Review - Clanbrassil House: 'The smoked trout on sourdough is unmissable'
Clanbrassil House, 6 Upper Clanbrassil Street, Dublin 8 (01) 453 9786
A breathless late-night text comes in from a friend who eats at Clanbrassil House in Dublin on one of its very first days in business. "You have to come here," it reads. "The food is soooooo good."
I hold off for three weeks. This takes an amount of self-discipline, not helped by a steady stream of seductive posts on Instagram.
The online booking system offers a choice of seating arrangements - on high stools in the front room and at conventional tables in the back. The former is said to be favoured by locals and staff (a clever way of trying to convince us?), the latter to have a view of the kitchen.
As I'd rather stick pins in my eyes than ever voluntarily sit on a high stool, I go for the fuddy-duddy option at the back.
Clanbrassil House is located just around the corner from Bastible, with which it is co-owned, on the stretch of Clanbrassil Street between Leonard's Corner and the canal. The head chef is a 26-year-old Dubliner, Grainne O'Keefe, who has a solid CV featuring stints at The Merrion, Pichet and Bastible.
She's also the 'culinary lead' at Sandymount's new burger restaurant, BuJo, which means that she has developed the recipes and will have an ongoing role but won't be flipping the burgers herself.
From my seat at the table I have a clear view of the chef at work, which I can only imagine must be an unnerving prospect (I've booked in my son's name but O'Keefe recognises me as soon as I sit down). It doesn't appear to bother her one whit.
Clanbrassil House is posited as a casual neighbourhood restaurant, and its website says that it accepts walk-ins. The décor and furnishings are shoestring minimal (although the bathroom is pretty nice); I'm guessing that most of the money went into the kitchen, where a serious charcoal grill is the star piece of kit.
The menu is short, reads well, and between four of us we cover much of what's on offer. (I like the sound of the family-style sharing meal at €40 per head, with the food chosen by the chefs, but the others aren't so sure.)
A few snacks to start: the most gorgeous green manzanilla olives; hot, crisp-on-the-outside-and-meltingly-good-on-the-inside ham croquettes, and a sensational hot-smoked trout on grilled sourdough that is enough in and of itself to bring me back to Clanbrassil House. The bread is smeared with a piquant mayonnaise- type dressing and the fish is topped with a tangle of pink pickled cabbage. The dish not only tastes brilliant - the flavour of smoke is utterly vivid and O'Keefe does the smoking in-house - but the colours are fabulous too.
Multi-coloured organic beets come with generous dollops of Toons Bridge ricotta tossed in a walnut butter, and the handmade butternut squash and goat's curd ravioli with crisp fried sage leaves are lush and lovely. Wild mushrooms with a warm egg yolk and melting cubes of Gubbeen lardo on sourdough are a disarmingly simple gem of a dish.
The roasted leeks with chopped egg in a herb dressing - featuring lots of chervil that I nab for myself - are topped with substantial shards of chicken skin (always the best bit of the bird) and, although the egg could have done with more seasoning, it's another winner.
A main course of sausage - again, made in-house, using rare-breed Middle White pork - with lentils and mustard comes as a fat tranche of what must have been one very large sausage sitting in a broth of lentils, herbs and finely diced vegetables, with a nest of shredded cabbage on top. There's a little too much salt in the sausage, but the flavours are good.
Ibérico pork shoulder - two fine slices of tender meat - is served with braised cavolo nero, cups of burnt onion and apple ketchup. It's a dish full of comfort. The only slight disappointment is a shared sirloin of Glenarm Shorthorn that's lacking flavour and tougher than it should be. This comes with an underwhelming mushroom ketchup and two sides. We love the grilled broccoli with miso butter, and the hash brown chips with pickled onion mayonnaise are epically good. Don't eat at Clanbrassil House and not order them - you will live to regret it.
We order three desserts and cheese. An apple and blackberry Eton mess is blousily, autumnally lovely, while an airy chocolate mousse with honeycomb and marmalade ice-cream is a happy combination of bitter and sweet, soft and tooth-stickingly crunchy. A carrot and hazelnut cake is rather dull.
The cheeses are a mature Comte, Sainte-Maure and Cooldaniel, the last a new one on me that turns out to be a raw milk blue from Tipperary similar to Young Buck.
With a bottle each of Meyer-Fonné Pinot Blanc Vieilles Vignes (€39) and Tenuta delle Terre Nere Etna Rosso (€49), the bill for four comes to €279.50 before service.
I like what Grainne O'Keefe is doing at Clanbrassil House. It's good to see a young chef working in this confident, unpretentious way, cooking seasonally as a matter of course without making a big deal about it, and prioritising flavour over everything else.
8/10 value for money
ON A BUDGET
The no-choice early-bird is served from Tuesday to Friday from 5-6pm and costs €25 for three courses. You might get those roasted leeks with chopped egg and chicken skin, followed by the Middle White cheek sausage with lentils and mustard, and chocolate mousse with honeycomb and marmalade for pudding.
ON A BLOW-OUT
The family-style chef's choice sharing dinner is €40 per head.
THE HIGH POINT
The smoked trout on sourdough is unmissable.
THE LOW POINT
The décor is a tad spartan.