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In the first review of Conrad Gallagher's new restaurant, our critic finds it all a bit retro and out of kilter with the times

Conrad Gallagher's Salon des Saveurs has opened with a flourish of trumpets from the gossip columnists, looking forward to a spate of leisurely lunches in Luvvieland akin to the good old days when Peacock Alley was a gastro force.

For anyone who wasn't around at the time here's a potted history.

Back when the Celtic tiger cub first started to flex its claws, a young chef from Donegal impacted on Dublin like a Halloween firework display.

Everyone went wild over his cooking and his restaurant Peacock Alley, staffed by a 'we're gonna kick ass' young, enthusiastic crew gained an unlikely Michelin star. Pure romance.

At this point in the story I'm going to give you one word ... 'Icarus'. If you don't know what it means that's okay, but you should probably read more.

From there it was a descent on melted wings. A split with his old lady -- the 'feet on the ground' half of the partnership; a change of premises and a lawsuit involving some paintings; a flight to London, thence to New York and an ignominious repatriation.

Eventually Conrad took off for South Africa, land of opportunity. For a while things went great as he held down the role of executive chef for a hotel group. Then he set up in business and, once again, things went pear-shaped. Now he's back.

Now for lesson two in All You Need To Know About Conrad Gallagher. One, the bugger really can cook. Two, his track record as a businessman rates with that of Dick Rowe, the Decca executive who, back in 1963, told his boss that "Groups with guitars are gone", scuppering his firm's chances of signing those loveable mop-tops from Liverpool. Conrad divides people like politics or religion. If you ever ate in Peacock Alley, you venerate him. If he omitted to pay you for your wine, poultry or fruit and veg, you hate him.

Salon des Saveurs is on Aungier Street is in the premises formerly occupied by Darwins which, I believe, is marking time before relocating down the road. Inside it's warm, cosy, all red, black and big mirrors. We got a double whammy of a greeting from Magali, the gorgeous French lady who used to front Still at The Dylan and, surprise, surprise, the affable Bruno Berta, long-time Dublin restaurateur.


The tables are packed in and it was a shoehorn job to get to the one they'd kept for us. The concept is novel and simple in that there are four five-course tasting menus, priced from €24 to €54. Everyone at the table has to eat off the same menu. Matching wines double the price.

I'm not mad about the idea, frankly. Umpteen years tasting and quaffing wine have me convinced that much of what's said and written about wine and food matching is utter bollocks. Wine and food marriages are like any other kind. Five per cent are made in heaven, 10pc in hell. The rest you can make work. We took the top dollar option. Extravagant I know but (a) I wanted to see what Conrad, unfettered by budgetary considerations, can do and (b) I hate soya beans with a vengeance and don't do chicken and salmon unless I know who their mum and dad are.

There's nothing on the menu to show provenance, other than the simple statement that 'all meat, fish and game are from Irish origin'. I figured I could effect a slight economy because my guest, the exquisite I-can't-believe-it's-not-Julia Roberts, doesn't drink much, though she is partial to the odd glass of champagne.

My wines, some of them very decent, came in naff little glasses. I switched with my water glass and this got noticed. Afterwards they brought proper wine glasses.

The cooking, for the most part was of an extremely high order; the oxtail and foie gras 'pain d'epices', the asparagus soup with Serrano ham, calamari and coconut were cleverly conceived; the Muscovy duck breast with cumin spiced cabbage, Puy lentils, pumpkin purée and quail's egg was a triumph. Herself applauded the Monte Carlo chocolate plate. Presentation throughout was pristine. The only bum note was the scallops, a veritable salt mine, all delicacy obliterated by cackhanded seasoning.


The failure was compounded by one of the 'made in hell' wine matches, the Seghesio Arneis 2006 didn't have enough acidity to cut it with the shellfish.

My espresso came in a giant teacup, a midget with the big sombrero. Accompanied by a brace of unremarkable chocolates it cost €6.50, lurching into taking-the-piss territory. I have reservations about Salon des Saveurs. The cooking is fine but the thought nagged me that these pretty food pictures are a tad retro, a bit out of kilter with the times we live in. Foodistas at the minute opt for three substantial courses to ward off a winter of discontent.

What's more, Salon is expensive. We spent €214 including the 'suggested' (okay, you try knocking it off) service charge and only one of us was really drinking. At base level, for two, you're looking at €128 and for that sort of money there's plenty of competition.