Paolo Tullio: A right tribal gathering
Somewhere in my library there's a book called 'How To Be A Jewish Mother', which is essentially a handbook on how to control your children using a mixture of emotional blackmail and guilt. '
There's an old joke on the theme -- 'How many Jewish mothers does it take to change a light bulb?' The answer? 'None. Don't worry. You go out and enjoy yourself. I'll just sit here in the dark. Alone.
When I first read the book it occurred to me you could substitute 'Irish' or 'Italian' for the word 'Jewish' in the title. There's something about the relationship between a man and his mother that seems common to different cultures. Take me. Being the only son of an Italian mother means that there's one thing I can't do -- say no to Mamma, especially when it's her birthday.
What she wanted was to go to dinner in Tribes, a restaurant in Glasthule a couple of doors up from Cavistons. So that was what we did -- mother, her friend Aline Healy and me. Aline booked us in quite early as late nights do not suit Mamma and although we travelled there separately, we actually met at the front door. Talk about timing.
Tribes has a very clean, almost minimalist interior. Travertine tiles on the walls, simple tables, chairs and some art breaking up the pale shades with colour. We took a table with a banquette on one side where the ladies sat and chairs opposite, where I sat.
Aline and mother had eaten in Tribes before and had enjoyed it, mainly because the service had been so attentive. I could see why -- the first thing that happened was a big cushion was found and placed behind mother's back, so that she could sit comfortably.
We were handed the menu and found it was a cross between an à la carte and a table d'hôte. Every dish was priced individually, but you could have two courses for €22.95 or three for €26.95. This all-night early bird runs from Sunday to Friday, and on Saturdays it's available from 5.30 to 7pm.
There were seven starters to choose from -- a soup, duck-liver parfait, pan-fried prawns, an ox tongue salad, blue-cheese croquettes, salmon with a quail's egg and a black pudding and apple salad. The main courses were sea bass, belly of pork, sirloin steak, roast cod, lamb shank, duck leg à l'orange, and a sage polenta. There was a special that day of mallard, a pleasant change from farmed duck.
With two of us driving we weren't going to have a bottle of wine, but the wine list offered half-litre carafes as well as full bottles, which made life easier. It's a short list with a couple of dozen wines, but there's an extra page of six Mitchell's wines, handy enough as they're almost next door. It's a fairly priced list and we chose a carafe of the Lugana at €21.50, a white wine from Italy's Lake Garda region made from the Trebbiano grape, which mother and I shared.
We also ordered a glass of Rioja for Aline and ended up drinking three large bottles of mineral water as well.
You certainly couldn't accuse Tribes of stinting on quantities -- Aline's starter of prawns had plenty of them and they came with a sweet chilli dressing. Mamma had ordered the duck liver parfait, which came in a Kilner jar, and she managed to eat about half with my help.
My ox tongue salad was delicately done and was served with chopped-herb gremolata and Parmesan shavings. Not only were the portions generous, but all three dishes were well done.
For our main courses, Mamma had ordered the belly of pork, which, as is usually the case, was slow-cooked. It was served with an apple purée and a very good champ, and like her starter, was too much for mother's tiny appetite. It always seems a shame to leave food on a plate, but in this case it was only because of small appetites.
Both Aline and I had ordered the mallard, which like any wild meat, needs more care in its preparation than the farmed variety. What the chef had done was clever. The breast was roasted and served sliced, the leg was confit and had been shredded and encased in a pithivier -- a puff pastry case -- and the remaining meat was in a small sausage.
Cleverly, the pithivier was set on top of a round of fondant potato, making it look like a small cep. I thought this dish showed a lot of culinary skill and I said so, which elicited the response that the young French chef would be delighted to hear that. The only other thing I'd say about this dish is just that I would have preferred the duck breast to have been more pink.
Even though we had all eaten plenty, there seemed to be room for a dessert, and we ordered two. I had the apple and pear crumble. Call me a pedant, but a crumble is made by rubbing butter and flour together to make the crispy topping we know so well.
What I got was a tasty enough apple and pear compôte topped with what might have been better described as crunchy granola. It was a loose topping of mixed nuts, but not bound together as a crumble normally is. As a dessert it was good enough, but if you had been expecting the classic nursery dish, you would have been disappointed.
The other dessert came with a candle on it and 'Happy Birthday' written in chocolate around the rim of the plate -- a nice touch I thought.
We finished up with coffees all round and sat chatting for a while. We had been well fed and definitely well looked after, so the bill for €141.63 including a 10pc service charge seemed like good value.