Food: Sound bites at The Washerwoman
The Washerwoman, 60 Glasnevin Hill, Dublin 9 (01) 837 9441
It's a thorny issue, this question of children in restaurants. I'm all for it in principle, just not if they don't know how to behave. That makes me sound both ancient and curmudgeonly, and I hope that I am neither. It's not that long since my own were rugrats too and, yes, we did bring them to restaurants. Children will never become accomplished at eating out without practice. We had a rule, though, that if they were making noise we'd remove them.
On a recent Sunday evening visit to The Washerwoman in Glasnevin, we were unlucky. We arrived at 5.30pm for an early dinner, when most of the tables were occupied by family groups coming to the end of a long lunch. The adults were nursing glasses of wine or coffees. The children were restless and bored. The decibel level escalated, and none of the adults intervened when the children's behaviour became irritating. Other people's children: aaargh.
The situation wasn't helped by the tables being jam-packed together, with little room for either staff or customers to manoeuvre, and by truly terrible acoustics. The downstairs dining room at The Washerwoman suffers from an excess of hard surfaces that means that the sound of every glass and piece of cutlery handled by the staff reverberates through the room.
The other major annoyance of our visit was that, despite eating at 5.30pm, we were not offered the early bird menu. I rang afterwards to check if there was a reason for this, and was told that there wasn't. I am sure that this was an oversight; the person who answered the phone was sincerely apologetic. But our bill for four - two adults and two teenagers, between us we had a couple of starters, four mains and two desserts - came to €150 before service and without any alcoholic drinks, which we thought expensive.
Rant over, let's talk about the food. To start, we shared a portion of buffalo-style wings with Young Buck blue cheese and buttermilk dip, and an almighty helping of nachos with Ballinwillin wild boar chilli, corn and tomato salsa, sour cream, guacamole and melted cheddar. What the latter lacked in the elegancy of its presentation it made up for in flavour, and we fell upon it.
The wings were seriously good too, and it's pleasing to see this great new cheese, which is produced in Newtownards, cropping up on menus. Both of these dishes came from the 'Diner Classics' section of the menu, which also includes crowd-pleasing dishes such as burgers and Caesar salad, and the fish finger sandwich which we chose for one of our main courses. It's a modest description for a dish that comprised home-made haddock fish fingers stuffed inside a pillowy white roll with smoked lemon, saffron tartare, baby gem and chips. The portion was enormous, and the execution impeccable; a very successful plate and, at €15, well priced. Spicy Clogherhead crab-cakes came with more of that saffron tartare and a crayfish salad, which sounds a bit more exciting than it turned out to be. Portion-wise, it felt stingy compared to the abundance of the fish fingers. A dish of Dublin Bay Prawns with Spanish Point seaweed cakes, sunflower shoots, roasted fennel with ginger and lemon and wild garlic butter was flavoursome and well-balanced, although we'd have liked more prawns for our €27.
The Washerwoman's menu majors on steaks, with options from breeds including Dexter and Red Limousine, from excellent producers such as John Stone, Killenure Castle, Feirme Nadurtha and Peter Hannan, who ages his meat in a Himalayan salt chamber in Moira. Hannan's 1kg T-bone for two is priced at €80. We tried one of the 21-day dry-aged rib-eyes from John Stone in Longford, priced at €30, and it was an exceptional piece of meat; succulent, flavoursome and beautifully cooked. Sides of chips with aioli and sweet potato fries with a chilli mayo were very good, but a chipotle slaw had no discernible chipotle flavour and was quite unpleasant. The almost untouched bowl was cleared from the table without comment. To finish, we shared a white chocolate and raspberry brownie with peanut butter ice cream that was celestially good, and a portion of vanilla ice cream.
I'm struck by the fact that despite the high quality of most of the food and the pleasant service, I would be in no hurry to return to The Washerwoman. When you are expecting people to pay these kind of prices for your food, it should be delivered in an environment that is relaxing. We left feeling that the bill was too high for what we got.
On a budget
The two-course early bird dinner priced at €25 is on every night, except Saturday, up until 7pm.
On a blowout
A Winding Stair Smoked Fish Plate, followed by Peter Hannan's 28-day Himalayan salt-aged 1kg T-bone for two, and Raspberry, Oatmeal and Whiskey Cranachan would set you back €110 per couple before wine.
The high point
John Stone's 21-day dry-aged 8oz rib-eye - a magnificent piece of meat
The low point
The screaming children, and not being offered the early bird when we should have been.
4/10 value for money
Whispers from the gastronomicon
At the San Pellegrino awards in Milan, Mark Moriarty was named the best young chef in the world. It's an extraordinary achievement for the 23-year-old, from Blackrock in Co Dublin, who worked at The Greenhouse in Dublin after graduating from the culinary arts degree programme in DIT. These days, he runs a project called The Culinary Counter, which you can follow on Facebook to see where it will be popping up next, and perhaps sample his competition-winning dish of celeriac baked in barley and fermented hay with cured and smoked celeriac, and toasted hay tea.