Review - The Legal Eagle: 'The roast bone marrow with braised oxtail is memorable'
The Legal Eagle, 1 - 2 Chancery Place, Inns Quay, Dublin 7 (01) 555 2971
My friend Maeve is addicted to hot yoga, plays a mean game of tennis, swims in the (Irish) sea and has been known to run the odd marathon. She eats a diet full of fish and vegetables and light on meat, carbs and anything deep-fried.
As we cast an eye over the menu at The Legal Eagle, I can see that she's struggling. The offering is replete with bold, macho dishes; 'suet', 'heart' and 'mutton' all feature. It is most definitely not food for 'laydees' and, before anyone takes umbrage, just ask any chef whether there's a difference between the dishes that appeal to men and women, and whether they write their menus accordingly, and they'll confirm.
I wonder whether perhaps I should have rung up one of the trenchermen of my acquaintance and asked them to accompany me to dinner at Dublin's newest gastro-pub (from the people who brought you The Winding Stair, The Woollen Mills and The Washerwoman) instead. As it happens, though, I'm something of a trencherman myself, and all the words giving Maeve the heebie-jeebies are the ones that I find most thrilling. Scratchings. Pie. Rarebit. Bring them on.
Ireland may have great pubs but, in my experience, we don't do great pub food. It's one of the challenges that the folk in Fáilte Ireland have to address as they go about their work helping to hone an emerging Irish food culture. Our pubs are a huge draw for visitors from abroad, but the food on offer inside them is often dire. Friends visiting from Los Angeles over the summer described a litany of terrible meals that they ate while touring around Ireland, mostly in places recommended by their guides or hotel concierges. I cringed as they described one awful meal after another, wishing that I had seen them at the beginning rather than the end of their trip so that I could have steered them towards better eating. In Dublin, they were eating in those restaurants that no one who actually lives here ever eats in. (I know that you know where I mean.)
Anyway, The Legal Eagle is an establishment firmly in the British gastro-pub sensibility - we know this by the pickled eggs on the bar, and by the mind-boggling array of proper craft beers on offer - which is associated with decent food. On the mid-week night of our visit, it is packed to the rafters with a mix of locals and savvy tourists. I don't spot any obvious lawyers, despite the location.
Although one could order a conventional starter, main course and pudding, we opt to share a few different plates, kicking off with blousy pork scratchings (they look almost like Ottolenghi meringues) sprinkled with bacon dust and served with a smoked oyster mayonnaise. These get a big thumbs up from me - what's not to like? Maeve is less enthusiastic ('What are scratchings, exactly?" she asks).The DIY crisp sambo - we had to see what it looked like - is two huge slices of home-made sourdough, a family-sized bag of home-made crisps sprinkled with bacon and cheese dust and 'too much butter'. Even though we don't actually make up the sandwich, we try all of the components and agree that they are pretty damn fine.
A twice-baked Shropshire Blue cheese soufflé is a leaden, sorry affair, but the roast bone marrow topped with braised oxtail, Gaelic Escargots (all the way from Carlow), capers and watercress is fabulous. The flavours are full-on and memorable, and I am delighted that Maeve is a bit squeamish about the marrow, as it means that I get to hog the lot.
An Irish potato flat-bread is, for all intents and purposes, an Irish pizza - we choose one topped with smoked haddock brandade, shaved fennel, roasted almonds and a poached duck egg. The flavours are good but it's a heavy business and we don't finish it. A side dish of half cauliflower rarebit and half panko-crumbed salsify with brown butter mayonnaise shows that the kitchen is putting thought, skill and effort into its vegetables. I wish that we saw more salsify on Irish menus, but it's a pain to prepare.
For pudding, we share a peanut butter and jam Baked Alaska. The peanut filling topped with camp peaks of piped meringue is surrounded by little tranches of an intensely fruity set jam around the circumference of the plate. It's one of the best desserts that I've come across in a while.
We drink an Austrian 2015 Vorgeschmack blend of zweigelt and pinot noir from Martin and Anna Arndorfer (€46) recommended by wine man Sean Gargano, which confirms for me that these elegant low-alcohol reds from Austria and Germany offer some of the best value around. With three additional glasses of wine, our bill comes to €133 before service. On reflection, I think my ordering was at fault - the excuse being that there were too many interesting propositions that I couldn't resist. The next time I will eat more lightly - like a 'laydee' - perhaps starting with oysters, and following with a main course of Dover sole served with smoked almonds, sea herbs, grapes, and brown butter.
8/10 value for money
ON A BUDGET
The DIY crisp sambo - two huge slices of home-made sourdough with home-made crisps - is €4 and would make a filling meal all on its own.
ON A BLOW-OUT
Share the Eagle fish platter, the 1kg chateaubriand and cheese, and you're looking at a bill for two of €145 before wine or service. The wine list is quite a tome, and includes some serious bottles.
THE HIGH POINT
If you go to The Legal Eagle, you must order the bone marrow.
THE LOW POINT
The soufflé wasn't up to scratch.