Tuesday 18 September 2018

Review - Host: 'This dish of pumpkin cappellacci and sage was a beauty'

Host, 13 Ranelagh, Dublin 6 (01) 5612617

Host restaurant in Ranelagh. Photo: Mark Condren
Host restaurant in Ranelagh. Photo: Mark Condren

I've probably either walked or driven past Host a hundred times since it opened towards the end of last year, and tried to eat there on at least half a dozen occasions. It's smart and modern and I liked the look of the menu.

But each time I engaged with the online booking system, or asked someone to book over the phone on my behalf, I gave up in frustration. There was never a spot when I wanted one; 10.15pm on a Saturday night was the most recent offer. Er, no thank you.

That kind of thing can tend to fuel resentment in a restaurant critic ("What do you mean I can't have a table? Do you not know who I am?"), so that by the time I did manage to secure a reservation - note that I don't say 'table', because we'll come back to that in a minute - on a Tuesday evening towards the end of last month, I wasn't hugely looking forward to the experience.

It didn't help that in the meantime I'd read a stinker of a review on the restaurant. (Although I know the piece was written after a visit that took place in the first few days Host was in business, when it sounds as if there were some teething problems, principally with the service.)

As it happens, despite the only seats available being stools at the counter in the window that looks out on to the street, and despite the fact that every time someone opened the door it obliterated the ceiling light in the entrance-way so that our corner was plunged into darkness - annoying when you're trying to read the menu - we enjoyed Host and would return (if we can ever get in, that is).

I've written before about my aversion to perching on stools to eat at high tables, but at Host the stools are proper ones, of solid construction with fine big seats and not rickety at all. There's also a foot rest at the right height, so that other than the slight disappointment at having to swivel around in order to get a good look at the other customers, our pitch for two in the window was quite acceptable.

As it happens, all the 'standard' tables were occupied by one large office group having their Christmas outing (eminently sensible to do this at the end of January, when people are actually looking forward to going out again), while the individual high tables were all taken as well. The crowd was thirty-something young professional, beardy and stylish, and my younger companion was able to tell me that there was an influencer in the room too.

There's a short menu, and also a chef's menu priced at €35 which affords the opportunity to try a good cross-section of the dishes on the a la carte menu, although not the main course we had our hearts set on.

There's no provenance information, either on the printed menu or online.

Onion focaccia with terrific olive oil for dipping was a nice alternative to sourdough. We started with spherical Gorgonzola and Parmesan croquettas - I think that we might have reached peak croquetta, as they are ubiquitous these days - tasty, but needing more seasoning. A small portion of one of the fresh pasta dishes on offer - duck pappardelle - underwhelmed. The ragu was watery, and didn't have the depth of flavour that it should have done, but then our waiter arrived with an extra something from the kitchen ("Because there's a delay on your main course," he said, but we thought afterwards that perhaps we had been rumbled.)

This dish of pumpkin cappellacci and sage was a beauty; the hat-shaped pasta - a speciality of Ferrara - filled with impeccably seasoned pumpkin, topped with toasted walnuts that brought both texture and delicious flavour, and finished with sage leaves and a cloud of finely-grated Parmesan. I would go back for this alone.

Sharing steak is on just about every restaurant menu in Dublin these days, and although I've yet to find anything better than the cote de boeuf at Etto, the 600g rib-eye for two at Host, which costs €50 (not 750g for €48 as per the website, which, at the time of going to press, needed to be updated) is one that comes close.

This was a fine, tender and flavoursome piece of meat, cooked perfectly medium-rare as requested.

The salsa verde wasn't as punchy as the one I make at home (fewer capers and anchovies) but good nonetheless; we thought that there was some balsamic vinegar in the mop-worthy juices on the plate.

A side of slender tenderstem broccoli with almonds and anchovies was the kind of dish that I'd happily eat every day of the week - so much flavour, so good - but fried potatoes were under-cooked and appeared to have been rushed, as they were pale, hard and lacking crunch. The dips of smoky aioli and tomato that accompanied them were excellent.

We shared a modestly-sized (but quite adequate) hazelnut affogato - the ice-cream was perfect but the coffee bitter.

Service throughout was friendly and attentive; a French friend sitting at the Christmas party table told us that she's eaten at Host several times already and that it's her new favourite place. (Remind me to ask her how she manages to get in.)

The bill for two, with a couple of Aperol spritzes and three glasses (€9.50 each) of Calaffa Rosso 2015 from Puglia, came to €131.50.

THE RATING

8/10 food

8/10 ambience

8/10 value for money

24/30

ON A BUDGET

A two-course set lunch is €20, three courses are €25.

ON A BLOW OUT

A small portion of duck pappardelle each, followed by the rib-eye with salsa verde to share, sides of roasted cauliflower with pistachio and yoghurt and potatoes, and a couple of desserts would cost €95 for two before drinks or service.

THE HIGH POINT

The pumpkin capellacci - available as either a starter or main course. A magnificent dish.

THE LOW POINT

That it took me so long to get to Host, and that it's so difficult to get a table.

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