Step inside: Downstairs Restaurant & Bar, Hollybrook Park, Clontarf, Dublin 3
There are echoes of the Seventies at the Downstairs Restaurant, says Lucinda O'Sullivan, and you can almost imagine Aristotle and Jackie Onassis parking their yacht to pop in. They would have left satisfied
Downstairs is a new restaurant at Gilbert & Wright in Clontarf, located where the old Hollybrook Hotel once stood. Gilbert & Wright also have hip, Seventies-style establishments in Malahide, Swords, and Dun Laoghaire.
Downstairs, as you may gather, is a subterranean restaurant, which has had a couple of previous incarnations, including a Thai eatery. It is on two levels -- basement and lower basement -- but it's all very smartly done out with chic French-style paintwork, leather banquettes, brass-studded tables, and nice pictures of Three Musketeers-style eating implements.
We were in the 'lower lower' room at a nice corner table with a banquette -- this area really felt like being on board ship. "Romantic," said the Russian waiter -- well, if you call an empty room romantic, so be it -- even though it was very comfortable. I remember hearing that Aristotle Onassis totally booked out a restaurant when he and Jackie came ashore from the Christina to dine a deux so, with my own Aristotle in tow, I let my brain wander. However, being on a different budget to Ari and Jackie, the yacht wasn't docked at the Bull Wall, it was a Thursday night and the early bird menu for us. In fact, the early bird was available all evening -- Tuesday to Thursday and Sundays, and up to 7pm on Friday and Saturday -- with 2/3 courses at €22/€26 allowing you to choose starters (€4.95-€7.95) or mains (€16.95-€23.95) from their a la carte menu. You could just have a main course, but if you choose 2/3 courses, you get the early bird package prices.
We liked the cut of the menu's jib with its French/Nordic undertones and classy tweaks. Pressed confit duck and ham hock terrine was served with pickled onions and shallot vinaigrette, while beetroot and blood-orange-marinated salmon came with pickled beetroot salad. Dressed crab (€7.95) was togged out in a contemporary style as opposed to being classically dressed and served in a shell, which was perhaps what Ari and Jackie would have expected in the Sixties, but it proved a very crisp-tasting, sizeable rondelle of white crabmeat mixed with lemon mayo, dill, and mint, adorned with copious cucumber-ribbon wavy sails. My starter proved delicious -- sliced wild mushrooms (€7.50) cooked in a rich Madeira cream topped with a perfectly judged 'sticky' poached duck egg and ribbons of smoked duck.
Mains, too, were attractive. Roast chicken breast had chorizo, chickpeas and smoked paprika, while slow-cooked pork belly with braised pork cheek had carrot and ginger puree, choucroute and mash. Roast rack of lamb and crumbed shoulder sported mashed potato, tomato, shallot, broad beans, olives, pine nuts and sauce vierge. Brendan sailed with a Maurice Kettyle Irish dry-aged rib-eye of beef with Cafe de Paris butter -- €23.95 or €5 early bird supplement -- accompanied by rectangular tranche of Lyonnaise potato, and "floating leaves" of roast red onion. I had a Fish Special -- a fine tranche of hake (€19.95) originally with peas and bacon, but I asked for the Mediterranean-style accompaniment of the lamb with its sauce vierge, a stronger pairing, which I preferred and which a chunky fish such as hake can take. As a side order, I had smashing chunky lightly crumbed courgette fries (€2.95) with basil mayo, which I absolutely loved.
A milk chocolate and praline mousse pudding (€5.95) was really the only disappointment, being a bit on the light side for chocoholics. We had a bottle of Ribera del Duero, Martin Berdugo Joven, Tempranillo 2009 (€30) -- which was, in fact, a 2008. Our bill including optional service and house still water (€1) came to €96.95.
Park the yacht -- well worth a visit.
Downstairs Restaurant & Bar,
Tel: (01) 833-8883