Paolo Tullio: Grill burns hot and cold
Restaurant Review: The Morrison Grill, Lower Ormond Quay, Dublin 1, Tel. 01 887 2400
A couple of months ago I was invited to the opening of the newly refurbished Morrison Hotel. You may have read about it – a mysterious millionaire Russian lady bought it and has spent a great deal of money revamping it.
Although I enjoyed myself on the opening, I couldn't help feeling that it was something of an amateur night. Nothing seemed to work faultlessly. I put this down to it being an opening night, where a combination of nerves, unexpected events and simple bad luck combined to make things go wrong.
What did work very well that night was the Josper grill. That's a very fancy grill that uses charcoal to cook meats at a very high temperature, between 450-500°C. We ended up standing at the counter in front of the grill and picked continually at the rib-eye steaks that the chefs were cooking and then slicing.
The effect of the high temperature was that the meat was perfectly sealed on the outside, leaving the interior moist and succulent. Of everything I saw that night, the Josper grill was the most impressive.
I'm a great believer in letting new restaurants settle in before I go to review them, so I went back this week, having left it a couple of months, with Marian the Blonde and her daughter Sophie.
There were changes since the opening night. We found a brand new a la carte menu and a brand new table d'hote. The set menu was very well priced, offering two courses for €20 or three for €25. There was a choice of three starters, three mains and three desserts, and this menu was available from 5pm to 7pm. It was nearly 7.30pm. I asked the waiter if we could still order from the set menu and the answer was "yes".
Although we were tempted to order from it, the mains listed were herb gnocchi, a Basque fish stew and a risotto, none of which came from the Josper grill. Since it was the grill that had enthused us, we turned to the a la carte.
The new a la carte is a large A3 card with the menu on one side and the wine list on the other. It lists some good dishes – among the starters are potted pork, cured salmon, mussels and scallops, while main courses include sea bass, smokies, pork rib-eye and rump of lamb.
A separate section lists the dishes that come from the Josper grill – four different steaks, a cheeseburger and a half chicken.
The wine list reads like a hotel list, that's to say the bulk of wines are priced from €30 upwards. But with only one of us drinking wine that night, studying the wine list was a hypothetical endeavour. We ordered Coke for Marian, a glass of sparkling rosé for Sophie and sparkling water for me.
Our starters were cauliflower fritters for Marian, a goat's-cheese tart for Sophie and the potted pork for me. The cauliflower fritters were well prepared – the batter a golden colour – and presented with an aubergine relish, mayonnaise flavoured with harissa and a parsley and lemon tabbouleh. The one problem with the dish was that the 'spiced cauliflower' was almost devoid of flavour.
Sophie, meanwhile, enjoyed her goat's-cheese tart, which was accompanied by braised leeks and roasted beets. My potted pork arrived in a small Mason jar, alongside which was crusty bread and pickles.
Not for the first time in recent weeks I found myself with a fridge-cold starter. Potted pork straight from the fridge is no delight. It's hard to spread on bread and all the flavours are dulled by the cold. Perhaps if there had been time to leave it for half an hour to warm up, things might have been better.
Given our experience on the opening night, we'd all ordered main courses from the grill: a 7oz fillet for Sophie, the 8oz cheeseburger for Marian and the 9oz rib-eye for me. Sophie ordered her steak medium and I ordered mine rare.
All three dishes presented well. Although Sophie hit gold with her choice, Marian and I were not so lucky. Sophie's fillet was tender, well aged and cooked to her specifications, but the cheeseburger was curiously lacking in flavour. My rare steak was as well done as it could be, by which I mean it had been cooked until there was no moisture left at all in the meat, which had shrivelled to a small, hard, dark brown object on my plate.
Our waiter saw me poking disconsolately at it and insisted that I get another one. A perfectly cooked one duly arrived with an excellent Bearnaise and I enjoyed it as much as I had on the opening night.
We decided that the meal wouldn't be complete without a dessert, so we ordered a fruit sundae to share. This turned out to be an inspired choice, because the sundae was made up of mangoes, berries, honeycomb and fresh cream, which combined really well.
I think that the team in the restaurant is trying hard to make the new menu work. A bit more tweaking to iron out the glitches is needed. With that – and I'd suggest making the set menu available all night mid-week – there will be another good eaterie on Ormond Quay. We got a bill of €122.
On a budget
The new set menu is designed for budget eating. With three dishes for each course there isn't a large choice, but there are dishes that will give you a flavour of what the kitchen has to offer.
On a blowout
If you start with the most expensive starter, which is the scallops at €11, and then go for the 7oz fillet at €29, you'll have had the two most expensive dishes.
Sophie's fillet steak.
My cremated steak.