CONFIDENCE, JUDGEMENT, CLEVERNESS
HIDING BEHIND A FAÇADE OF SIMPLICITY
6 Upper Clanbrassil Street
Phone: 01 453 9786
Irish Daily Mail
17 December 2017
It’s particularly appropriate that today, with the season that’s in it, I should be bringing tidings of great joy. I try to do so on a regular basis but, to be honest, it doesn’t always work out. Every time I review a restaurant I want to be able to say that it’s doing something good, or excellent or even outstanding but most of them turn out to be quite ordinary.
Anyway, my point is that I’m on a constant search for great food and, having been at this game since the Dark Ages of Irish Restaurants – I started reviewing in 1994 – I think I know what that constitutes.
I had high hopes of Clanbrassil House because it’s a sister establishment to the ground-breaking Bastible and its head chef is the formidably talented Gráinne O’Keefe (who also consults at recently reviewed Bujo in Sandymount).
Clanbrassil Street Upper is, if anything, rather gloomier than Clanbrassil Street Lower. It’s faded and tatty and Clanbrassil House is a beacon of urban chic amidst this slough of despond.
Not that urban chic does a lot for me. But I like the minimalist fit-out, the plain walls, the functional furniture. What I adore is the cooking. Its confidence, its judgement, the cleverness that often lies behind a façade of simplicity.
On a cold Winter’s night we perched at one of the high tables that feature towards the front (tables are more conventional and, it seems, more sought after, towards the back of his small restaurant).
We kicked off with four ham croquettes in the Spanish style: essentially a rich béchamel enriched further with lots of very finely diced jamon, all encased in a crisp shell of breadcrumbs. They were, I think, the best I’ve had in Ireland. A gift from the kitchen of toasted sourdough topped with hot-smoked trout was sensational: perfectly salted, perfectly smoked (not too much, not too little) perfectly moist, atop perfectly crunchy yet yielding bread. I felt properly guilty for not having ordered it.
Then came a silky, intense chicken liver parfait with toasted brioche and sweet, tender, fragrant toasted quince. Then a delightfully unexpected combination of creamy straciatella, the very soft buffalo cheese of Apulia, with grilled squash, sweet and smoky, and tart, earthy pickled walnuts. Deceptively simple but brilliantly conceived.
Main courses were no less engaging. Homemade sausage was unconventionally shaped in that it appeared as a generous disc sitting on top of creamy polenta with a layer of barely braised cabbage with, somewhere, the tart tang of apple. The sausage was properly coarse and cohesive, a texture to match its rudely (in a good way) robust seasoning. Fashionable “petals” of lightly charred red onion did, for once, actually add something to a dish. Evidence, again, that this is very much a thinking (and thoughtfully tasting) kitchen.
Cod came with mussels and chickpeas, in a vaguely but very tastily Iberian fashion, all underpinned by the spicy flavour of sobrasada, the Catalonian spreadable sausage, which reached its apogee in the small amount of light but gloriously concentrated broth. This dish disappeared so rapidly that I can’t be sure if I imagined or not the finely sliced Jerusalem artichoke.
Sides were Brussels sprouts with kimchi (so much better than that may sound) and hash brown chips. Yes, hash browns formed into large-bore chips and deep-fried. They were, mirabile dictu, even better than that sounds.
Warm ginger cake was good, its partner of salted caramel ice cream was even better, to the extent that it didn’t seem like a cliché at this stage, and tart slices of orange finished a decent dessert.
Rhubarb sorbet, on the other hand, was even better still (even if it melted too rapidly). Perfectly judged, sharp and sweet and fruity, topped with just-cooked stewed rhubarb and a kind of brandy snap, all served in an old-fashioned sundae dish. Just lovely.
This was an excellent meal, served without fuss but with service as carefully judged as the food. The style is more rustic than at Bastible, perhaps more in tune with what happens at Etto (whose DNA is present, to an extent, in both these newer places) but overall it would suggest that Gráinne O’Keefe has her own distinctive approach to cooking. And I love it.
Skipping coffee, but with mineral water and a carafe of dry Riesling, the bill came to a very reasonable €119.50.