Earlier this year I was invited to an evening with Yves Cuilleron, a wine maker from the Northern Rhone, at Stanley's, a new-ish restaurant that occupies a premises on South Andrew St that has in the recent past been home to two food businesses - Saint and the Dublin City Food Company - neither of which lasted very long.
Stephen McArdle, also the chef behind The Arch in Churchtown, served a memorable dish of wild Irish rabbit and foie gras parfait with pistachio and pain d'epices to complement the 2012 Cornas 'le Village'. The cheese course of extra mature Cashel Blue was paired, unusually, with the sweet 2007 Condrieu Moelleux 'Ayguets', and it was a match made in heaven. The night was organised by Patrick McArdle, Stephen's brother and partner in the business, and Morgan Vanderkamer, Stanley's young Canadian sommelier, and was a way of marking our cards that Stanley's is a restaurant that takes its wine seriously, without being in any way pompous about it.
That evening, we ate in the upstairs dining room, decorated with some style by interior designer, Suzie McAdam. The dark panelled walls and leaded windows, that look out over St Andrew's Street and across to The Cedar Tree, are unusual for Dublin and give Stanley's a look of the impeccably restored Georgian houses on Fournier Street in London's Spitalfields.
The room seats up to 30, and would be a fine, intimate venue for a birthday or other celebration, although Stanley's also has a dedicated private dining room up on the second floor.
On a return visit for lunch, we chose to eat in the downstairs wine bar, a space that is less immediately attractive, particularly during the daytime, and better suited to a quick in and out than a long lingering lunch.
For one thing, the tables are pretty close together, so much so that gossiping about other people should only be undertaken with extreme caution. Stanley's does offer lunch in the first-floor dining room, with the option of one, two or three courses priced at €15/€19/€24 respectively, but downstairs is the more casual option.
In the interests of a comprehensive appraisal (oh, how we reviewers suffer on your behalf, dear reader), Caroline and I ordered across the menu, so our bill of €76 before service should be regarded with caution. You can eat well and substantially at the wine bar in Stanley's for much less.
Sticky duck salad with radish, orange, wasabi mayo and a crisp slice of sourdough to pile the meat onto, was super-tasty - the duck sweet but not too sweet. A crab salad with apple, avocado and beetroot was pretty to look at and well-balanced. Either of these plates on its own could make a lunch for someone less greedy than the pair of us.
We followed with the daily main-course special of ray wing with sauce vierge (at its simplest, a combination of olive oil, lemon juice, chopped tomato and basil), accompanied by green beans and far too many potatoes. At €10, this is great value for someone who's not worried about falling into a carb-coma at their desk during the afternoon. Potatoes aside, the fish was executed impeccably, and tasted spanking fresh.
Our second main course was a chicken supreme from the upstairs lunch menu, accompanied by glazed carrots, savoy cabbage and truffled mashed potato. No provenance information was given for the chicken; although it was juicy and flavoursome, we'd like to have known where it came from, who its mammy and daddy were, and what class of a life it had had before it ended up where it did.
The truffled potato tasted unpleasant, musty somehow, although I'd eaten it on the night of the wine dinner and thought it very good. Probably just a blip caused by a dud bottle of truffle oil; these things happen. We really did not need the chocolate torte after all that preceded it, but we ordered it anyway. Rich, dense, and worth it, although we were unconvinced by pairing it with a mango sorbet.
Exceptionally good americanos were made with beans from Bell Lane in County Westmeath.
Sides of fries (unexceptional) and green beans, a couple of large bottles of San Pellegrino and one glass of wine, an excellent dry Schonleber riesling, recommended by Ms VanderKamer, brought the bill to €76 before service.
I'd recommend using the wine bar menu as Stanley's intends, for a quick, one-course good value bite at lunchtime, and either saving your money for a relaxed dinner upstairs in that gorgeous room, when you'll have plenty of time to explore the wine list, or booking a place at one of the restaurant's regular wine events and considering it an investment in your education.
On a budget
A substantial balsamic-braised, flat-cap mushroom and Cashel Blue sandwich, with red onion jam, on a roll, in the downstairs wine bar, costs €7, or €10 if you have soup too.
On a blowout
For dinner upstairs, you could start with wood pigeon with butternut squash and heirloom beets in a game broth (€12), follow with fillet of beef with a foie gras and herb crust, and shallot puree in a veal jus (€28) and finish up with the cheese plate (€12).
The hight point
The wine list is something to get properly excited about.
The low point
The truffle potato mash. Not good.
8/10 value for money
This year's Ballymaloe Litfest takes place over the weekend of May 15-17, and the line-up features an eclectic mix of demos and speakers. The lunch by Sarit Packer and Itamar Srulovic of London restaurant du jour, Honey & Co, may already be sold out, but there are still plenty of tickets for demonstrations by Sam and Sam Clark of Moro, April Bloomfield of The Spotted Pig in New York, and the wonderful Fuschia Dunlop. And if you'd rather listen to people talk about food than watch them cook it, book a ticket to see Alice Waters of Chez Panisse in conversation with John McKenna. litfest.ie