Sunday 25 February 2018

Handsome waiter bridges the food gaps

Edel Coffey

The Bridge Bar and Bistro

The Malting Tower, Grand Canal Quay, Dublin 2. Tel: 01 6394941

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Handsome waiter bridges the food gaps

There's something about going for an early dinner on a wet Monday evening that makes you feel like you are stealing a march on the world. Most people are either still in work, or dragging themselves home to watch some soothing brain bubblegum, congratulating themselves on having made it through the worst day of the week and trying to calculate just how much financial damage has been done by the weekend.

I've passed by the very smart-looking Bridge Bar and Bistro before, but tonight it looks particularly welcoming with its flickering candles, neat bouquets and twinkling fairy lights.

It's my first time at Bridge and as soon as I enter, I feel as if I have come home.

There is a seating area towards the back of the restaurant that is nestled under the railway arch and gives a not-unpleasant sensation of strolling around a womb.

We are seated in the vast window at a large table which could easily seat six people -- plenty of elbow room here.

There is a sort of conspiratorial feel about the low ceilings that makes this feel like a place for assignations, away from the prying eyes of trendy city centre joints. It's the kind of place you might have bedded in for the night if prohibition had ever come to Ireland and it's not surprising to read that Padraig Pearse used it as a hideout during the Rising.

My assignation tonight is an innocent one, as I am joined by a regular dining companion (often referred to as the Hipster Hater).

Neither of us intends drinking but, because it's Monday and it's raining, she decides to have a gin and tonic, which the proprietor Martina Fox (wife of Robbie) makes herself.

Nobody stands on ceremony here, and we are both impressed that the lady of the house gets stuck in, taking coats and umbrellas and bringing water to the table.

The restaurant is quiet, with just one other table occupied -- it is, after all, 6pm on a wet Monday. Our waiter approaches and I'm ready to give this place 5 out of 5 immediately. Dark, wavy hair, set in a perfect, Gatsby-like side-parting. Pale, Mitford-blue eyes.

If I was the female reincarnation of Humphrey Bogart I might have asked him what a duke like him was doing in a joint like this, but instead I enjoy the occasion to stare as he reads the specials.

My dinner date is clearly hearing romantic music in her head as, when he's finished reciting the specials, she asks: "What was the first special again?"

He repeats it, graciously.

"And the, um, the second one?"

It's clear she hasn't heard a word that came out of his pretty mouth. A common occurrence, I'm sure.

Not willing to reveal the power of an inner monologue to overwhelm outer reality, we hurry up and order. I go for salad of organic goat's cheese, roast Italian pear, micro leaves and toasted brioche (€9), which is rich and comforting, like the surroundings.

The Hipster Hater (and now Waiter Lover) has the Clogherhead crab, saffron aioli, garlic croute and baby leaves (€10), which she is wild about. I try it and can see why -- fresh, light with perfectly blended flavours.

For mains, I have the fish special, a giant salmon fillet with gnocchi and little blobs of raspberry coulis, which add an unusual, jammy but tart point of interest when combined with the fish and do cut through the heaviness of the gnocchi.

She orders the fish risotto but looks forlornly at the mushroom-decorated dish when it arrives. She hates mushrooms. "I'm pretty sure it didn't say mushrooms on the menu."

We call the waiter and he reveals there were two risottos and whisks our dinners away, mine to be kept warm, hers to be replaced with the other risotto -- smoked haddock and pea (€18).

She thinks this a little on the salty side, but I find it perfectly savoury.

For dessert, I have grilled peaches, which has all the comfort of a childhood pudding on an autumnal night. My companion has a brownie, which is drier than it should be and she thinks her coffee tastes burnt.

It certainly is a bit harsh but a sharp coffee is not enough to mar the evening in any way.

Considering we have no wine, the total of €91.55 seems a touch expensive and I think perhaps they could shave the prices a tiny bit.

A Bombay gin with tonic comes to €7.25. A latte is €3.40. To my mind, €6.50 and €2.50 would be better value and if the mains could be kept below €20, it could make all the difference. Perhaps these prices reflect the restaurant's Tigerish provenance, housed as it is in a Treasury Holdings building. Indeed, Treasury Holdings developer Johnny Ronan even pops in for a chat with Fox at one point.

You can, however, dine very cheaply with lunch and pre-theatre menus offering two courses for €20. And there is an unusual offer for pre-theatre diners, allowing them to return after their show to finish their bottle of wine or take their dessert, which seems like a truly innovative idea.

These all sound like churlish complaints when we have such a truly pleasant evening with easy and friendly service. There is no underestimating the power of beautiful surrounds to soothe the soul. Overall, the food was very good and the atmosphere created by the mix of dark woods, rich red velvets, a snappy cocktail bar, exposed brickwork and railway arches makes this the kind of place you want to sink into and stay all night.

Recommended: Clogherhead crab; steak

The damage: €91.55 for a gin and tonic, a bottle of sparkling water, two starters, two mains, two desserts, two coffees (beautiful waiter, free )

At the table: Hardly anyone, although a certain property developer does call in for a chat.

On the stereo: The Bridge suffers from the common restaurant sound-system blight of 'repeat'. Gorgeous jazz and American standards set a welcoming, classy tone but when we hear Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered for a fifth time it is almost too much. Shuffle button -- quick.

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