Refuel: The Green Hen * *
33 Exchequer Street, Dublin 2, 01 670 7238
The Cartoonist is in love with his new bicycle. She is silver and sleek, and he can talk of nothing else. She is manacled to a lamppost around the corner from The Green Hen and every 20 minutes he disappears out the door to make sure she's still there, waiting for him to come back to her, his Roberta.
In my book, things that don't have a heart beat shouldn't have a name. But this is not something The Cartoonist wants to hear. Normally, when we review together, he takes to the task with healthy zeal, but Roberta has robbed his appetite, as well as his senses. What I wouldn't do for somebody to desire me like that, but here I am playing the gooseberry to a man who is in love with his bike.
And so I start to drink wine, too much, too fast. My glass is empty and we haven't even ordered when The Cartoonist takes off again. He's gone for nearly 10 minutes, which gives me time to take the situation in hand and study the menu.
What we're dealing with here is the style of bistro that has become a fashionable fixture in the Dublin restaurant scene during the past 18 months. It's terrine and cassoulet territory, with a set-price plat du jour: pork belly confit on Tuesdays, coq au vin on Wednesdays, and boeuf Bourguignon on Thursdays. You get the picture.
The Cartoonist returns, and I order for both of us. From a limited choice of starters, which includes crabmeat served with chicory and dressed with lemon mousse, and ravioli stuffed with duxelle mushrooms and spinach, I choose rabbit terrine for him.
Now, there's a lot of excellent terrines about the town this season, and this fell somewhat short. There was simply too much liver in it and not enough subtle gameyness or seasoning. It came with two crisp slivers of sourdough toast, which were not nearly enough, although our request for more was promptly met. The only thing that saved it from mediocrity was a sweet, runny plum relish.
Curiosity prompted me to try a reworked Caesar salad, with "crispy squid" as the headline act. Had I known this meant three meagre pieces of dusted squid, I wouldn't have bothered. Furthermore, squid doesn't have the intense salty flavour that anchovy brings to the classic Caesar, and so I found it somewhat bland. The poached egg was cold with a pale, thin yolk, while a tough strip of pancetta contributed colour and little else.
I was starting to feel frustrated with The Green Hen. It is a lovely place to sit, and though our waitress wasn't the most polished server around, she was very sweet, despite being overstretched. The mostly Old World wine list, I liked. There's a decent selection by the glass, prices are keen and the pour is generous -- perhaps too generous. The issue lies with the menu, which panders to trend, and not altogether successfully.
Moving hungrily on to the main courses. Choices here include honey roast duck confit, a tartlet made with St Agur served with poached pear, onion and spinach, and trout with clams, peas and smoked bacon. We went for pan-fried hake in beurre blanc -- a pristine chunk of fish, cooked to glassy, moist perfection. It came with blistered cherry tomatoes, spinach and an unheralded smudge of pea puree, that needn't have been there.
Lamb with black pudding was dark, rich and a tad too wintry a dish for a fine June evening. Nevertheless, it married well with a smoky, tomato-based cannellini-bean casserole. The Cartoonist was taken enough with it to momentarily forget about Roberta.
He even managed to sit still for dessert -- gooey chocolate fondant. No such sweetness for me. It's an indication of the portion size that I had sufficient appetite to devour an entire cheese plate, a selection of Sheridan's finest, in perfect condition: Cambozola, Gruyere, Basquitou and soft, earthy Livarot.
We ended our meal on a high note, which left me feeling that The Green Hen does have potential. Classic French bistro is the style du jour in Dublin these days and this is pitched at the young and fashionable set. However, if The Green Hen is to make a long term go of it, there are fundamental inconsistencies that require immediate attention.