A business alliance is like a marriage, and every bit as painful when it comes to the divorce. Both sides in the latest culinary alliance -- Louis Murray and Head Chef's Conrad Gallagher, at the Dining Room at La Stampa -- have had plenty of business 'divorces'.
Gallagher has been through Glasthule, Baggot Street, Upper Merrion Street, South William Street, the Fitzwilliam Hotel, London and South Africa, titillating and annoying people in equal measure, before returning, like the prodigal son, to open Salon des Saveurs in Aungier Street. Murray, for his part, has had a number of chefs open with a fanfare in an effort to revive the restaurant's once-hip status. To name but two, we had Jean-Christophe Novelli, whose brief reign collapsed as fast as one of his souffles; Paul Flynn came from The Tannery to set up Balzac -- from which I was ejected when I complained of the bad food -- but it, too, proved short-lived. It took Mr Murray some six months to phone me and apologise.
Funnily enough, I think Mr Gallagher might be the man for La Stampa. Over-the-top and colourful, as is the room -- it's had a revamp reminiscent of the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles and is big and flamboyant enough to take his spirit and personality. His food is terrific, he is older and wiser with a young family to support, and he did a great job on TV3's Head Chef.
The menu has five sections: starters, shellfish bar, mains, from the grill and salads. Gallagher tells me they are going to the market themselves to keep the prices down. Starters (€7-€12) included his stalwarts: Ketaifi crab cake with saffron aioli; Basque-style stew with peppers, watercress and shaved fennel; duck rillette with foie gras terrine, beetroot puree, salad of pear and toasted pain d'epice; plus a wasabi-cured salmon 'pastrami'. The shellfish bar had Galway Bay oysters with cucumber, caviar, sherry vinaigrette at €12.95 for six, plus cocktails of crabmeat, shrimp, Dublin Bay prawn (€9.95-€13.95) -- or lobster at market price -- €24.95 on our visit. Kicking off with a Bellini (€13.50) for Rena and a caipirinha (€9.50) for me, Rena started with a pretty and well-flavoured risotto of soya bean with chorizo, calamari, rocket, chilli and Iberico froth (€9). I had a huge prawn cocktail (€12.95). With Dublin Bay prawns the size of my finger, on a combo of mesclun leaves, slivers of avocado and beetroot, plus Marie Rose and American-style tomato and horseradish cocktail sauces to the side, it was the biz!
Mains (€14.95-€24.95) included hearty French classics such as Gallagher's signature daube of beef; confit leg of duck pie; organic chicken with duxelle, fricassee of asparagus and peas, flavoured orzo and enoki mushrooms. Salads (€12.95-€15.95) included goat's cheese or smoked salmon.
The "From the Grill" section (€24.95-€29.95) offered 10oz rib-eye, fillet, and sirloin steaks as well as a 16oz T-bone. Lamb shank (€16.95) for Rena, which came with butternut squash, quenelles of couscous, morel mushrooms and peas, was melt-in-the-mouth, while I pushed out the boat with the Dover Sole on the bone (a jaw-clenching €39.95). It was accompanied by my sauce choice of escargot with garlic and parsley butter, and I had a side order of al dente green beans and almonds (€3.95).
Desserts were €7.95, as was a good cheese board with fig marmalade, which we shared. With three glasses of delicious Cote de Dura sauvignon blanc (€7.50), water (€3) and 12.5 per cent service charge, our bill came to €156.66. A bit of a Marie Antoinette, but we enjoyed it.
There is a rapid-fire three-course lunch menu at €18.95 with a natty quartet of starters, mains and desserts. The pre-theatre menu is €22.95 with a quintet of choice for each course. Do I hear music? Let's hope this marriage works!
The Dining Room by Conrad Gallagher,
35 Dawson Street,
Tel: (01) 612-7911
Sunday Indo Life Magazine