Wednesday 17 January 2018

Restaurant review: Aingeala Flannery at Eastwood & Mays, Dublin 2

Aingeala Flannery

Several years back I got an email from a restaurant owner in response to a less than favourable review I had written about his place. He said it stung like a slap in the face, to have put so much of himself into getting it right, only to read my scathing synopsis of how he had gotten things so wrong.

It was akin, he said, to being told your only child wasn't the sharpest knife in the drawer and was destined to languish forever more in the must-try-harder corner of the classroom.

That restaurateur, who shall remain nameless, has gone on to open a few more restaurants, and each of them has been as mediocre as his first-born.

I have reviewed them accordingly, and perhaps, more aware than I should have been about how sensitive he was to criticism, I've tried to couch my quibbles with "on the bright sides", but the bottom line was always the same: "Little Johnny must try harder."

You'll sometimes hear owners refer to restaurants as their "babies" and if you stand back and look at them you'll see that it's a good analogy.

Restaurants, like children, usually reflect the owner's tastes and aspirations. The décor functions as clothing, the location and price range are as good an indication of class as choice of school.

And as for the name -- the name speaks volumes about how a restaurant sees itself and what sort of person it considers suitable company for its precious offspring.

Take places with double-barrelled surnames: Fallon & Byrne, Wall & Keogh and now Eastwood & Mays. What these ampersand-in- lieu-of-hyphen names evoke is a kind of boho-gentility.

Thumbsucking midgets with names like Oscar, Henry and Isabella -- raised to know that ps and qs stand for privilege and quality. Sure, they wear their poshness lightly, but the crocs and smocks, like china cups and jam spoons, are a dead giveaway.

These were the thoughts that entered my head when I went to dinner at Eastwood & Mays with The Home Economist, who makes no secret of her penchant for bourgeois tomfaffery.

I was telling her about the extraordinary coffee I drank the previous week at Monmouth in London. "It's Mon-mith," she said. "Not mouth."

"Oh what's in a name?"

"Everything," she replied. Ten years at the table, and I'm still too gauche for this game.

And sometimes I get it wrong. Eastwood & Mays was not nearly as pleased with itself as the name had me believe.

It's tucked away on an anonymous side street used mostly by couriers and cab drivers. The décor is functional -- the most notable feature is a wall displaying photographs of the ugliest buildings in Dublin.

By day it's a café, but on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights it opens for dinner -- a sign that the chef has ambition and talent that expand far beyond soup and sandwiches, and is eager to use it.

Our friendly and helpful waitress told us we could choose two appetisers and two entrees with a bottle of house wine (the white is Villa del Lago Pinot Grigio and the red is J Moreau et Fils Merlot) for €50. It was good value on the face of it.

The choice of starters included duck confit, mozzarella di bufala and beetroot salad, prawns seared with chilli, and smoked fish chowder. On the main-course menu, we were looking at pork belly, butternut risotto, a couple of fish specials and a rib-eye with mash, green beans and roasted garlic butter.

The Home Economist kicked off with pan-fried prawns (€7.95) -- half a dozen fat chaps that sizzled pink and gold, and were bursting with juicy sweetness. They came with a zesty gremolata -- and an incendiary jolt of finely sliced chilli peppers.

A classic combination, but perfectly choreographed to envelope your tastebuds with sweetness, heat and fragrance. A winner.

My duck leg confit (€7.95) had properly crispy skin and was packed with unctuous gamey flavour, the flesh falling from the bone in thick, meaty shreds.

More rich than fatty, the traditional sweet accompaniment came in the untraditional form of sliced peaches, which were caramelised and vaguely boozy. A crop of peppery salad leaves was bolstered by cubes of very good chorizo, which added a touch of smoke and spice to the proceedings.

This more than generous starter took the edge off my appetite, which was well and truly scuppered when it came to the main course: two giant slabs of panfried sea-trout, rubbed with Maldon salt and cracked pepper before being scorched to a golden crust on the pan, timed rare in the middle.

It was bounding with freshness, so peachy and sweet that a simple spritz of lemon rendered it perfect. No need for cheffery, just perch the fish on a bed of baby spuds, crisply roasted in duck fat, with a soft buttery blanket of young spinach between.

Slow-roasted pork belly (€15.50) kept the pace: proper crackling, and beneath it, layer after layer of pale, juicy meat: fleshy, and glistening with sweet, moist flavour. It came with yam, corn salsa and a dollop of cool, fresh tzatziki to cut through the fatty richness of the pork.

The Home Economist loathes Eton Mess even more than I love it, so we agreed to share a mint chocolate brownie (€5.95). It was appropriately warm and oozy, but the mint took the lovely bitter edge off the chocolate, making it a tad too similar to a mint choc-ice for the pudding queen and I. A minor complaint, all things considered.

Yes, there is much to commend Eastwood & Mays -- in spite of its grandiose name, it's friendly, unpretentious and cheap, with a chef who knows more than his onions.

TYPICAL DISH: Roast pork belly with yam

RECOMMENDED: Sea trout with spinach and roast potato

THE DAMAGE: €50 for two courses and a bottle of house wine for two. Desserts €5.95

ON THE STEREO: iPod shuffle

AT THE TABLE: Couples and workmates

Eastwood & Mays 17 Upper Stephen Street, Dublin 2. Tel: 01 4788088

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