Saturday 16 December 2017

Grand designs

It may lack its predecessor's flavour of fun, but even so, Lucinda O'Sullivan is impressed by the chef's efforts at the newest eatery on Dublin's Golden Mile

Lucinda O'Sullivan

Built in Georgian times, No 22 St Stephen's Green has probably seen more incarnations over the past decade than it has in its previous couple of hundred years.

Once home to the Order of the Friendly Brothers of St Patrick -- whose mission was to stamp out duelling -- it was taken over by Barry Canny, who converted it with style into Browne's Town House, a boutique hotel with a vibrant brasserie-style restaurant of red banquettes and faux-Impressionist paintings. Browne's Brasserie quickly became the place to be seen, and its private dining rooms were the scene of top corporate dinner parties.

Mr Canny moved on to open his successful Peploe's Wine Bistro nearby, selling Browne's to the Stein Group. It was then taken over by businessman Barry O'Callaghan of EMPG group, who also developed the Cliff House Hotel in Co Waterford. Richard Corrigan swept into town in 2008, and the restaurant at No 22 became the Dublin branch of his Bentley's Oyster Bar & Grill. The great and good of Dublin flocked, and restaurateurs were furious. Suddenly, on the 'Golden Mile' one could have half a lobster for €18, or fish pie for €17.50.

However, Corrigan departed recently and No 22 has been rebranded The Cliff Town House; my friend Rena and I went along for lunch.

The white and pink dining room was cool and bright, but there were very few people there and it seemed somewhat stark, soulless and lacking in buzz.

The menus had certainly had a short back and sides. The lunch menu, €25, was all the fours -- four each of starters, mains and puds, while an evening three-course dinner at €40 had much the same dishes, with the addition of a potted monkfish starter, duck breast, and a rib-eye steak. A la carte specials included a Herefordshire fillet steak Donald Russell, venison loin, and oysters. Chef Sean Smith, who previously worked with Richard Corrigan, certainly made the most of his newly limited lunch menu, displaying considerable skill. To start, Glenarm organic salmon from Co Antrim was served with yellow beetroot and horseradish cream, arriving with a whirl of benediction-like oak smoke on the lifting of its lid! Were we to pray, or to eat it? A brace of rondelles of poached chicken, topped with a purely decorative whisper of crabmeat, was draped with wilted spring onions, and had cherry tomatoes on a brush of green jus. It looked really lovely -- fresh and summery, but the poached-chicken taste reminded me of hospital food.

Mains included roasted Fermanagh chicken, Warrenpoint fish pie, and fish 'n' chips. I had Skeaghnore confit duck leg on a little nest of cabbage, with a fondant potato, two prunes, and duck juices, which was delicious. Rena had the fish pie, which she pronounced enjoyable. It contained salmon, haddock and prawns, and was topped with a hefty duvet of piped mash potato. We finished with Town House Fool -- a cocktail glass of crisp, tart rhubarb preserve with apple cider sabayon for Rena, and for me, Glenilen yoghurt pudding with a little plum compote and a pistachio and cornflake crunch -- both very pleasant. With a half carafe of delicious Chateau Monestier La Tour Semillon Sauvignon Bergerac 2008 at €17.80 and optional service, our bill for lunch came to €74.80.

With fish and chicken listed as coming from across the border, I did wonder whether the accountants were doing the buying! However, a revised menu sent since by their PR people is less specific about the sources of certain individual dishes. The new dinner menu, €40, incorporates a seafood cocktail; organic pork with a supplement of €7.50; and fillet steak, with a supplement of €10.

I have always liked No 22, but it now felt a tad like dining in one of the genteel old boys' clubs around the Green, having lost all of that extravagant fun of the naughty noughties.


The Cliff Town House

22 St Stephens Green,

Dublin 2.

Tel: (01) 638-3939

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