Friday 23 February 2018

Restaurant review: Aingeala Flannery at The Dining Room, 35 Dawson Street

The Dining Room, @LASTAMPA, 35 Dawson Street
The Dining Room, @LASTAMPA, 35 Dawson Street

Aingeala Flannery

On Sunday night I had dinner at Conrad Gallagher's new restaurant in La Stampa. On Monday night, I watched him on TV3 in Celebrity Head Chef. He was cracking the whip and breaking the balls of his Z-list protegés as they bespoiled the beurre blanc, made a dog's dinner of the wasabi salmon and generally just fumbled about -- hoping to win their mentor's approval. It's precipice of the sofa stuff. Not.

How did Conrad Gallagher end up playing the panto villain in a cast of reality-show rejects? Wagner from The X Factor. Geraldine from The Apprentice. The Mammy from Crystal Swing, and a fish-lipped male model named Kohlin, pronounced "colon", whose relentless bitching about Irish models had me roaring into my own kitchen for the meat cleaver.

And then there was Twink, who looked like Katherine Hepburn in comparison to the others. Not surprisingly, Twink and Conrad -- with their shared instinct for survival -- got on like a mansion in flames.

Gallagher, as the legend goes, was the youngest ever chef to be awarded a Michelin star. From such a giddy height the only way was down, and Conrad's fall and fall has been documented with such glee by the press that I'm loathe to go into it here. But, for the sake of context, let us not forget that he has been imprisoned, extradited, acquitted, declared bankrupt, diagnosed with cancer, cured and pursued by creditors and disgruntled employees.

It's barely 18 months since I last reviewed one of his restaurants. By most standards that place -- Salon des Saveurs -- would still be considered "newish". But having no more laurels to rest on, Gallagher keeps on moving and his latest incarnation is as executive chef in The Dining Room at La Stampa.

Now, the dining room at La Stampa is perhaps the best dining room in all of Ireland. It's not so much a dining room as a ballroom, where mirrors, heavy drapes and chandeliers abound, a giant statue in the centre of the room reaches up to the stained-glass ceiling. The linen is stiff with starch, the seats are plush and deep, and tables are set with freshly cut agapanthus.

Amid such decadence, you do not expect to be served wine in cheap, heavy glasses. Ui Rathaile, who aggressively eschews snobbery, except when it comes to drinking vessels, struggled to stifle a complaint. He was on his best behaviour on account of being joined by his daughter, or The Wain, as he's apt to call her.

The Wain, meanwhile, applied herself decisively to the task, and was quick to poke her pretty head above the menu to announce she'd take the risotto for a start. Fine risotto it was, too -- a creamy green union of arborio and edamame, with rocket adding an extra jolt of colour and flavour. The chorizo mentioned on the menu was more of an influence than a substantial ingredient. That job fell to the tubes of calamari which were firm and juicy -- a myriad of flavours embedded in the squid's diamond-scored flesh.

Ui Rathaile's crabcake was a cocoon spun from crisp threads of kataifi pastry. Inside, the pale crabmeat was sweet and delicate. It was paired with a Basque-style red pepper stew, which was thick and rustic and at odds with the sophisticated crab. A clumsy juxtaposition, but one Ui Rathaile was willing to overlook.

Wasabi cured salmon "pastrami", was nothing like pastrami. It was merely a cube of sashimi topped with some fairly impotent wasabi. Alongside it a precise arrangement of pickled pear, ginger and crème fraiche cut with wasabi. A jug of soy sauce completed the Japanese homage -- a beautiful but shallow imitation of the real thing.

By contrast, the seared yellow-fin tuna I ordered for my main course had a sesame seed crust and, beneath it, a killer layer of wasabi. The walloping tuna steak was properly rare -- the flesh purple and glossy. It was joined by a colourful mix of bok choi, okra, chillies and shiitake mushrooms. Once you acclimatised to the heat of the wasabi, it was an exotic feast.

No such praise, alas, for the other mains. Ui Rathaile ordered the daube of beef, which I recommended having relished it last year in Salon des Saveurs. This time its slow, sticky flavour was utterly spoiled by fistfuls of salt. The vegetables, too, were contaminated by it; only a pair of sweet succulent baby carrots escaped. Half the meat remained on the plate when it was removed from the table without question.

The Wain's Japanese Kobe Burgers were a novel idea, bite-sized canapés of prized Wagyu beef -- renowned for its juiciness and flavour. But it was a dull affair really -- dry and bland, and desperately needing a sauce of sorts.

Desserts were better. The chocolate fondant was appropriately warm, rich and oozy, though its pistachio ice-cream sidekick bordered on obsequious. The lemon tart was big, bright and, if nothing else, lived up to its name.

Yes, it was one of those frustrating nights, where the wine goes down easy, the company and surroundings are right, you can't really fault the service, which leaves only the food. For ¤180, I want my dinner as Conrad Gallagher would cook it. Not the chef who was on duty in La Stampa last Sunday night.






TYPICAL DISH: Daube of beef

RECOMMENDED: Soya bean risotto

THE DAMAGE: €182.36 (incl 12.5pc service charge) for three starters, three mains, two sides, two desserts, one bottle and three glasses of wine, two coffees



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