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A little light in Suburbia

Morilles sits above a well-run locals' pub in Rathfarnham, The Yellow House. The room it occupies is comfortable, verging on sumptuous, with comfortable seating and lighting that masters the elusive trick of allowing diners to enjoy the visual aspects of the food paintings on their plate without making them feel they are under interrogation.

Ninety per cent of the restaurants I visit are, I'd say, either under or over-lit. Service was enthusiastic and, save a couple of small caveats, competent. So why were there, at 8.30pm on a Thursday, only two other people dining?

It took me a while to get there, thanks to traffic restrictions caused by the Horse Show. The Knocklyon Princess lives only a spit and a stride away and was sitting in the bar sipping her red wine when I arrived.


After a quick drink, we climbed the stairs and, in the aforesaid pleasant room, were led to a table. Her Highness's eyes lit on the blackboard and, immediately, her starter was a given. The scallops and Clonakilty black pudding, of which the lady is inordinately fond, were prettily presented. However, she expressed the thought that a pair of scallops and a single round of pud was barely adequate, if not mean, for the €7.50 ask. I was, coincidentally, having like thoughts about my crab claws and prawns. Four small crab claws and three tiny prawns, a euro an item. Play the game! The seafood was pretty devoid of flavour, too. There were juices aplenty in the bowl but no bread on the table. I asked for some which, when it arrived, was unexceptional.

Our mains, I fear, suffered from the Princess's predilection for fillet steak "well done". This she reiterated, as if for emphasis. I feared the worst and, sure enough, when it arrived what we saw on the plate was an object lesson in how to shrink and toughen good meat.

Here I insert a plea for anyone ordering steak not to go beyond "medium". I did feel the waiter might have intervened as one did a few weeks ago, counselling me to take the rib-eye medium-rare rather than rare. At the end of the day, all the squeamish diner wants, I'm sure is the meat cooked just the far side of pink. Asking for it "well done" is extreme to the cusp of plain daft -- analogous to wearing three condoms to ensure you don't get your lover pregnant.

I did wonder if my rump of Wicklow spring lamb which I ordered "pink but not rare" suffered from hanging about until the steak was done to death for it, too, bore no trace of pink. Spring lamb in August? Possibly. Nobody in the butchery business seems to want to give you a definition of 'spring lamb'. The commonplace is 'a milk-fed lamb, usually three to five months old, born in late winter or early spring'.


Mine was fairly gristly; a shame because the chunky slices came balanced on a mattress of absolutely superb truffled mash. We had to ask for the vegetables, or at least they arrived some way on foot of the mains. French beans, cauliflower and carrots, the classic 'Irish flag' selection from the 1980s and, as if to enhance the retro effect, slightly overcooked.

We shared -- sorry, no we didn't -- I ate a trio of ice creams accompanied by a slightly stale tuile biscuit. By now the cracks were widening and Morilles' deficiencies becoming apparent. Culinary standards, on the evidence of the night, were not high enough and there were also managerial quibbles, signs that cost-control constraints had over-ridden the urge to give the punter a good time. I've run a restaurant, I do know about profit-and-loss. Sometimes you have to sacrifice your normal mark-up on a starter or dessert to make diners feel they're being cosseted and get your margins elsewhere. At the end of the day, I don't want this review to be too damning. We do need suburban restaurants and good ones. Morilles is not a bad one but could be better.

It already has some things going for it -- the ambience is appealing, the menu imaginative without being OTT and food presentation is picture perfect. That's a base to build on. We may babble about recession; about the lack of disposable income, uncertainty, or whatever. Yet there are restaurants on the fringes of Dublin still doing the numbers. Yes, margins are down and proprietors are losing their hair trying to invent new and ever-more appealing offers but at the end of it all, the good guys, the professionals, the ones who can trim the sails of the good ship Gastronomy to accommodate changing winds, are still afloat. Morilles should get on board.