Restaurant review: This small plate heaven is as charming as its neighbourhood
Lilliput Stores, Rosemount Terrace, 5 Arbour Hill, Stoneybatter, Dublin 7; lilliputstores.com
A sunny September evening and we're walking to dinner in Stoneybatter, now officially one of the world's 50 coolest neighbourhoods according to Time Out, having knocked nearby Phibsborough off its perch. Poor old Phibsborough - what on earth did it do to prompt such an ignominious fall from grace? Last year there it was at number 27 - this year? Nowhere to be seen.
Time Out named Grano and The Belfry as two of the best places to eat and drink in the area, but we are not in the market for either the pasta at Grano or the pizzas at The Belfry tonight, though both are excellent. Instead, we're on our way to Lilliput Stores on Arbour Hill which now serves dinner a few nights a week. A photo of the attractive shop exterior was used by Time Out to illustrate the delights of the 'batter; the guide suggested it as a good spot in which to have coffee while sheltering from the rain.
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We're a little early for our booking but this doesn't faze the staff and we're offered a choice of tables in the shop itself or in the back room, effectively a covered-over yard. The space is charming - as are the staff, amongst the most simpatico that I have encountered anywhere in a while. That hospitality gene - you've either got it or you haven't.
The menu is chalked on a board that our server props on a chair beside our table. It's all small plates and there aren't so many of them (nor are they so expensive) that we feel the need to make choices; we order them all, with one each of the pintxos that we've spotted on the counter for good measure.
The wine offering is confusing, with a couple of reds and white available by the glass and the mention of corkage at €10, which makes us wish that we'd brought our own, but turns out to apply if you buy a whole bottle from selection in the shop. On the recommendation of one of the staff, we go for a natural and biodynamic pinot noir, Milan Nestarec's Forks & Knives 2016, from Moravia in the Czech Republic. It's verging on funky, yet bright and fresh with vivid acidity and only 12pc ABV. It sells for €28.50 in the shop and so with corkage costs us €38.50.
The pintxos are tasty morsels of Parma ham and aioli, hummus and sauerkraut and manchego with sun-dried tomato pesto on good bread, followed swiftly - very swiftly, too swiftly! - by the various small plates. The table is too small to accommodate the number of dishes that arrive in such rapid succession. And as well as causing us logistical difficulties, piling plates on top of bowls and combining dishes, we're forced to eat quicker than we'd like so that the food isn't cold by the time that we get to it. As there appears to be no pressure to turn tables, this over-speedy service seems to be driven by the kitchen rather than the floor and should be easy to sort out.
The menu changes each week - it's the seasons, don't you know - but pounce on the Elmhurst tomatoes with garlic aioli, sardines and black olive, served on bread, if it's on, a perfect early autumn combination, with tomatoes still in their prime. The baba ganoush may not be a pretty colour, but with pickled cucamelon, radish, carrot and courgette from McNally's, it's delicious. Roaring Water Bay mussels are sweet and plump, cooked simply with white wine, lovage and garlic, while a dish of gently yielding butterbeans with caramelised leeks, roasted fennel and gorgonzola is so good that it converts my companion, a reluctant bean-eater of many years standing, to their merits. Polpette of beef from Rick Higgins in a tomato sauce garnished with watercress and Parmesan is good, but baby potatoes with dill are bland and we struggle to discern any flavour of the advertised smoked butter. A pudding of poached pears - again from Elmhurst - with crème fraîche, orange custard and a ginger and cardamom biscuit is an interesting combination of flavours spoiled by grainy fruit.
Our bill comes to €95 before service; the amount of food that we had would easily have satisfied three.
ON A BUDGET
A light supper of the baba ganoush, butterbean and mussel dishes, shared between two, with a glass of wine each, will cost €35 before service.
ON A BLOW OUT
Eat everything on the menu - as we did - and your bill will be in the region of €55/60 before drinks or service.
THE HIGH POINT
Good food, charming vibe.
THE LOW POINT
The kitchen needs to pace itself better.