Thursday 14 December 2017

In a changing world, Eden still has it all

Ed Power

Ed Power

Eden

Meeting House Square, Dublin 2

Tel: 01 670 5372

HHHHI

In a changing world, Eden still has it all

The last time your correspondent idled in Eden it was playing host to a pre-drinks reception for a free concert by a UK band with fantastically floppy hair but a patchy selection of hits. Several years later we return, sans blaggers, bloggers, liggers and sundry media moochers, for lunch and find the downstairs room awash with Friday morning calm. A double take is in order: could this really be the same place?

Outside, there is a new view.

The spiritual heart of Temple Bar -- or at least the spiritual heart of that aspect of Temple Bar that doesn't involving public urination and men in Leprechaun hats doubled over down laneways -- Meeting House Square has had a makeover.

And we really do mean 'over' -- freshly installed retractable roofing means that attending its summer movie screenings no longer puts you at risk of a dousing (it's hard to get caught up in the nuances of Alien when it feels like several buckets of water have just been poured down the front of your pants).

Eden, as any foodie will tell you, occupies a singular niche in Irish dining. Among the first restaurants that aimed to democratise the experience of eating out, Jay Bourke's premises was already a feature on the capital's circuit in what now seem like those impossibly innocent pre-Celtic Tiger days.

Indeed, in the late 90s, when we actually had an economy to be proud of (thanks again for blowing it up, politician dudes), it genuinely was where you needed to be seen. Yeah, it could be pricey. But not as crazy pricey as the five-star places you'd heard about but couldn't muster up the nerve -- or the cash -- to patronise.

The buzz, you suspect, was more a reflection of a paucity of international standard eating rooms in the capital -- or, at any rate, the sort affordable by the masses -- than any extraordinary charm on its part.

Eden was a classy joint in a town still sloughing off its backwater self-loathing and, briefly, its were the hottest tables around.

In the intervening decade and a half, there have been hipper restaurants, and plenty more in love with themselves, but many of those are gone to the wall. As we survey the wreckage of the downturn here stands Eden, looking not so very different than it did in 1999.

How has it clung onto its relevance? Without wishing to be crass, price has something to do with it. Responding to the economy's great unraveling, it has calibrated its menu, which now includes a €10 express lunch and a reasonably pitched evening selection.

We arrive after the lunch-hour rush. A few tables are occupied, the conversations seeming to be winding down as diners look, again, at their watch and decide, that, yes, they really ought to be going.

The waiter, who has a slight tendency to loom until we are looking to settle up, suggests wine. Instead, we plunder the bread-basket, slapping on butter so soft as to virtually constitute a liquid.

Sitting there, trying (but not too hard) not to eavesdrop, we are struck, once more, by Eden's understatedness, the way it embraces minimalism without turning it into a shtick (how ironic that most 'minimalist' restaurants and bars virtually clobber your over the head with their fatuous pretensions).

There's a whiff of something else too, a Far Eastern, zen quality difficult to elucidate but one of the things you remember, alongside your meal.

Above all else, the designer appreciates the importance of space and good views.

A heaving restaurant is often presented as the ideal, Eden strives for precisely the opposite effect, emphasising stillness, discreet service and an agreeable lack of clamour. You don't feel hurried as you eat -- afterwards, lingering over your iPad, there's no sense they are bustling you out as quickly as possible.

Upstairs, admittedly, it's a little more complicated. The work of a decorator who has perhaps feasted on one 70s Italian horror movie too many, the corridor leading to the toilets is, very literally, a hall of mirrors.

Having popped up for some nose-powdering, we stood transfixed in the light, wondering if we'd blundered into another restaurant, or perhaps somewhere else along the space-time continuum entirely. Mercifully the actual loos were sensibly appointed and did not threaten you with out of body experience.

The food? Well, at the risk of labouring the message, what did they put in the butter? It practically floated off our table, such was its lightness on the tongue.

For our main, meanwhile, we opt for the salmon, which arrives in excellent time, flanked by oddly curvaceous potatoes and carrots more knobby and less insistently orange than the sort that await at the supermarket.

In short, a sturdy meal at a hard-to-quibble price. And all without the need to watch a dreary indie band afterwards.

A good afternoon's work, we think.

Typical dish: Pan-fried Irish corn-fed chicken breast

Recommended: The salmon

The damage: Poached fillet of organic Clare island salmon, €15

On the stereo: Gentle indie-pop

At the table: Ladies who... well, lunch

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