Names can sometimes lead you off course. Because of its name, I was expecting the new Black 'N' Blue Grill in Wicklow town to be serving a typical, modern grill menu of ginormous steaks, prawn cocktails and so on. I wouldn't have objected to that, but what we found, in addition, was some very fine French-style food.
Located in an old, stone-walled bakery building, the atmosphere is charmingly rustic, with the main dining room on an open gallery, loft-style first floor with high-pitched, beamed ceilings. Parked near the restaurant was a distinctive Bentley and, lo and behold, when we got inside, Gerald Kean and Lisa Murphy were ensconced, having dinner.
"Magnificent, as always," boomed Gerald through the kitchen door on departure.
The Black 'N' Blue Grill is the latest venture of Marino Monterisi and Alvaro Herran, the chefs behind the very popular Bates Restaurant in Rathdrum, and Woods Restaurant in Roundwood. Between them, these guys have really been upping the ante when it comes to dining in the Garden of Ireland -- they should be awarded the freedom of Wicklow.
There were two menus in operation, an excellent Value Menu with 2/3 courses at €21.95/€26.95, offering starters of squid, fishcake, chicken, and goat's cheese with beetroot. Main courses included braised ham hock with crackling, an 8oz char-grilled steak, organic salmon, pasta, or an 8oz home-made burger.
All excellent, but we were tantalised by the a la carte, which offered top-notch starters, at €9.45 to €13.95, of marinated jumbo prawns with garlic cream, or pork belly with champ, crackling and a sage jus. Mary opted for the sublime, perfectly executed, roasted quail (€9.95) sitting on Puy lentils and seared silky foie gras, all napped with a deep, rich jus. It was absolutely divine, she said -- it was also brilliant value. I had two larger slices of equally divine foie gras (€13.95) resting on sections of beautifully caramelised apple, with toasted brioche on the side.
A half-dozen mains (€21.95-€24.95), included lamb in two elements -- roasted leg and grilled cutlets -- with tomato and tarragon, while pork fillet was served with pancetta, confit belly, black pudding, and apple and grain mustard. A surf 'n' turf combo had a 6oz beef fillet paired with oxtail, tiger prawn and scallop, in a red wine sauce, while monkfish medallions were with Parma ham and tenderstem broccoli.
The grills section had an extensive selection of steaks (€19.95-€27.45): an 8oz fillet, a 12oz striploin, or a 16oz T-bone, all of which came with all the usual sauces -- black pepper, red wine, Bearnaise, Madeira, blue cheese -- and hand-cut chips, mushrooms and onions.
I had beautiful fillets of John Dory (€21.95) sitting on divine garlic spinach, served with a perfect, golden beurre blanc. Mary had duck, (€24.95), the leg crispy, the breast sliced and served pink. It was paired again with foie gras but, having had it in her starter, she asked for an alternative accompaniment, which they happily provided -- tenderstem broccoli with a balsamic jus -- and knocked €3.50 off the price to boot.
To the side, we each got a dish of yummy gratin potatoes, mashed turnip, and braised white cabbage -- a tad like sauerkraut -- and we had a further dish to share of more gorgeous garlic spinach.
Puds included vanilla creme brulee; creme caramel with lemon sorbet; panna cotta with fruit salad; tiramisu; chocolate pudding, or an Irish and continental cheese plate. However, at this stage we were full up, so, reluctantly, we passed.
Our bill, with a bottle of Marlborough Twin Islands Sauvignon Blanc 2009 (€21.50), two coffees (€5) and optional service, came to €103.80.
Mr Kean was right -- he has good taste -- it was "magnificent" -- nay, bloody marvellous!
Black 'N' Blue Grill,
Tel: (0404) 66800
Sunday Indo Life Magazine