First things first. I'm ashamed to admit that although I've lived within a few miles of Michael's for years, I've never made it across the threshold before. I had always meant to, but somehow never got around to it. I think perhaps it's because I've developed a bit of an aversion to suburban restaurants, particularly when they're not in my suburb.
We all want to have a good, reliable, neighbourhood restaurant, a place within walking distance of home where we can head on a whim when we don't feel like cooking, somewhere that the whole family will be happy to go. But to my mind there's something defeatist about opting for the safe choice when you could be heading into the big shmoke and trying something new or food-horizon-broadening.
And suburban restaurants by their very nature tend to have a sameness about them. You know before you even look at the menu that they'll offer a variation on the theme of a beetroot and goat's cheese salad, chicken wings, a Caesar salad, a burger, steak, chicken breast, and either farmed sea bass (boo) or hake (hooray). And really, why would you bother making the journey to another suburb for that?
Anyway that's a long-winded way of saying I should have been to Michael's before, and that while its offering is one designed to have broad appeal, there is nothing dull about it. In fact, it's a pleasure to see a restaurant and a chef with the confidence to deliver a gimmick-free menu that showcases both high-quality ingredients and kitchen talent in a way that is distinctive enough to make it a destination in its own right, rather than just another suburban restaurant offering the same old same old.
There is nothing modish about the interior at Michael's but it does look authentically Italian, with its wooden shelves crammed with wine bottles, and the chefs on view in the galley kitchen.
We received a genuinely warm welcome from the floor staff, and an interaction with our waiter on my choice of wine only went to confirm that there is a distinctive (and rare) ethos of exceptional customer service. I had ordered a French pinot noir and been disappointed. There was nothing wrong with it per se, it was just flat and dull. I asked the waiter to put a cork in it and said I would take it home, but that I'd appreciate his recommendation for something more interesting, still with a lowish ABV. He came back with a delicious Quinta Milu La Cometa 2014 Ribera del Duero, and took the pinot noir off the bill, even though the fault was mine and he was under no obligation to do so. (And, no, he hadn't a clue that I was a critic.)
We had three starters: wild mushroom and duck arancini, osso bucco, and an antipasta plate. Each one was substantial enough to be a main course. Three hockey ball-sized arancini, accompanied by a truffle aioli, were rich and molten inside, crisp on the outside.
The generous (even though we had ordered the small version) antipasta plate featured cold meats, olives, cheese, semi sun-dried tomatoes, warm bread and a few more bits and pieces, but the star turn was the osso bucco: slow-braised veal shank, with plenty of marrow waiting to be sucked out of the bone, and handmade goat's cheese ravioli.
The flavour had extraordinary depth and concentration; it was the best version of the dish that I have ever tasted, including in Italy, and I'll be going back to have it again on a day when comfort is called for. Wow.
Our main courses were equally successful. Mussels and prawns in a white wine, tomato, lemon and cream sauce, a perfect fillet steak and, for me, the 16oz rib-eye on the bone, hand-sawn, served with triple-cooked chips, onion rings and a wild mushroom cream.
Chef Gareth Smith ages his steaks in Maurice Kettyle's Salt and Moss Cave in Lisnaskea in Co Fermanagh for a minimum of 31 days, and boy is it worth it. I barely made an inroad into this enormous piece of meat, but took it home and had it the next day. We shared a sticky toffee pudding - another large helping - that was everything that it should have been, although rather too much for us at that stage in the evening.
The early bird deal at Michael's, which offers two courses for €20.95 and three for €23.95, is available from Tuesday to Thursday all day and evening, and if I was planning another visit with the family and keeping an eye on costs (and knowing what I now know about the portion sizes) I would aim to stick to this. You could, for instance, have the arancini, followed by homemade lobster and crab ravioli with prawns and mussels in a sun-blushed tomato cream, with tiramisu to finish for €23.95 a head, and you might not need to eat for a week afterwards.
As it happened, we dipped in and out of the early bird, the specials and the a la carte, so our bill came in higher. The bill for three, with a bottle of Burgans Albarino at €31.50 and that delicious replacement red (€43), came to €188.95 before service.
On a budget
On Pizza Tuesdays, any pizza is €10, to eat in or take away.
On a blowout
Ted Browne's Dingle Bay crab in citrus aioli with avocado and dill, followed by a 10oz fillet steak and sticky toffee pudding, with a brunello from Poggio San Polo would cost €174.40 for two before service.
The high point
Genuinely charming service and seriously good food. Michael's is the kind of restaurant that everyone wishes was within walking distance of home. Although that might be dangerous.
The low point
The portions are too big. Is that even a low?
8/10 value for money
So many new restaurants, so little time. Just in the last couple of weeks there has been a slew of new openings that I'm looking forward to trying soon. In Dalkey, there's Wanderlust, a sister restaurant to Mak in D6, with a cross-cultural menu that's designed to tick all the boxes. Think pork yuk sung, tuna tostadas, meatball linguine, and burgers. Over in Drumcondra, which could do with a good restaurant, the super-talented Peter Clifford (pictured) is in charge in the kitchen at The Gallery, and from the pictures that I've seen on social media, there is plenty to get excited about there.
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.
Food & Drink
I just about manage to restrain myself from saying "I told you so." We are sitting at a window table in the opulent - nay, lavish - extravaganza that is the George V dining room at Ashford Castle and my husband is having an amount of difficulty in moving his arms. His jacket is on the small side, and looks as if it might have fitted him around the time he was making his first communion.