Sunday 19 November 2017

The review: Canteen Celbridge - the star main course is the slow-roast rump of beef

Canteen Celbridge, Main St, Donaghcumper, Celbridge, Co Kildare, (01) 627 4967

Canteen Restaurant in Celbridge boasts a smart, modern interior.. Photo: Frank Mc Grath
Canteen Restaurant in Celbridge boasts a smart, modern interior.. Photo: Frank Mc Grath
Coppinger Row, close to Grafton Street

At the end of 2015, James Sheridan and Soizic Humbert took the decision to close their restaurant in Blackrock Market. The couple had recently become parents and were finding the long commute tough going with a new baby. There's a lot of talk these days about the shift in culture that's needed in order to make restaurants family-friendly workplaces for both men and women, something that's desperately needed if the nationwide shortage of chefs isn't going to develop into more of a crisis than it is already. For Sheridan and Humbert, it was the location of their restaurant that was making life difficult, so they moved closer to home.

The locals were distraught. In the few years since it opened, Canteen Blackrock had established a committed following in a village that is poorly served by restaurants despite its affluent population. In Blackrock there was a short, no-choice, fixed-price menu, necessitated in part by the tiny kitchen in which James had to work. And customers had to leave the restaurant and venture out into the market if they wanted to use the lavatory. Neither of these facts appeared to diminish the enthusiasm that they felt for the restaurant - nor do they seem to be standing in the way of James and Soizic's successors, Andrew Heron and Damien Grey, who have a big hit on their hands with Heron & Grey - for my money the best new restaurant in Dublin this year. The locals are appeased.

We arrive at Canteen Celbridge for Sunday lunch and admire the smart, modern interior - shades of grey, colourful art. Soizic says that her favourite thing about it is that the loos are inside the restaurant. The short menu (priced at €26 for two courses and €31 for three) strikes an astute balance between ensuring that there's plenty to appeal to fans of Sheridan's distinctly contemporary, French-influenced, flavour-focused food, yet nothing to scare the horses. In other words, Canteen Celbridge is somewhere that you can bring anyone, from a foodie to a plain eater, and they will all be happy. I'd defy anyone not to be seduced from the outset by the fresh-out-of-the-oven mini-baguettes that arrive on the table as we're looking at the menu.

On the day of our visit, the 'safe' option by way of starter is a salad of Macroom buffalo mozzarella bocconcini, heritage tomato, violet artichoke and basil pesto, that's simplicity itself and very lovely both to look at and to eat. More exciting are a vibrant green pea soup topped with a perfectly poached duck egg and slices of intense smoked duck breast and - our favourite - a wonderful dish of charred mackerel served with an oyster mayonnaise and little spheres of Granny Smith apple, discs of cucumber and slivers of radish.

Confit shoulder of lamb has depth of flavour from long and slow cooking; it comes with a little sweetbread, fondant potato, leeks and charred grelot onion, while Sheridan serves a tranche of just-cooked cod with bouillabaisse sauce, fregola, confit tomato and juicy bread-crumbed deep-fried mussels, accompanied by what I think were wilted sorrel leaves, all topped with a fine crisp of sourdough and a smattering of aioli. The star main course for us is the slow-roast rump of beef alongside a tasty croquette of unctuous blade steak, heritage carrots, chard and sauce Choron, essentially a bearnaise with the addition of tomato paste. On the side are dishes of vegetables - broccoli, leeks and courgettes - doused in butter and topped with breadcrumbs, and the floury potatoes that are back in fashion this summer, cropping up in all the best restaurants.

For pudding, there is a dense piped mousse/ganache of Belcolade chocolate with poached apricots and candied almonds served with a dollop of vanilla ice-cream, plus an impeccable salted caramel crème brûlèe that has the proper ratio of crunch to custardy smoothness. Wexford strawberries, some macerated, some not, come with a delicate elderflower and yoghurt sorbet, tiny meringues and a sliver of sablè breton, and the cheeses are Mossfield and Young Buck accompanied by a cider and apple chutney. James comes out to say a quick hello, and tells us that the baby has spent the morning sitting in the kitchen in a high chair, eating broccoli, and has gone to granny's down the road while service is on. So the move has had the desired lifestyle impact, and Blackrock's loss is Celbridge's gain.

Lunch for four, including a bottle of Bardolino (€31), water and espressos, but before service, came to €175.20.

ON A BUDGET

The early evening menu, served from Tuesday to Friday, is priced at €24 for two courses and €27 for three courses.

ON A BLOW OUT

The three-course dinner menu is €38.

THE HIGH POINT

It is great to see the evolution from the modest premises that were home to Canteen in Blackrock, to somewhere that feels more grown-up, with no loss of charm in the process.

THE LOW POINT

The location is a problem for fans of the original Canteen in Blackrock, who now have to get into the car and appoint a designated driver  before embarking on the journey to deepest Kildare.

The rating

9/10 food

9/10 ambience

9/10 value for money

27/30

Whispers from the gastronomicon

Coppinger Row is a modestly-priced lunch option close to Grafton Street, an area in which it can be hard to find somewhere to eat that doesn’t feel as if it’s meant for tourists rather than locals. Until now the restaurant has not taken reservations, other than for groups, which is no good if you are under time pressure. Now you can book Monday to Friday. The two-course ‘Menu Del Dia’ with tea or coffee is €14.50 — you might get something along the lines of mixed sausage linguini, rocket, parmesan and salsa with rhubarb Eton mess to follow.

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