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Dali-cious Value

The poor beleaguered restaurant industry is really taking it in the face at the minute. Stuck with massive wage bills, high utility charges, exorbitant rents and savage insurance costs, they now find themselves with a clientele possessed of shrinking pockets.

So what do they do? The objective is to weather the inclement financial climate and get by, whatever it takes. So they re-invent themselves, using less expensive ingredients and devising value-for-money all-inclusive menus. At the minute the amount of great-value eating in Dublin is amazing.

In a perfect world, things would be okay. No one would make a killing but most would survive. But God, it seems, remembers being ripped off back in the years of excess. Now he takes a savage vengeance, sending down snow, sleet and hail to ensure nobody leaves their homes. Restaurateurs, whose covers are normally covered, are wondering where the punters have gone.

Still, God is a softie at heart and soon relents. But then man intervenes. The shower of incompetents we elect to govern us failed to spend money on the nation's infrastructure during the years of boom. Come the thaw, antediluvian water pipes fracture. We already lose between 20% and 50% of our water through mysterious leakage, it seems. Now the rest vanishes, not down, but out of the pipe. One restaurant in Dún Laoghaire had 100 covers booked on a night when the council spontaneously decided to turn off their water for an indefinite period. Brilliant!

The Restaurants Association of Ireland, the restaurateurs' own organisation, has put out a statement claiming that 30% of restaurants will close in the first six months of 2010 -- bank managers, please read.

Anyhow, end of rant. The first throes of the thaw saw Sibella and I on the 'Dort', speeding towards Blackrock. The decision to dine there was enforced by our initial choice being closed thanks to the aforesaid H2O fiasco.

There's nothing surreal about Dali's, despite the name. In fact, the interior is very yesteryear, with a cosy bar and a split-level dining room that's warm and enveloping. We got a good, thankfully not over-deferential, welcome.

The €29 three-course-plus-coffee menu was a cleverly designed recession-buster, billed as "an early bird available all night". Sibs started with salad: blue cheese, cooked pears, candied walnuts, cucumber, pickle and rocket with a sympathetic, well-balanced dressing.

I took the day's special: the pan-seared loin of venison. The three small circles, salad-garnished, looked quite meagre on the plate, and indeed, the waiter remarked on this, "small but delicious", he advised. So it proved.

Size didn't matter as I had already been tucking into Dali's excellent, baked-on-the premises white and treacle breads. In truth, all the starters appealed; I could have just as easily taken the duck parfait or the battered cod fingers with curry mayo.

It was the same with the mains. I deliberated over whether I should choose the ten-ounce rib-eye or the roast fillet of cod, before opting for the bacon and cabbage pie, served with scallion champ and what could have been homemade piccalilli.

I was glad I did; the pie was liberally sauced with a parsley béchamel and the portion was generous. Sibs tried a forkful and loved it -- "bacon and cabbage I could eat," she said. Praise indeed as she normally hates this dish in spades.

She had the free-range chicken supreme, served with a chorizo-flecked butternut squash risotto, an inventive combination with harmonious complementary flavours. We chose a wine from the excellent "house selection" end of their wine list, clearly put together with a lot of good advice. Domaine Reine Juliette, Picpoul de Pinet 2008 is not what you would call 'mainstream' and all the better for it.

We picked two wholesome, 'made for this sort of weather' desserts. Sibs had the apple and blackberry crumble with cinnamon ice cream and loved it. I went totally away from the norm (I don't really do 'sweet') and took the sticky toffee pudding with butterscotch sauce and banana ice cream. I have only one slight criticism: the butterscotch was ever so slightly tooth-jarring and completely masked any banana flavour in the ice.

I leave the last word to Sibella, who notices these things. "Comfort-wise? On a scale of one-to-ten". "Eleven" she avowed.

Verdict: A very comfortable, stylish neighbourhood restaurant. Good soul food, interesting wines.

Rating: HHHHI

Dali's, 63/65 Main Street, Blackrock, Co Dublin, Tel: 01 278 0660

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