A few years ago I learnt something about Blackrock in County Dublin that I thought was 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 Café. Until recently there was a Celtic cross there, which I never paid a great deal of attention to, until I was told it marked the southern boundary of The Pale.
I don't know why, I always assumed that 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 30 feet 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 in the space that used to be occupied by Dali's, right 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 décor has changed to 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 our third member of the 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 à la carte and a early bird offering two courses for €22 or three for €25. The à la carte was priced pretty much 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 is becoming 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 a 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 that her shoulder of lamb had been first shredded - rather like pulled pork - then had been 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 really shine. Our waiter noticed Marian's lack of enthusiasm for the dish from the other side of the dining room and he came over offering to change the dish 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 back to the kitchen and shortly returned with a newly dressed plate with the accompaniments that Mary had - duxelles stuffing, truffle purée and sweet corn.
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, then this was a deconstruction of the original, but if you were being factual, then you'd say that half a pear covered in pastry and cooked till the pastry was cooked but the pear was still rock hard, wasn't a tarte tatin and wasn't a good dish.
As a 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 charged for.
Shutters, 63 - 65 Main Street, Blackrock, Co. Dublin
Tel 01 278 0660
Value for money 8
On a budget
The early bird menu is available all week, but on Fridays and Saturdays it's only available until 7pm. There's a choice of three starters, three main courses and three dessert - €22 for two courses and €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 à la carte you can find crab rolls for €11 or scallops for €12, the two most expensive starters, then 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, friendly, but at the same time very expert.
The low point The pear tarte tatin, which although cooked to order, didn't really work.
Whispers from the Gastronomicon
With Valentine's Day fast approaching, it's worth knowing that Aldi supermarkets are selling their excellent pink champagne from the 2nd of February for €24.99. Just the thing to set the romantic mood.
There's a new app called the Oven Apprentice, which allows users to film their creations and then share them with other foodies. The Apple version is ready for download at the iTunes store, Android users will have to wait a month.