Restaurant review: Lucinda O'Sullivan visits The Dining Room at La Stampa
The Dining Room at La Stampa has seen a variety of celebrity chefs come and go in the past four years, says Lucinda O'Sullivan, who finds the new regime there is yielding impressive culinary results
You would be forgiven for thinking that The Dining Room at La Stampa is beginning to sound like a pop-up restaurant.
Jean Christophe Novelli pops up, Paul Flynn pops up, Conrad Gallagher pops up. All popped off -- and the latest pop-up is Ronan Ryan, pictured. In fact, it is quite an idea -- why not have a different visiting celebrity chef every month? Then no one will expect continuity and there would be great variety. Seriously, though, there has been a sorry tale of fleeting culinary moments in one of the most beautiful dining rooms in the city. Conrad Gallagher came back to Ireland with a young family, like the prodigal son, following his stint in the Colonies, and he set both up Salon des Saveurs in Dublin and Conrad's Kitchen in Sligo. However, both restaurants closed and his apparition with "The Dining Room by Conrad Gallagher" at Louis Murray's La Stampa seems like something that never happened. "Cooked by Conrad Gallagher!" is his latest venture; take-home foods to be available in 70 shops around the country.
There has, however, throughout the past four years, been one constant, in that the hands-on executive chef there, Malcolm Starmer, is excellent. Starmer tends to be overlooked in the list of fleeting celebrity run-ins, but he is respected by his peers and has a distinguished pedigree, having worked under Richard Corrigan at Lindsay House in London.
Ronan Ryan, who gave us Town Bar & Grill, but who ran into a bit of financial bother himself when he expanded, and is now out of that altogether, has come on board as general manager at The Dining Room at La Stampa. The affable Ryan knows everyone there is to know on the Dublin social scene and beyond but, on top of that, what many people forget is that Ronan Ryan is a chef himself. He knows food, and he can relate not only to the customers, but to the chaps in the kitchen on their own level -- and tell them to get their finger out, if needs be. It must be unsettling, too, for the excellent floor staff to have so many new commander-in-chiefs, each with their own take on how things should be done.
While waiting for my friend Rena, I ordered a caipirinha (€9), and took on board an imposing statue of a headless, winged angel in the middle of the floor. Some of the beautiful people were coming in to dine, including Louise Kennedy, and Paul McGuinness with his wife, Kathy Gilfillan.
Ryan is taking the food back to classic brasserie style, and keeping the main courses generally under €25. I kicked off with a trio of roasted scallops on cauliflower puree, drizzled with capers, raisins, almond and wild broccoli (€12.95) which, while excellent, was outshone by Rena's choice of a stunning foie gras and liver caramel, with fig chutney and drizzles of Pedro Ximenez (€12.95). It looked just like a dark version of the cream caramels you upturn from little plastic containers, but the flavour and texture was exquisite -- addictive, even.
Mains included roast cornfed chicken, with globe artichoke, French beans and almonds; while slow-roast leg of rabbit was served with pancetta, potato gnocchi, radicchio and fennel. Rena's tagine of lamb shank (€22.95) with apricots and sultanas, was falling off the bone with melt-in-the-mouth, treacly sweetness. It sat on couscous, with harissa and tahini yoghurt on the side -- "the best shank ever". I had a cracking rib-eye steak (€24.95) with escargot and herb sauce, and spinach (€4.95) and a small Caesar salad (€4.95) as side dishes.
Rice pudding (€7.95) was topped with mango, melon, and kiwi, while I had a selection of five Irish cheeses (€12.95). With a bottle of Araldica Albera, Barbera d'Asti 2008 (€27), our bill before service was €140.60.
Let's hope this pop-up stays popped and that the winged angel won't be singing Another One Bites the Dust.
The Dining Room at La Stampa,
36 Dawson Street,
Tel: (01) 612-7911
Sunday Indo Life Magazine