A CROWD PLEASER WITH EXCEPTIONAL
PASTRY CHEF ON ORMONDE QUAY
6 Upper Ormonde Quay
Phone: 01 878 8118
Irish Daily Mail
24 June 2016
I was mildly amused to see that one of my restaurant critic colleagues reviewed Bagots Hutton, a wine bar, during a period of abstinence from… er… wine. This isn’t quite the equivalent of a theatre critic reviewing a play while suffering from temporary deafness, but it strikes me as an odd thing to do.
Of course, restaurant reviews are just snapshots of what a place is like but you can get a sense of what drives it, what it aims for and what kind of atmosphere prevails.
Most restaurants are – to use a rather irritating but now common phrase – on a journey. Good ones have a philosophy, for want of a better word, and that can range from an embrace of seasonality to sheer theatre and entertainment to naked ambition to part the punter from the contents of his or her wallet. But very few will just plug away, doing exactly the same thing.
One that does just that is J. Sheekey, the seafood stalwart of London’s theatreland. I ate there recently for the first time since I was at school and found it had not changed an iota: still brilliant, old-fashioned and seriously expensive.
Bagots Hutton, named after a long vanished wine merchant that used to occupy its previous premises on South William Street, is in a process of change in the sense that its wine selection is just about to be greatly extended and updated. So what I have to say here is about the food – and food is very important when it comes to wine bars. It’s not, heaven forbid, soakage in the sense of toasted specials in pint-swilling pubs. It’s an enhancement of the experience of sharing good drink.
I’m happy to report that Bagots Hutton does good food. There’s a short but eclectic menu that strives to be all things to all customers, and a range of pizzas, some of which are attractively out of the ordinary. It’s a pleasant space, tall-ceilinged and divided into two rooms with – unusual touch – a stage at the far end. This seems to be restaurant that keeps theatre in its place.
There’s no point in looking at an eclectic menu and not choosing in the same spirit. So, we kicked off with a shared starter of tuna in slices slightly seared on the rim but as raw as sashimi otherwise. It was carefully trimmed and served, in a contrast to the usual Asian flavours, with a sprinkling of dried Kalamata olives and a sharp, tangy tomato emulsion. This is ambitious cooking but disciplined enough to know where to stop.
And then, eclectically, veal meatballs in tomato sauce with spaghetti. The meatballs were all meat, not too dense, not overcooked, the tomato sauce had a welcome freshness and depth and the pasta was properly al dente. It was good but we wondered if veal is a bit wasted when treated like this; a combination of beef and pork would have been fine.
A pizza topped with ham (slightly spongey but nothing to whinge about), wild mushrooms (the feral nature of which was, frankly, a bit doubtful), and creamy mozzarella was good. It followed the style of Naples, baked at a scorching temperature but for just long enough to leave it pleasantly sloppy and foldable. Porcini salt, on the side, delivered lots of mushroomy, foresty, umami savouriness.
A panna cotta with pink peppercorns was glorious: refreshingly low on sugar and uncloying, and with the exact degree of relaxed wobble that used to delight Paolo Tullio. He would have rejoiced at this.
A gelato sundae – whoopee! – a proper, old-fashioned celebration of ice cream with vanilla caramel and amaretti biscuits was a thing of decadent pleasure.
So, as you can see, there’s a talented kitchen at work here and Bagots Hutton is a place to go even if you’re going to stick with mineral water. The expanding wine list is just a further embellishment of a restaurant with good, solid, disciplined cooking.
Our abstemiousness, if not complete abstinence, meant we got out for around the €70 mark.