Restaurant review: Paolo Tullio at Whitefriar Grill, Dublin 2
Looking back over the past couple of months, there have been no bad meals. I've had a long streak of eating pretty well. That's not entirely accidental -- I make a real effort to go to places that have been recommended to me.
You see, I have a theory. I believe that you, the reader, are more interested in finding out where you can eat well than in hearing where I've eaten badly. And there's a selfish element to this as well: I'd rather go out and get a good meal meal than a bad one.
This long streak of eating better-than-average food continued this week when I went with Marian the Blonde to the Whitefriars Grill, which is in Aungier Street. That's a continuation of George's Street or Camden Street, depending on which direction you're travelling.
What I find interesting about this long street of many names is how many restaurants have started up there in the past few years.
You could be forgiven for thinking that putting loads of restaurants close to one another would mean that business would get diluted and they'd all do poorly.
But it's one of those counter-intuitive things -- more restaurants in one area increases business for all of the restaurants. You can find this phenomenon in a few places in Dublin, for example Monkstown Crescent or the Ranelagh strip, where restaurants are thick on the ground, as well as on George's, Aungier and Camden Street.
Whitefriars Grill is where Conrad Gallagher's last Dublin venture started and stopped. It was called Salon des Saveurs. It's been remodelled, the huge painting of famous chefs has been replaced with bare brick, the lighting has changed, the front is now open to the street and there are tables outside on the pavement.
It was one of the milder evenings that we've had in this wet and windy summer, so we chose to sit outside.
We'd just missed the early-bird menu, which runs from 5pm-7pm, so it was the a la carte for us. That didn't mean we had to spend lots -- most of the starters were between €5 and €8 and the mains, except for one, were priced between €15 and €19. Only the surf 'n' turf, at €26, broke the €20 barrier.
A few of the starters caught our interest: the roast bone marrow with oxtail marmalade, the twice-baked cheese soufflé, and Jack McCarthy's black pudding. Marian ended up choosing the soufflé and I chose the black pudding.
To follow, Marian wanted the roast hake, but it came with a crab linguini and she's allergic to shellfish. "No problem," we were told, "we'll do it without the shellfish."
I had been thinking about the duck shepherd's pie and the Whitefriars half-pound beefburger, until my eye fell on the slow-cooked rabbit dish and I ordered that.
With Marian driving, I turned to the wine list, which includes about 30 wines. They're divided up on the list by styles, so you get crisp whites, aromatic whites and opulent whites.
The reds are similarly divided, and I chose a glass of a Spanish crianza at €8, listed among the 'ripe and smooth' reds. All of the wines are available by the glass, which is nice to see, and all the entries on the menu come with a suggested wine pairing.
The starters arrived and they were simply and cleanly presented. Marian's soufflé had a good texture and had been made with Mount Callan cheese.
I'd met Jack McCarthy earlier this year in Bantry, so I was happy to find his excellent black pudding on the menu. It came with duck-liver foie gras, but it was overcooked to my taste.
Our waiter spotted that I hadn't eaten it and asked me why. I said I didn't like it so well cooked and he offered me another piece cooked to my liking. That kind of customer care is what sets good restaurants apart from lesser ones.
But it was the main courses that really had Marian and I enthusing. Both dishes were better than good; they were absolutely delicious. The hake had been cooked perfectly, leaving it moist and tender, and the rabbit dish was a tour de force where every part of dish had been well made, from the tender rabbit itself to the buttery mash that came with it.
While we'd been enjoying this meal, we noticed that directly across the road from our table was an interesting place called Brioche, offering French tasting plates. We decided that when we'd finished eating, we'd cross the road for coffee and a look at the menu.
The dessert menu came and from it we picked the vanilla panna cotta for Marian and the chocolate fondue for me.
I'd read that as fondant, so I was surprised when a complete fondue set arrived: a pot of warm melted chocolate heated by a night light and pieces of pineapple, marshmallow and peanut-butter fudge for dipping into the chocolate.
Of these three the marsh- mallow was superb, and although it wasn't really a great dessert, it was a lot of fun to play with.
After that we got our bill, which came to €75.50 without service, and it came with toothpicks -- not cocktail sticks, proper toothpicks. I've almost stopped even asking for them as the answer is usually 'sorry', so I was surprised and happy to find they arrived automatically.
Considering that some of what we'd eaten was well above average, I thought the bill was good value.
Just as we'd planned, we went across the road to Brioche and took another outdoor table, ordering an espresso for me and a tea for Marian. As we looked down the menu of French tasting plates, which are like starters in size, we made another decision -- this would be our next restaurant to review.
Street, Dublin 2
Tel: 01-475 9003