Restaurant reviews: Lucinda O'Sullivan at The Hen House, Co Dublin
Casual dining would appear to be the new trend but, broods Lucinda O'Sullivan, the food at the Hen House is a somewhat uneven affair
We have been getting back to basics in Ireland, nowhere more so than in restaurants, where the trend is towards the casual, so the new Hen House restaurant at The Pavilions in Dun Laoghaire, Co Dublin, has you chowing down all-American-style folksy.
This is the new concept by the people who, in the Nineties, were ahead of the fusion-confusion posse in launching the chain of Mao restaurants, which had us all addicted to their oodles of noodles and chilli squid. With branches in Dun Laoghaire, and Dundrum Town Centre, Graham and Rosie Campbell subsequently expanded to Glasgow and Cape Town in South Africa. Just over a year ago, however, the group was placed into receivership and sold to new owners.
The Campbells are generally on the nose when it comes to trends and, with a certain sense of irony, their new Hen House is right next door to the Dun Laoghaire branch of Mao, in a premises which previously housed Roly's at the Pavilion and Oliveto. It is quite a big area to fill, but they have resisted the temptation to pile in too many tables and chairs; we were sitting on one of the grassy-green banquettes with plenty of space around us. An American wood-burning grill, lots of chicken, contemporary-rustic decor with red-brick details and wooden floors, a big bar adorned with a couple of perky, decorative hens, barrels and blackboards, is the story here -- all we needed was music from the Grand Ole Opry. A casual restaurant for all ages from chicks to, dare I say, old broilers, they also do Sunday brunch. Their chicken is Irish free-range and their cedar-planked 8oz sirloin and fillet steaks come from Buckley's, the renowned butchers. They also have a fish special and a duck dish.
With the starters (€6.50-€7.50), chicken wings, I guess, were de rigueur. Chicken liver salad; corn-fed confit chicken terrine; and smoked chicken salad with quail's egg also featured, but it's not all cock-a-doodle-doo -- there are also eclectic influences, including a cataplana of moules marinieres; and grilled Greek halloumi cheese.
Carmen started with really good wood-grilled asparagus spears (€7.50) drizzled with lemon, olive oil, and shavings of Parmesan, while I had tasty, dry, salt-spiced gambas (€6.50) in their shells, with a chilli coriander dip to the side -- but three bone-dry rocket leaves brought nothing to the hoedown.
Mains were €12.95-€23.95, apart from Caesar salad at €8.95. You can have your chook served in a variety of ways: spatchcocked with lemon-oregano and crushed potatoes; Moroccan spiced; or Malaysian style (€14.95), which Carmen opted for and thoroughly enjoyed, it being a gentle coconutty curry.
Moroccan spiced chicken served with pine nuts, apricot couscous and harissa sauce (€15.95), while sporting plenty of chicken pieces, was a weak and watery tagine effort with unbilled carrots and a few leathery apricots, which smacked of being thrown in at the last minute.
Mother Hen needs to look seriously at her puds, too. At €5.95-€6.25 a tweet, they were not what they were cracked up to be. Our server said the ice-cream was not home-made, so Carmen had chocolate cheesecake -- a tian of very mundane cheesecake with a blanket of chocolate sauce. Eton mess (€5.95), traditionally a flamboyant bash-up of meringue, cream and strawberries, was a tame, boat-shaped arrangement of commercial-like meringue and cream, dotted with a few strawberry halves and some berry compote.
With a bottle of New Zealand Hunky Dory Sauvignon (€26), a double espresso (€2.20) and optional service, our bill came to €93.50. They had an Early Chick's Menu of 2/3 courses for €18.95/€22.95, which actually included our two main courses, but we arrived just after 7pm on a Tuesday evening -- too late for it.
Gather your chicks and chook it out . . .
The Hen House,
Unit 8 The Pavilions,
Tel: (01) 663-6611