208 Harold's Cross Road
Phone: 01 497 8632
Irish Daily Mail
6 August 2016
The concept of a neighbourhood restaurant can be a bit patronising. It implies that it’s the kind of place that’s fine if you don’t want to cook at home and don’t mind a short walk but not an expedition.
Neighbourhood restaurants are not in the premier league. Indeed, most of them are thought of as being in division three and this is often a bit unfair.
Craft in Harold's Cross, deep in Dublin 6, has a well-heeled and well-travelled audience within staggering distance and it looks like the chattering classes have clasped it to their collective bosom. It’s easy to see why.
Craft looks the part. A brick wall painted white? Check. Contrasting dark colours? Check? Lots of blackboard space? Check. Big mirror? Check. Banquette covered in 1950s style textile design...
Well, you get the picture. And, to be honest, I really like the fit-out at Craft. There’s nothing extravagant about it; less is more; simple is elegant. And it doesn’t say “neighbourhood”; it says, “we have attitude”.
Much the same can be said for the food. Personally, I’m blessed (although it can be a curse) with a very small appetite and both the style of Phil Yeung’s cooking here and the size of the portions are right up my default street.
My dining companion had previously brought her eighteen year old son here and he liked the cooking (he’s a boy of exceptional taste) but required a sandwich when they got home. If you have an agricultural appetite – and there’s not much scope for that even if you play tennis in braces in Terenure – you may fail to fill up.
Phil Yeung has cooked in several places which are by no definition neighbourhood restaurants – Town Bar & Grill and Bang to name but two – so it was no surprise when our first starter was rather wonderful. And also a bit weird.
It comprised white asparagus which had been caramelised (making its mineral tang even more pronounced) with crisp rectangles of confit chicken wing. I can report that this form of chicken is a definite boost to the sum of human happiness. Plus there was a creamy, thick... well, cream of a sort that was pungent with the intensity of Coolattin, by far the greatest Irish cheddar.
It all looked a bit odd and even appeared at first to be a bit random; in fact, this starter was an exercise in umami, a savoury tour de force.
By contrast, our other starter was pure simplicity and tradition. There was good crab meat at room temperature (thank you!), with the juicy tang of “heirloom” (i.e. old fashioned and therefore bred for taste not shelf-life) tomatoes. And there was the earthy sweetness of a few shelled baby broad beans and the fashionable crunch of thinly sliced kohl rabi, the vegetable de nos jours.
A main course of hake managed to present this notoriously wet fish without its usual pool of juice, thus retaining all its flavour. I’d love to be able to do this at home, although without the buttermilk foam which we felt may not have added a whole lot to the dish which also included hefty girolles (or chanterelles as I like to call them), small, sweet mussels and al dente ribbons of courgette.
Because I grow courgettes at home I like to stuff the flowers with things like ricotta and basil, dip them in tempura batter and fry them until crisp. It’s quite an indulgence.
So I was disappointed when my stuffed courgette flower turned up unbattered and unfried. But then I ate it and I could taste the actual flower along with the rather unusual potato and goat’s cheese filling that was much better than it sounds.
I stood corrected. And, anyway, there was more of the spud and cheese mixture in a breadcrumbed and crisped sphere which was fine. A carrot, roasted, did an uncanny impression of a sausage, carrot purée was silky, buttery and properly carrotty, while little discs of pickled carrot where far too sweet for comfort. An egg yolk and untoasted pine nuts hung around in the centre of all this, wondering what to do and feeling awkward. So, some good elements but a bit too random to work as a coherent dish.
At the pudding stage, Craft fired the booster rockets and the eating experience went into a different orbit altogether with a shared dish of dark chocolate mousse, cherries, ice cream and fragments of amaretti biscuits. This was one of the best desserts I’ve had in ages, perfectly planned and balanced, every flavour and texture working in concert.
With a bottle of excellent Spanish white wine, two large bottles of mineral water and a side salad of gem lettuce our bill nudged just above €100.