Dollard & Co, 2 - 5 Wellington Quay, Dublin 2 (01) 6169606
It wasn't meant to be like this.
We weren't even supposed to be here, in this enormous grocery store by the river, trying to get someone to give us some lunch. But our first choice was closed and we had to think on our feet, so Dollard & Co became our impromptu lunch destination. Located beside the Clarence Hotel, under Roberta's and over Tomahawk, close to Wow Burger and Bison and Workman's (have I forgotten anywhere?), it's one of this year's many new openings for Paddy McKillen Jr and Matt Ryan's Press Up Group, which also incorporates Sophie's, The Dean, Angelina's, Union Cafe and The Stella. (Phew.)
We enter via a flight of steps from East Essex Street. We'd like to have lunch, we say to the chap by the entrance. He wants to know if we have eaten here before, and when we tell him that we haven't, he gives us a spiel about a deli area to the front, on the riverside of the building, where we can order from any of the counters, find a table, wait for a number to be called and then go up and collect our food. Or we can opt for waiter service in the grill section. We don't much like the sound of the former, so the grill it is. Our friend hands us a couple of menus and sends us over to the other side of the room to wait at the host station. We wait. After a couple of minutes, Caroline wanders off to look at the grocery section and I stay put. After another minute, a young man comes over and starts rummaging around the podium, and then asks me to move. I am clearly in his way. I give him one of my looks and he pulls himself together, tells me twice that he only started three minutes ago (did he mean that it was his first day on the job or just the start of his shift? I have no idea) and that he is very flustered. Only then does he ask if he can show me to a table. He turns out to be our waiter.
We opt for a pair of stools on one side of the island grill kitchen, so that we can watch the chefs at work. This was a mistake. As Caroline said, it was like having a ringside seat at some other family's row, given the stressed interaction between the chef in charge and his team, who looked to be doing their best. It also placed us up close and personal with the assembly of the dishes on the menu. Now, I know that the salad dressing for every individual Caesar salad is not made from scratch each time, but I really don't need to see it being squeezed out from one enormous plastic sac into a squeezy bottle either.
Food writers often complain when wine lists are sourced from a single supplier, as it suggests laziness on the part of the restaurant. At Dollard & Co, the wines on the list offered to us come from one single producer - Chateau La Coste, which is owned by Paddy McKillen Sr and by all accounts is home to a magnificent art collection. We finish neither the red nor the white, an unusual state of affairs.
As for the food... well, let's say that while it wasn't terrible, neither was it good enough for us to want to eat at Dollard & Co again. Caroline would have liked a half-portion of a 'Californian' salad as a starter, but she couldn't because "the restaurant has only been open a couple of months and there is no way for me to charge for that". So, she had chicken wings which were not a match for those served by Elephant & Castle just down the street, with a blue cheese dressing which seemed sadly lacking in… blue cheese. The crab element of my crab and prawn cocktail was pleasant enough, but the prawns were without flavour and had the texture of crustaceans that had been de-frosted.
And so - after a very long wait, spent listening to the tannoy system calling out numbers for the deli customers and the complaints of our neighbours - to our mains. For Caroline, an asparagus, Parmesan and pea omelette with bacon that is more akin to a dry egg pancake with toppings (an omelette should be folded over and nicely oozing on the inside) and, for me, an 8oz shoulder fillet of beef, with chimichurri and mash. The shoulder fillet is not a cut I've ever seen on a menu before so I quiz our server, who tells me that it's "organic, grass-fed like all our beef and just like a fillet steak". I query the 'organic' bit as it's not mentioned on the menu and he says that he'll check and revert but never does. (I ask at the butcher's counter where the butcher confirms that the meat is not organic, although it is grass-fed.) The beef is over-charred and quite tasty, but also pretty tough - in other words, nothing like a fillet steak. (The cut comes from further up the muscle where it works harder and is consequently tougher.) It's sliced and splayed like a meat version of a hasselback potato. The chimichurri is over-sweet, but the mash is buttery and delicious. A side of fries is good, while one of braised lentils and grilled vegetables with green chilli salsa verde is watery and utterly devoid of flavour.
Our food has taken so long to arrive that we don't have time for dessert. To his credit, our server took the virtually untouched lentil dish off the bill, which came to €69.90 before service. Perhaps with the rapid expansion of Press Up's operations, staff training at Dollard & Co has been neglected, but it's something that needs to be addressed.
5/10 value for money
ON A BUDGET
Soup with ÓhArtagáin Brown Soda Bread and Country Butter costs €6.50.
ON A BLOW-OUT
The bill for a dozen Dooncastle rock oysters with prosecco for two, followed by a pair of dry-aged striploin steaks with pepper sauce, fries, salad and raspberry ripple meringue sundaes would come to €100 before wine.
THE HIGH POINT
The buttery mash.
THE LOW POINT
The poor service from our waiter (the women floor staff were smiley and pleasant) and having to watch the dysfunctional kitchen staff dynamics.
Food & Drink
Ireland's food story is constantly evolving. Young talent are busy breathing fresh energy into the Irish food scene while many very experienced and dedicated food writers, chefs and restaurateurs are still going strong and riding the wave of this invigorated sector.