| 6.4°C Dublin

King of the castle: Market Square, 4-5 Castle Market, Dublin 2. Tel: (01) 677-6001

Despite the times, quite a few new restaurants are opening, which does make me wonder whether those who have already gone to the wall had perhaps run their course anyway, or not adjusted to the climate. Not only that, but those dipping their toes into the water now have tended to be experienced restaurateurs and chefs with new branches or new ventures, so they are not mugs or new to the game.

This could also be said of Market Square, newly opened in Castle Market; a busy city area both day and night. This is the venture of a very well-known lady in the restaurant industry -- May Frisby, of Pasta Fresca on Chatham Street, which is within spitting distance of Castle Market, so I reckon this lady knows her onions and what her customers want.

Previously housing a bistro, which I often observed as I went to and from the Drury Street car park, but was never in, I like what Market Square has to offer.

It is a rather romantic little place on two floors, with a streetside terrace and still very much a bistro in style and essence, but it has been completely gutted back to its original red-brick walls, wooden floors, and high ceilings. On two floors, walls are hung with posters of Penguin book covers and German retro sunscreen ads. It has the Bohemian feel of some little spot on the Left Bank in Paris in the Fifties, where Juliette Greco and Francoise Sagan might have lingered over a bottle of vino, during the making of the latter's novel, Bonjour Tristesse, into a movie -- and in which Greco featured and sang the title song.

I like the Mediterranean-style menu, which has starters at €6-€10 -- many of which also feature as good-value lunchtime dishes. The chef, Hadi Fahes, is Lebanese and I like his influences too, with lots of artichokes, aubergines, sweet potatoes, pistachios, couscous, cumin, and hot, hot harissa. Fried calamari is served with a coconut and harissa sauce, while home-smoked organic salmon comes with baby gherkins, quail egg and herb mayo. We couldn't resist a threesome of dips (€7) as nibbles while we took in the menu and, frankly, if we weren't such a pair of greedy guts, this would have sufficed as a jolly good starter to share. Three little pots had divine baba ghanoush -- an Arabic blend of roasted aubergine pulp mixed with spices; subtle and delicious artichoke tapenade; and a coriander hummus, which was also very nice.

These were served on a long dish with dressed leaves and chargrilled sourdough bread. I then had crayfish and sweet potato cake (€10) which was not only an unusual combination but a very generous brace of substantial patties served with a French-style sauce gribiche -- a bit like a tartare sauce -- and more nicely dressed leaves. Carmen also loved her generous tranche of wild rabbit and cured-ham terrine (€8) standing proud in front of celeriac remoulade and a blob of quince and fig chutney.

Mains were €13-€18, apart from a rib-eye steak at €22, and featured plenty of fish. Grilled lamb steak is served with moghrabieh, a Lebanese couscous grain, potato rosti and cumin chicken broth, while home-smoked pork comes with confit turnips, mash, ginger and plum relish. Carmen had a delicious, substantial, pan-seared fillet of hake (€16) with a basil crust set on crushed potatoes, wilted spinach, and a delightful tarragon beurre blanc. I had a special of the day, which was pan-fried sea bream (€17), absolutely gorgeous, also on crushed potatoes, and I'd have it again. We had a side order of fried artichoke hearts with garlic croutons and shaved Parmesan at €4; a lovely option.

We passed on puds, as we were really hard aground. Wines are available by the glass, 500ml carafe, or bottle, and we had a bottle of deep, spicy Australian Murphy's Estate Shiraz 2008 (€27.25) which brought our bill with optional service to €97.25.

Bonjour sourire!


Market Square, 4-5 Castle Market, Dublin 2. Tel: (01) 677-6001


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