Thursday 19 April 2018

Review - Hey Donna: 'A full-flavoured powerhouse of a dish that would thrill any vegetarian'

Hey Donna, 137 Rathmines Road Lower, Dublin 6. (01) 4913731

Hey Donna, Rathmines Rd Lower, Dublin. Picture Mark Condren
Hey Donna, Rathmines Rd Lower, Dublin. Picture Mark Condren

It's Sunday evening and no one in the house feels like cooking, so we are on the hunt for dinner close to home, nothing too challenging, but nothing that feels like a cop-out either. We want real food, not pizzas or burgers or some bland and expensive approximation of a Thai curry, of which there are rather too many around where I live.

In fact what we're after is the kind of food that we'd cook at home if we had a Nigella-level pantry stocked with all those tricky-to-track-down-at-short-notice ingredients, and a fridge full of fresh herbs and vegetables from the market, and good meat from the butcher. Oh, and if we had the energy to pull out the cookbooks and do all the chopping required for a plethora of vaguely Middle Eastern dishes with all the accompanying dips and sauces that bring them properly to life.

So it's just as well that a few weeks back Joe Macken decided to put the first of his Jo'Burger restaurants into retirement and re-invent it as something completely different, inspired by relaxed Australian restaurants. As well as the Jo'Burgers, Macken also has Crackbird, a fried-chicken place, and Skinflint, a pizza joint.

A couple of months ago he decided to shake things up and - in what he calls a game of restaurant Tetrus - moved Crackbird into what was Bear on South William Street, and Skinflint into what was Crackbird on Dame Street. The old Skinflint on Crane Lane is going to be something new, yet to be revealed.

Rathmines is on the up these days and, while there are still down-at-heel rental properties, there's the sense that its value as a village with a proper community and good shops within walking distance of the city centre is being appreciated by a new cohort of residents who can't afford (or don't want to) live in chichi Ranelagh. The Swan Centre is looking pretty swanky, and with the refurbishment of the Stella, Dublin has a cinema where you can drink cocktails while you watch the movie. Restaurant-wise, though, there's not much to get excited about yet, so Hey Donna comes at a good time. For the moment, it's walk-ins only, but when we arrive at 6pm there's no wait.

The interior has had a budget makeover and there are long communal tables with benches running across the room.

The menu is broken down into four sections - 'Feed me now, this minute!' is a collection of cold dips and starters; while 'Garden' features a range of roasted vegetable dishes and salads; and 'Grille' (not sure why the 'e') a selection of grilled meats. 'Absolute Necessities' are sauces, pickles and potatoes, some of which will be familiar to Jo'Burger regulars. Because there are six of us we feel able to order with abandon - and we do, starting off with some baba ganoush, labneh and Tartine's mushrooms (perhaps the recipe comes from the San Francisco restaurant?) from the 'Feed me now...' section, all good, before moving on to the more elevated dishes from the 'Garden' section.

We love the butterhead lettuce with whipped avocado topped with a tasty crunch of nuts, seeds and - we think - breadcrumbs, but the heritage tomato salad with harissa oil, toum (a creamy garlic sauce described with good reason as NSFW - not safe for work) and super tasty grilled bread from Le Levain suffers from end-of-season tomatoes that have little flavour.

Smoked aubergine with pomegranate, 'zah'ar' (possibly za'atar?) yogurt and sesame is Ottolenghi-familiar, and none the worse for that, although it's a tad soggy, while the salad of Dunany spelt with grilled radicchio with grape, almonds, honey and Boyne Valley blue cheese is exactly the kind of dish that you intend to make at home but never do because there are too many elements.

The winning dish from this section is the roast cauliflower, which comes with cashew, spiced butter and roasted peppers and is a full-flavoured powerhouse of a dish that would thrill any vegetarian.

Because we've ordered so many of the vegetable dishes, we order just three from the grill section - Berber spiced lamb chops, short ribs with red pepper gravy, and bavette.

Hey Donna serves its meats family-style on a single plate. The lamb chops are gigot rather than loin, so there's an amount of gnawing, but this isn't the kind of place in which anyone will feel self-conscious about picking up a bone.

The short rib is falling-apart-tender from slow-cooking, and the medium-rare bavette has a caramelised outside that our waitress says has something to do with fish sauce; there's a fabulous hit of umami.

We order five of the sauces - bagna cauda, more toum, a green chilli zhug, chilli and nut rayu (perhaps from Katie Sanderson's White Mausu?), and whipped feta and burnt lemon. The smoky fried potatoes are divine, the sweet potato chips with sumac less exciting.

With five cocktails - the chilli-infused tequila with jasmine and lime is our favourite, the cardamom and sage-infused gin with pink peppercorn syrup a close second - a 375ml carafe of decent Tempranillo, and a couple of house-made lemonades, our bill for six (with service included) comes to €257.96. There were no desserts on the menu when we visited, but there will be soon.

THE RATING

8/10 food

8/10 ambience

8/10 value for money

24/30

ON A BUDGET

If you shared roast squash hummus and the butter leaf salad to start, and followed up with grilled garlic sausage and sumac chicken thigh fillets with a side of potatoes and couple of dipping sauces, the bill for two would be just under €50 before drinks or service.

ON A BLOW OUT

Baba ganoush, followed by roast cauliflower and spelt salad, and then short ribs and bavette, with dipping sauces and potatoes (you'd want to be hungry) would be around €75.

THE HIGH POINT

A cheerfully tasty new arrival.

THE LOW POINT

There were no desserts.

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