Opening a new restaurant in the first week after a nationwide lockdown has to be the ultimate foodie challenge. However, if all of this weighed heavily on James Sheridan's shoulders as we arrived into the new Canteen Marlin at The Marlin Hotel on its first night, he gave no indication that anything was other than normal, or should I say the new normal, with guests being checked in at the terrace entrance to the hotel, and all staff wearing masks and being ultra-careful not to intrude on our personal space.
James Sheridan's original Canteen was in a shack-like cafe, with an outside loo, in the Blackrock Market, but it was stupendous. It led the way in the Blackrock Market becoming the hot dining venue it now is. James then moved Canteen to Celbridge, where he lives, handing over the Blackrock premises to Heron & Grey, who achieved a Michelin star there. That collaboration broke down and Damien Grey went solo, spending a bucket of money on the premises, to create Liath, which quickly earned its own Michelin star. This third incarnation of Canteen is cocooned in a plush red-velvet sanctuary off a big bar, but it also has a great terrace area, where we were seated, and which is undoubtedly a boon to any restaurateur in these times.
Under the vast umbrella/heater, we celebrated being in the real world again with a Long Island Tea (€12.50) and a Tom Collins (€10.50), while urban street sounds, and raindrops on the canvas above us, were all sweet music to our ears. Dinner, three courses, is €58, but we were there for the Pre-Theatre Menu (5pm to 6.30pm) with two/three courses at €29/€34.
Yukio started with a sublime mackerel tartare, contrasted with the sharpness of pickled kohlrabi, and softened by an oyster emulsion. I had perfect silky breasts of roast quail with a morel tortellini, which sat in a divine mushroom veloute.
Following up with contemporary classic French-style mains, Yukio loved her perfect tranche of cod; the skin seared, braised in seaweed butter, encompassed in garden peas, seared baby artichokes, and pea shoots. Roast rump of pink lamb on boulangere potato with aubergine and anchovy was again a classic pairing, which had me bemoaning the loss of my annual week-long September wine-buying trip and spin around the north of France.
Desserts were divine, luscious works of art. Yukio had a deep chocolate cremeux, topped with a fine feuilletine, adorned with cherries, nut brittle, and a quenelle of cherry sorbet; while my strawberry tart just screamed summer.
The wine list has something for everyone, ranging from an entry level of €29, up to Chateau Lynch-Bages at €390. Lots of bubbles here too, from Prosecco through Moet & Chandon and Taittinger, to Dom Perignon at €350.
Having had cocktails, we passed on wine on this occasion, and our bill with service, bottled water (€6) and a coffee (€3.20) came to €110.
The steal of the year!
11 Bow Lane East,
St Stephen's Green,
Tel: (01) 522-2075
Sunday Indo Life Magazine