Some like it hot
Restaurant Review: The Hot Stove, 38 Parnell Square, Dublin1
When I first came to Ireland, there was no doubt about it – the centre of Dublin was O'Connell Street. It was the premier boulevard; wide, good-looking and filled with trees.
Somehow, since then, the street's premier status has slipped. Fashionable shops have gone, there are too many amusement arcades and fast-food outlets, and that sense of pride in being the centre of a capital city has gone.
But there are signs that this long, slow decline may be coming to an end. I was at the launch of the newly renovated Morrison Hotel and spent the night there, which allowed me to have an early-morning walk around with Marian.
We headed for Henry Street, where the shops were bustling with people, and then into Moore Street, where it seems two things are on offer: shops that sell hair extensions and shops that sell mobile phones.
Nestled between the phone shops is the French Bakery, where we had breakfast and where I shall be returning soon for a review.
Round the corner from here, on Parnell Square, another restaurant has opened. It's called The Hot Stove and its public face is Simon Keegan, who was the sommelier in The Four Seasons.
In the kitchen is Joy Beattie, who has an impressive CV.
Like O'Connell Street, Parnell Square was once a much grander address than it is now. The houses themselves stand testament to that. As soon as you enter, you can see at once how much larger they are than the houses on Merrion or Fitzwilliam Square.
The Hot Stove is in the basement of two of the houses on the west side of the square. Not only are these basements bigger than other Georgian houses, but they also have a higher ceiling – so even though you're in a basement, you don't feel it.
I got there with Sarah Owens, and Harry and Rita Crosbie. After a quick aperitif in the bar, we were shown to our table. It was right next to the cast-iron stove – probably original – which is the focal point of the L-shaped dining room. It's the same stove that makes the restaurant's logo.
As is often the case, we had two menus – the à la carte dinner menu and a pre-theatre menu. Normally, I look down the set menu, check the price and then order from the à la carte. This time, I was able to find everything that I wanted on the pre-theatre menu, which I felt was a good sign.
It started up a conversation between me and Rita, who owns the buzzy Café Bar H on Grand Canal Plaza.
Often, the set menu is composed of unimaginative dishes, but here, I was able to find both a starter and a main course that interested me.
Rita felt that, often, set menus appear to offer value, rather than genuinely offer it, and she may well be right.
With four of us ordering, we ordered a good mix across both menus and then thought about wine. Harry and I wanted a glass of red each and the girls wanted white wine.
The answer was easy: we asked Simon. He brought the girls a really good Albarino each and Harry and I got a glass of Muga, one of the great Riojas.
Some fresh breads arrived and, with them, some home-smoked butter. Now, I'm not supposed to eat a lot of butter, but with the breads we got two tiny pats – about as much as I'd usually spread on to one slice of bread. But instead of asking for more, we became super polite, each of us taking the tiniest scraping of butter for our bread.
It probably lowered my cholesterol, but another time I'll just ask for more.
Three starters arrived for us – a rabbit raviolo, a smoked-venison carpaccio and a pork croquette. I was delighted to see that one large pillow of pasta had been described as a raviolo, which is singular. To be called ravioli, you'd need more than one. As well as being linguistically accurate, it was also good.
I enjoyed the pork croquette; it was well made and nicely flavoured, but the star starter was the smoked-venison carpaccio, which was served with a pear and celeriac remoulade.
Next came the roast hake, which came with salsify and a clam risotto. That was followed by the ray wing, served in beurre noisette with a lime mash. Then came the seared sirloin of beef served with braised beef cheek and parsnip puree, and, lastly, the braised beef cheeks, which I couldn't resist.
Both of the fish dishes were well done: Sarah is now a convert to ray, which she'd never had before, and Rita was happy with her hake. Harry's beef dish was done exactly as he liked it and I was delighted with my beef cheeks. They're one of those cuts that need a little skill to prepare, but when they're done right they are simply delicious.
Only the girls wanted desserts, and they ordered a warm rhubarb crumble and a chocolate fondant. Nice to see rhubarb coming on to menus as it's in season.
So a good meal came to an end. What I would say about the Hot Stove to sum up is this: if you'd got a menu with no prices and ate as we did in the comfortable surroundings of the dining room, you'd guess the price to be much higher than it was. The bill for the four of us came to €152.50.
If Chapter One is too pricey for you, now there's an alternative on Parnell Square.