LUNCH AS A REVELATION.
A FINE MENU HIDDEN IN PLAIN SIGHT,
BANG IN THE MIDDLE OF DUBLIN 2
11 Merrion Row
Phone: 01 400 4229
Irish Daily Mail
24 February 2018
Bang Café is, if you like, bang in the heart of Dublin 2, and yet, for some reason, it doesn’t seem to attract much attention. Originally owned by the Stokes twins, who were described by Mr Justice Peter Kelly as having engaged in “a form of thieving” (by using tax money to trade) and referred to by him as “delinquent directors”, Bang inevitably came to grief. The somewhat unusual name, incidentally, is in honour of the Stokes’ mother, Pia Bang.
It was also originally the first home of one of Dublin’s oldest restaurants, The Unicorn, which used to belong to Stokes pére. The family was once – I’m told, because I don’t know these things – the toast of Celtic Tiger Dublin, no less.
Anyway, that’s all history at this stage. Bang Café now belongs to Joe Barrett, brother of the more famous Richard, the property man, and, more importantly, it has a fine chef in the form of Niall O’Sullivan whose food I had enjoyed in the past in Isabel’s and East Side Tavern. However, I didn’t realise any of this when I went along for lunch.
And why did I go along for a Friday lunch? Essentially because I reckoned it was a restaurant that’s rather under-reviewed. But by the end of the meal I was amazed that we don’t hear more of the place. And for all the right reasons.
The other reason is that I had seen mention, on Bang’s website, of Peter Hannon, the king of Irish meat, the Ulsterman who has made the best of our beef the toast of the top London restaurants. Marco Pierre White once told me that he’d like to use Peter’s meat but it’s too dear for his chain of franchises.
Interesting, then, that Bang Café has his salt-aged rib-eye on a lunch menu that offers two courses for €20 and three for €25. And it was one of the two or three best steaks that have ever passed my lips.
Anyway, to table. Starters were a contrast. On my side of the table a slab of dense, exuberantly meaty ham hock terrine served with a tangy, slightly sweet and sour mushroom ketchup (actually more of a silky purée). On the other, very lightly charred sea trout with a fine avocado purée, a black garlic purée, and a touch of soya sauce, maybe a hint of sesame oil. Both were, in their different ways, very good indeed: honest, thoughtful, delightful.
In the mains, the rib-eye was sensational. That’s the only word. So often beef, even well brought-up beef, aged properly, just doesn’t taste sufficiently of itself. This was steak with the taste turned up – Spinal Tap style - to eleven. And yes, the accompanying mushroom was grand, the black garlic aioli likewise, but everything paled beside this champion piece of meat (cooked just on the medium side of rare, as ribeye should be).
Roasted hake was à point, and came with vadouvan-scented mussels (I had to Google; it’s a French blend of masala spices) and beurre noisette. Again, thoughtful cooking, a clever twist but no showing off. Confident food.
It was a Friday, the end of a long week and the cooking was exceptional. And so to dessert, one each.
The chocolate mousse and caramel ice cream was even better than that sounds. Each, to quote the great food writer Kurnonsky, tasted intensely of itself.
But the pièce de resistance, snapping at the heels of that steak, was a coconut cream and rhubarb granita with a blood orange jelly that was a symphony of flavours and textures. This is no mean feat and requires impeccable judgement.
Each course is paired with a suggested wine and, needless to say, we decided to see how well such matches worked. Effortlessly, is the answer, but, needless to say, this added considerably to the bill. If you exercise restraint – and I’m not suggesting for a moment that this will be easy - lunch here is a snip.
With mineral water, coffee, a wine match with each course, the bill came to €136.20.