Tuesday 20 March 2018

Tapas sushi leaves diners bamboozled

Edel Coffey

BamBoo Tapas and Grill

40 Parliament Street, Temple Bar, Dublin

Tel: (01) 671 9308


Tapas sushi leaves diners bamboozled

Temple Bar is one of those odd self-contradictory places. It's intensely touristy but also still bears some of the original boho character of the artists who first reclaimed the area in the 1980s. Gaudy Irish bars and trinket shops sit alongside art-house cinemas and flea markets.

The restaurants range from cheap, hidden cafés to the full-on Thunder Road experience. Like most Dubliners, I tend to give Temple Bar as wide a berth as possible, often taking the long way around its perimeter just to avoid the milling browsers and diagonal drunk walkers (I'm very susceptible to pedestrian rage).

BamBoo Tapas and Grill, as it is newly renamed (it used to be Salamanca), sits on the periphery of Dublin's broiling tourist hub, on the corner of Parliament Street and Dame Street.

It has renamed itself to suit its new menu, a no-rules mix of sushi, tapas and grill standards. The menu is described as modern and creative, and the restaurant blurb asks: "where else would you get prime Irish steak, sizzling prawns and sushi on one menu".

Where else, indeed? This all-encompassing menu might make a good Greatest Hits of Cravings top 10, but coherent it is not.

It's an extensive menu, broken into three parts – the tapas section, the sushi section and the grill section.

I love sushi, so am committed to having at least a part-sushi meal. The 'tapas' are 3 for €17, which seems like good value, so my companion and I go for the stir-fry prawns, calamari tempura and real yakatori chicken skewers and the chef's sashimi platter, which is €16.95.

The food all comes out at the same time (as requested) and is good and tasty, although everything is disappointingly tapas-sized. It's so rare that menus actually adhere to their description but this is one of those rare occasions. I think the sashimi platter, which is of an equally small size, is of a good standard but my companion thinks it is just okay.

After this, we're still hungry so we decide to order some more from the sushi menu. The chef has spent 12 years learning the recipes and culture of sushi on the menu, he offers to make any kind of sushi that is not listed, if he has the correct ingredients. We haven't had any of the small, roll-type sushi with rice and seaweed so we order some uramaki, the crab and salmon options, which come with avocado and wasabi mayonnaise (both €7.95).

These are good too and immediately filling with the creamy avocado and rice.

The décor can only be described as slightly bonkers, and seems to reflect all aspects of the diverse menu in its varied influences. There are references to the restaurant's past life as Salamanca but also a nod of the head to Japanese cuisine with its black wooden beams along the ceiling, which are draped with hanging plants.

If I were to define it in an interior decoration magazine it would probably be called conquistador meets samurai-chic.

The room is big and spacious with large windows allowing for good people watching and it's a comfortable place to hang out. It's not busy so there's no rush on us and we spend the evening drinking Japanese beer and laughing along to the music, which is similarly eccentric, a heady mix of funk and soul and some expansive 1990s ambient mixes.

Dessert menus in Asian restaurants are a terrifying prospect. If it's not a sorbet served in a carved-out orange-peel it's some sickly-sweet Butlins-holiday-style confection. We are apprehensive about the dessert menu, but order a honey cream cake to share.

It arrives and as we both take tentative bites of the cake, we are pleasantly surprised that it tastes so light and delicious, if sugar-coma sweet. Our delight may be coloured by our relief at the fact that this is not one of those cocktail-style desserts that come with an umbrella, some blue food colouring and glacé cherries that so often mars Asian food menus.

All in all, the food is fine and the service is good, but somehow the experience is not great.

There is definitely an attempt to cater to the tourist, particularly on the drinks menu where you will find things like a 'Ninja Guinness' and a half litre of Margherita for €14.

It's the kind of place you can have an unselfconsciously fun night out. The kind of place you might have a student party with pitchers of Margheritas or perhaps some of the house specialty cocktails, like the Kimono or the Japanese Sleeper.

In its favour, BamBoo does offer excellent value for money. A three-course lunch deal for €10 and an all-week three-course early bird for €15.95 are hard to beat. The problem for me is the confusion that is created by the fusion aspect of this restaurant, not just in terms of the food, but the ambience too.

The effect is a mix of traditional grill restaurant with a theme bar, which leaves the diner a little perplexed.

Why not just embrace one or the other? Either install a karaoke machine or take the Ninja Guinness off the menu.

Not everything needs to be classy or sophisticated, but it does feel that BamBoo needs to pick one theme and stick with it.

And the fact that they are on the tourist trail in Temple Bar gives them the perfect excuse to unashamedly do one or the other. That way they can build some sort of identity and do it well.

It feels like ,with a tiny bit of investment and attention, particularly to their downstairs area where the customer toilets feel like they belong in a lower East-side rock venue rather than a restaurant, this place could be vastly improved. Coherence is what's missing here and the bravery to pick a theme and see it through.

The Damage: €80.40 for three tapas, one platter of sashimi and two plates of sushi, one dessert and four beers

Recommended: Sashimi platter; crab and avocado uramaki

At table: International students and a couple of couples

On the stereo: Time-warp 1990s house and some cheesy funk and disco

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