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Review: Glovers Alley - 'Smoked cheddar dumplings are punchy and original'

Glovers Alley, 128 St Stephen's Green, Dublin 2 (01) 244 0733, gloversalley.ie

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Glovers Alley

Glovers Alley

Glovers Alley

It's a basic tenet of life. Don't tell everyone how fantastic you are, wait for them to tell you… then bask modestly in the warm glow of approval.

If ever there was any doubt that the fine Irish tradition of begrudgery is alive and well, one has only to consider the reaction from the chattering classes of the Irish food world to the opening of Glovers Alley (I'll note the missing apostrophe - one glover, or a multiplicity? - and promise never to refer to it again) earlier this year.

The launch was - how shall I put it? - clumsy. The PR machine and an over-effusive website posited chef Andy McFadden as some class of royal culinary prince deigning to return to Ireland to open a restaurant here, yet most punters had never heard of him, as he has worked in London for the majority of his career. Yes, he got a Michelin star there and was the youngest chef (at age 25) ever to do so - not an achievement to be sniffed at - but ask Irish people if they knew of him or had eaten his food and the answer was usually "no".

So from the outset Glovers Alley got up a lot of people's noses and there were some snippy reviews and complaints about the audacious pricing, which feels as if it pre-empts the star that McFadden and his backers will be hoping for come September.

A few months passed and, other than dropping in to the launch party for a gander, and dinner with a gang for a friend's birthday (the sommelier, James Brooke, was helpful when it came to pre-selecting modestly priced wines), I've stayed away. Then a pal who had been for lunch one Saturday told me that she liked it so much - and thought it such good value - that she'd been back twice in a month. I booked for dinner, in order to try the tasting menu, priced at €105.

Glovers Alley occupies what was formerly Thornton's, on the second floor of the Fitzwilliam Hotel. The colours are modish blush and green with accents of brass and it feels very stylish London and a bit 1930s, though extending that theme to the Gatsby-style font on the menu is a laboured step too far. The urbane Ed Jolliffe (ex-Chapter One), runs front of house and has assembled a fine team - service is smooth, friendly rather than snooty, and properly accomplished.

Preceding the seven-course tasting menu are gorgeous snacks - tiny pastry cases filled with spring vegetables (the dominant one is lovely fresh pea), a mushroom beignet that's too salty but has good texture, and, our favourite, crisp chicken skin topped with taramasalata, a brilliant explosion of texture and flavour. Parmesan and black olive bread roll - a sturdy spiral that resembles a whopping cinnamon bun - makes a change from sourdough; it's deeply savoury and quite excellent.

Clogherhead crab comes topped with pickled kohlrabi and almonds; a dressing of ponzu and thyme flutters decorously in the background. Jolliffe tells us that the smoked cheddar dumplings with deep-fried shreds of ham hock in a mustardy sauce are inspired by the ham and cheese toasties at Grogan's. They're punchy and original, a lot more charming than the pub itself, where the bar appears still to be propped up by the same heads who were there in the '80s. Aged beef tartare is curiously lacking in flavour ("It's tartare for people who don't really like the idea of tartare," says my companion).

Next comes 'scallop, pig's head, onion bhaji, curry, coriander', in which the intrinsic sweetness of the scallop is lost, and the boudin of headmeat similarly overwhelmed by the curry. It's ill-conceived. But 'squab pigeon, carrot, olives, verjus', is a beauty, a lesson in balance and flavour; the pigeon breast smoked over the Big Green Egg, the confit leg meat wrapped in spring-roll type pastry.

An optional cheese course (for a €9 supplement) follows, with a selection that includes a luscious Brillat Savarin triple crème and the Swiss raw milk Schnebelhorn, my new favourite, in part because it trips off the tongue so lightly.

By way of segue from sweet to savoury, head pastry chef Aoife Noonan produces a delicate, restrained granita of grapefruit with Velvet Cloud sheep's yoghurt and a little honey, followed by the prettiest tart of Gariguette strawberry with lime leaf, olive oil and Thai basil, adorned with fine discs of meringue sprinkled with a sophisticated version of hundreds and thousands.

Petit fours are photogenic and delightful.

With a silky, elegant blaufrankisch, Carnuntum Muhr Van Der Niepoort (€55), our bill comes to €289.

Our experience at Glovers Alley - like the curate's egg - is good in parts. The few bum notes derive from a tendency to be 'international' at a time when Irish food is discovering a sense of pride in place, which is why McFadden's food can at times seem out of step with the mood of the moment; he's no locavore. That said, he's a chef of undoubted talent, whose return home adds something different to the city's restaurant offering.

THE RATING

8/10 food

9/10 ambience

7/10 value for money

24/30

ON A BUDGET

The two-course lunch and pre-theatre menus are €35. If you are curious about Glovers Alley, and want to have a look to see what all the fuss is about without parting with big money, this is the way to do it.

ON A BLOW OUT

The tasting menu with matching wines is priced at €195. Add in cheese, water and service and you're looking at a bill of over €450 for two - Michelin pricing without the star.

THE HIGH POINT

A properly glamorous room and impeccable service.

THE LOW POINT

That misguided scallop dish.

Weekend Magazine