Friday 23 March 2018

Restaurant review: Lucinda O’Sullivan at The Whitefriar Grill

Conrad Gallagher has left the building and a new restaurant has risen in the spot once occupied by his Salon des Saveurs. Lucinda O’Sullivan wonders, however, if the Whitefriar Grill should reconsider its prices and menus in light of the deep financial crisis

Despite the recession, restaurants are opening apace and you have to commend people for their enterprise.

Indeed, it seems the heat had barely left the kitchen at Conrad Gallagher’s former Salon des Saveurs premises on Aungier Street, than a new boy was behind the stove, and it is now The Whitefriar Grill.

Geoff Nordell has worked at Bleu Bistro Moderne, The Schoolhouse, La Stampa and La Mere Zou. Gone are the bright-red fittings of Gallagher’s tenure; they’re replaced with a modern-retro look: simple, pale-wood tables and ladderback chairs, cushioned to save your bum, creating a casual rather than a pretentious fine-dining effort.

On a cold Tuesday night three days after they opened, there was just another critic in the room before the later arrival of a group who appeared to be friends of the house. The service was charming from the girl on the floor, while her cocktail-making colleague stuck to his post behind the bar.

We liked the list of unusual starters on the menu, even if they were not for us, such as sauteed rabbit livers with pancetta and grain mustard on toasted sourdough; or bone marrow with oxtail marmalade, salsa verde and toasted sourdough.

However, Rena’s special of smoked haddock and potato gratin (€9) lacked the rich warmth of a creamy gratin, the potatoes were irregularly sized, with some not cooked enough and the liquid was too runny. Prawn and lobster cocktail (€11) was tasty enough with a tangy, sharp tomato sauce, and a retro-style Marie Rose dressing, but, at that price, I’d prefer if they opted to forget the nod to lobster and used better prawns. With just two starters under €9 — soup and a warm grilled peach salad — €9-€11 for the majority of starters is a bit on the ambitious side here nowadays.

Mains were better priced between €16 and €21, apart from a 10oz rib-eye surf ’n’ turf special at €28. Rena’s sashimi tuna steak, basil gnocchi, sweet red peppers and samphire (€21) proved a fine chunk of tuna, lightly seared, and suitably rare in the middle.

Unfortunately, my choice of centre cut leg of lamb (€19) was not a good dish in any way. It was a thinnish, chewy ‘lamb-bone chop’ seared on one side, with the underneath rendered grey and steamy. It sat on an unbilled and unsuitable mattress of puree potato, and was napped with a mixture of peas, broad beans, girolles, and a “roast garlic jus”.

“It looks like canteen food,” said Rena, as I struggled for a minute, thinking as to how I could mask the heavy taste. I asked for mint sauce, and the waitress came back and said the chef could make me a mint jus. When I pointed out that it was “chewy” and “heavy tasting” she whipped it away without fuss. I couldn’t face into another main course so, to keep apace with Rena, I had a second starter of seared calamari salad, chilli orange gremolata, chorizo, and baby capers (€9) which was pleasant and for which they did not charge “as I had been disappointed”.

Desserts were well priced at €6, and Rena had affogato with amaretto while I had a good Irish cheese plate (€6) with two cheeses, Milleens and Killeen. Cocktails were €8-€10, and their wine list starts at €19, six each of red and white, but only two of each colour by the glass, and perhaps not enough variety under the €25 mark, with a Gavi and Sancerre being €32 and €45 respectively.

The two-course early bird menu (€19.95) is up to 7pm. With midweek all-evening value menus all over town, maybe a cold eye of practicality needs to be cast on their pricing. With a bottle of Sicilian Il Papavero Pinot Grigio 2010 (€25), mineral water (€3.50), and a double espresso (€4), our bill with optional service, with just one main course charged, was €93.50.

The Whitefriar Grill, 16 Aungier Street, Dublin 2. Tel: (01) 475-9001

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