ice-cream and additional interest on the plate in the form of fruit and purée. Young Buck is one of my favourite Irish cheeses and it's good to see it appearing on more and more menus. At Craft, it's served with pear chutney and excellent house crackers. We drink sparkling water and a silky Ata Rang Crimson Pinot Noir from New Zealand (€53) and dinner for two costs €146.50 before service.
The floor staff are amongst the nicest I've encountered anywhere. Craft is going to be hugely popular in Dublin 6W, and Phil Yeung's food is accomplished enough to draw in the punters from further afield.
On a budget
There's a two-course, limited choice 'neighbourhood' menu available from 5.30-7pm each day. Or drop in for lunch: venison ragu, Parmesan polenta and chestnut is priced at €12.
On a blowout
Game sausage, followed by the venison, with sides, dessert, water and a bottle of Poggio San Polo Brunello di Montalcino at €90, would cost around €180 for two before service.
The high point
Delightful staff, excellent food.
The low point
An indiscriminate Spotify playlist, and a very noisy hand-dryer in the loos that can be heard in the restaurant.
7/10 value for money
Whispers from the gastronomicon
Lynda Booth's Dublin Cookery School (above) in Blackrock was named best in the country in the Irish Restaurant Awards 2015, and the courses lined up for this year look particularly interesting. From May 16-20 there's Chef Skills, with guest tutors including Enda McEvoy of Loam and John Wyer of Forest Avenue, and the following week there's a Patisserie Masterclass with Aoife Noonan, of the Michelin two-star Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud. There's a whole slew of other one-week courses available, with the cost of courses ranging from €270 to €650.