One thing they don't teach you in restaurant critic school is how to remember the very long lists of ingredients that chefs in a certain type of restaurant rattle off when they bring dishes to the table. I'm not sure where the practice of chefs serving as well as cooking originated (perhaps at Noma in Copenhagen?) but it is widespread now. It adds intimacy to the experience of eating in a small, independent restaurant and allows for descriptions of ingredients and processes that would be far too long to include on any printed menu.
There are downsides, though, and at Bastible last week I sometimes felt as if I was one of the contestants on that old game show The Generation Game, standing beside Bruce Forsyth, trying frantically to remember everything that had passed by me on the conveyor belt. Please forgive any consequent omissions.
Last October, when Michelin speculation was at fever pitch, Bastible was one of the names being bandied about as in contention for a star. As it turned out, the restaurant didn't get one, but on the basis of last week's meal, I'll be surprised if it doesn't nail it this year.
When Bastible first opened, the chef (and owner, with his wife, Claire-Marie Thomas) was Barry FitzGerald, who came from the one-star Harwood Arms in London and was Etto's first chef. Now he has "moved upstairs" - he also oversees sister restaurant Clanbrassil House - and the head chef is Cúán Greene, who spent several years working at Noma and now brings that Scandi sensibility to the South Circular Road.
Everyone has an opinion about tasting menus these days, but a well-judged version that doesn't involve too much food is still the best way to get a good overview of what a chef is trying to do. (A friend describes her recent experience at one Michelin-starred restaurant in Ireland as "death by tasting menu" and said it was clear that the chef himself had never been made to sit through it.) At Bastible, Greene gets it just right.
A shish kebab of ox tongue - a multi-layered cube of meat skewered on a twig of beech - dissolves on the tongue as a lush mouthful of smoke and umami, while the crunch of a sourdough waffle sandwich of smoked cod roe, elderflower and fresh herbs is inspired by a recent trip Greene took to Romania. Kelp leather reminds me of the liquorice sweets I hated as a child, and not in a good way, while a mouthful of kohlrabi and sorrel sprayed with orange blossom water feels like a better, modern version of that tired old 'fayn dayning' cliché, the sorbet as palate cleanser.
The crust of the sourdough made in the bastible that gives the restaurant its name is chewy and intense, with cultured butter that I could eat all day, and a dish of baked swede - three fine slices - accompanied by a pumpkin seed mole and a revelatory ginger oil that looks unassuming but is both subtle and wonderful: a nod perhaps to the Noma pop-up in Tulum, Mexico, a few years back.
The most Instagrammable dish is one of raw Connemara shrimp hidden under a carapace of delicate fig leaves, in a broth of kohlrabi and broccoli, with semi-dried tomatoes and horseradish in there too; the dish is a delight. A quince-lacquered tranche of perfect sea trout - farmed sustainably in Scotland, and with great texture and fat content - comes with a potato flatbread and condiments (pickles, ferments and glorious hay-smoked sheep's milk yoghurt) while pudding is a set sheep's milk yoghurt with fermented plum and woodruff that's not too sweet. There are little bites of juniper caramel to finish.
The bill for dinner for two with a bottle of the elegant Terre Nere Etna Rosso 2018, grown at high altitude in Sicily, and water comes to €196.50 before (excellent) service.
My only gripe with Bastible is the room. The glare of bare bulbs is a triumph of (dated) interior design over comfort, and although valiant efforts have been made to improve the acoustics with ceiling panels and foam padding on the undersides of the tables, they are not succeeding.
ON A BUDGET
On Friday and Saturday, you can have a two-course lunch for €36.
ON A BLOWOUT
On Friday and Saturday evenings, Bastible only serves a tasting menu, so dinner for two will cost €136 before drinks or service.
THE HIGH POINT
Cúán Greene's stint at Noma is evident in dishes that feel fresh, vibrant and different for Dublin.
THE LOW POINT
The acoustics are terrible.