Teething trouble at Shutters in Blackrock
A few years ago I learnt something about Blackrock in Co Dublin I thought interesting. At the top of the main street where the road divides, there's a takeaway that's been there for as long as I can remember called the Central Cafe. Until recently there was a Celtic cross there, which I never paid much attention to until I was told it marked the southern boundary of The Pale.
I don't know why I always assumed The Pale extended a long way out of Dublin, but it seems that to the south it didn't. Beyond Blackrock were the dangerous badlands beyond The Pale, dominated by the O'Tooles of Wicklow.
The cross was moved recently – it's about 30ft closer to Dublin on the other side of the road outside the Bank of Ireland, which makes the restaurant I visited this week beyond The Pale. It's called Shutters, and it's in the space that used to be occupied by Dali's, opposite the old public library which is in the process of being recommodified as the new centre for third-level education.
Just occasionally, the gods of parking smile on me, and as Marian Kenny and I approached the restaurant, there was a parking place. Not just near the restaurant, but bang outside it. On a rainy night it really was a godsend.
Inside, the decor is a quietly elegant grey, with a minimalist, uncluttered feel to it, which gave a soothing feeling to the room. We took a table by the window and waited for the third member of our party, Mary Mitchell-O'Connor, the TD for Dun Laoghaire, who has her constituency office in Blackrock.
When Mary joined us, we went through the menus. As usual, there were two – an a la carte and a early bird offering two courses for €22 or three for €25. The a la carte was priced at the affordable end of the spectrum, with all the starters except for the scallops and crab being under €10, and main courses running from €19 to €24, except for the steaks at €25 for a sirloin and €29 for a fillet.
Although none of us were drinking wine, I spent a while reading the wine list. It's short enough, with about 15 reds and 15 whites, but it does have quite a few wines listed in the €20-€30 range, which has become increasingly difficult for restaurants since the last budget increase in excise duty. If this trend continues, you'll soon be looking at house wines for €30 a bottle.
Instead, we all elected to drink sparkling water, which in Shutters is charged at €1 per person, for as many bottles as you drink. I first came across this system in Coppinger Row some years ago, and I like it – it gives the customers the feeling that they're getting a bargain.
Shutters hasn't been open long – it began trading just before Christmas – so it's still finding its feet. But the front of house team are very good, being very professional and capable.
Between the three of us, we chose across both menus, with Marian having a starter of goats' cheese parfait followed by lamb shoulder, and Mary opting to go straight for her main course of chicken breast. I ordered the salt and pepper squid to start and followed that with paupiettes of lemon sole.
I thought the two starters were good. Marian's goats' cheese parfait not only tasted good, but looked good as well, the parfait coming with a pine nut crust and tiny cubes of beetroot giving an earthy taste to the creamy cheese. My starter was made of small rings of squid, battered and deep-fried, and cooked just right, so that the batter was a golden crisp and the squid inside tender and easy to eat.
When the main courses arrived, Marian discovered her shoulder of lamb had been shredded, rather like pulled pork, then pressed into a tian. I found the dish acceptable enough, but Marian found herself really disliking it.
It's in moments like this that good waiters shine. Ours noticed Marian's lack of enthusiasm for the dish from the other side of the dining room and came over offering to change it for something else. His whole manner of dealing with this was an object lesson in how good waiters deal with unhappy customers. Soon all was sorted. Mary had too much chicken on her plate, so she passed half to Marian. Our waiter took this to the kitchen and returned with a newly dressed plate with the accompaniments Mary had – duxelles stuffing, truffle puree and sweetcorn.
The two elegant blondes I was dining with decided on desserts: an Eton mess with lemon curd and sweet cream, and a pear tarte tatin. The Eton mess was exactly what you'd expect, but the tarte tatin was not.
If you were to be kind, you'd say this was a deconstruction of the original. But if you were being factual, you'd say half a pear covered in pastry and cooked until the pastry was cooked but the pear was still rock-hard, wasn't a tarte tatin and wasn't a good dish.
As I said at the start, Shutters is newly opened and the menu will need a little tweaking as it settles in. The bill came to only €88, because the lamb dish wasn't included.
The early-bird menu is available all week, except Fridays and Saturdays when it stops at 7pm. There's three starters, three main courses and three desserts, €22 for two courses, €25 for three. Wine by the bottle is half-price on Wednesdays and champagne is half-price at weekend brunch.
On a blowout
On the a la carte you can find scallops for €12, the most expensive starter. For main courses, the sirloin and the fillet steak are the most expensive, at €25 and €29 respectively.
The high point
The most impressive part of the meal was the service, which was friendly but at the same time very expert.
The low point
The pear tarte tatin, which although cooked to order didn't really work.