Review: Baths at Clontarf - 'Coddle pizza - a terrrible idea. Don't order it, not even for fun'
The Baths at Clontarf, 123a Clontarf Road, Clontarf, Dublin 3. (01) 9696580, thebaths.ie
'That sounds like one of those ideas that a bunch of us would come up with at five o'clock in the morning after a skinful of beers ... and we'd all think that it was brilliant," says my chef friend, when I tell him about the coddle pizza that we've eaten for brunch earlier that day at The Baths in Clontarf.
"But by the time we'd sobered up," he adds, "we'd have realised that it was actually a terrible, terrible idea."
I'll come back to that pizza a little later.
The Baths reopened back in March after an extensive and obviously costly restoration of the original Clontarf Baths and Assembly Rooms, which date from 1886. The local Cullen family is behind the venture. The outdoor salt-water baths closed 22 years ago, and have re-opened in a limited sense, in that the pool can be used by members of swimming and sporting clubs that provide their own insurance and supply their own life-guards. There is no date set for the baths to be open to the public; health, safety and insurance issues appear to be the delaying factors.
No matter, we are here for the food not the swimming, although it would be lovely to combine the two.
We have booked a table, but when we arrive the sun is shining and we ask if it's possible to sit outside. It isn't - The Baths only serves drinks and coffees on the terrace overlooking the water.
We are shown to a table indoors from which every possible view of the pool or the sea is obliterated - by walls, by masonry, by a tea station, and by a huge banquette in the middle of the adjacent conservatory-type structure.
At the other end of the room the tables do better in terms of the view - when you enter, you want to be sitting to the right rather than the left.
The décor has - as one might expect - a nautical/seaside theme. Nothing wrong with that. But there is way, way too much going on. Rolltop baths cut in half to form sofas, beach huts, perspex Chinese lanterns filled with fairy lights, and - wherever one looks - stripes, stripes, and more stripes, in a multitude of colours.
"The stripes are giving me anxiety," says one of my guests. "It looks as if it was designed by someone who has never eaten in a restaurant and certainly never designed a restaurant before," says another, who's an architect and therefore entitled and qualified to say this.
The heavy armchairs at which we are seated - they are super-awkward to get in and out of, and to manoeuvre around the table - are loose-covered in stripy fabric (more stripes!). I worry about crumbs, and how long it must take to clean the chairs at the end of each service. There are too many hard surfaces, the acoustics are terrible. It's Avoca by the Sea done badly, reportedly by an Irish firm based in Dubai.
It's lunchtime on Sunday, and the other customers are a mix of families with children, couples and groups of friends. There appear to be a lot of staff (they get to wear jaunty sailor tee-shirts - more stripes!), and plenty of scurrying and looking busy, not always to much effect. Our waiter is a gem, though.
Of the three brunch dishes that we try, the eggs Benedict, served on a soda farl with organic bacon and spinach, is the winner, the hollandaise good. There's too much bacon though, fully five or six pieces.
Any restaurant that puts a lobster roll on their menu is on a hiding to nothing, because the reality rarely lives up to the hope and expectation. The quantity of lobster meat is simply never enough, and the punter feels short-changed. At The Baths the dish costs €19, and it's a serviceable iteration - lemon mayonnaise, finely chopped celery, brioche bun - but no more. Predictably, the amount of lobster feels stingy. The chips are fine, but under-cooked and not crisp enough.
But it's the coddle pizza that stops us in our tracks. First of all, it looks terrible - pale, the cheese barely melted, the pieces of organic bacon limp and flaccid. It looks as if it hasn't yet been in the oven. But it has. There are potatoes, and parsley, not in and of themselves a problem - I have had great potato pizzas, including a memorable one at the (now sadly closed) Franny's in Brooklyn - even though these are admittedly unusual ingredients. And there are Guinness sausages, wrapped calzone-style in pizza dough topped with a zig zag of honey-mustard sauce.
What a truly terrible idea, and what an awful pizza. Don't, whatever you do, order this dish, not even for fun.
At nearby tables we note a whole free-range rotisserie chicken with mashed potato that looks good - well-priced at €32 - and fish and chips that we wish we had ordered.
By way of dessert, we share an uninspiring knickerbocker glory and bland affogato, both sweet, creamy, forgettable.
With a glass of white wine and three soft drinks, the bill for four comes to €104.40 before service. In such a magnificent location, both the décor and the food at The Baths are a disappointment.
6/10 value for money
ON A BUDGET
Order peanut butter and cacao chia pudding with crushed raspberries for €5, buttermilk waffles with apple compote and candied pecans for €8.50, and flat whites, and brunch for two will cost €20.50 before service.
ON A BLOW OUT
At dinner, crab, steak, sides and cheese for two will set you back over €120 before drinks or service.
THE HIGH POINT
A waiter who could not have been more charming.
THE LOW POINT
The terrible coddle pizza.