51 Dawson Street
Phone: 01 679 8814
Irish Daily Mail
24 October 2015
Featherblade, a new restaurant on Dawson Street, is so cool that we thought it was closed. It was a question of the lighting; it’s a place that hides its light under a bushel, so to speak; or, more accurately, with highly opaque lampshades that direct a modicum of light on to each table.
If you’re afraid of the dark, it’s probably not for you. And if you’re a vegetarian, it’s definitely not for you (although there’s an occasional starter that would fit the bill). This restaurant is all about meat, specifically steaks and even more specifically, the cheaper cuts.
This is my kind of thing. You see, I’d rather eat a skirt steak than a fillet. It’s a question of flavour and, of course, how it’s cooked. When I tackle one of these steaks at home – skirt, flank, flatiron, what have you – I employ the age old technique of applying a lot of heat very quickly, then resting the meat for a few minutes and slicing it quite thinly across the grain.
It’s very simple and very effective. I salt the meat first, for about five minutes and this draws just enough of the juices to the surface to form that essential crust that spells, for me, a meaty treat.
The late Keith Floyd told me off for this years ago, on television, and the edit omitted my defence, based on experience, that it would take an awful lot of salt and a very long time to dry out a steak.
Anyway, Featherblade specialises in featherblade steaks, a cut that comes from the shoulderblade (I’ll admit I’d find it hard to point out exactly where). It’s cheap and it’s generally cooked slowly in a casserole.
Here they cook it slowly too, but at a very low temperature in a vacuum bag, the fashionable sous vide approach that is employed by many top restaurants, especially those that are influenced by Nordic trends and molecular gastronomy.
This means that the meat remains rare but the tough fibres are broken down and the cut becomes relatively tender. It can then be browned on a pan and served, of which more anon.
We started with “fish and crisps”, a fetching combination of cod goujons (think narrow fingers), encased in crisp panko crumbs and a portion of root vegetable crisps. In addition, there was an equally fetching salad of warm, creamy goat’s cheese with pleasantly dressed leaves and a correctly made romesco sauce (which is something of a rarity in Dublin) and toasted walnuts.
The steaks were identical, in theory, but a mixed bag in reality. One was distinctly tough and rather more “done” than the other which was juicy and moderately tender. They had both been sliced into about ten pieces and served with a little salad and some decent enough Béarnaise and a less successful peppercorn one.
Our gripe, apart from the toughness of one, was that finishing on the pan, to apply that essential browning, was not sufficient to get enough caramelisation on the outside. It’s all about something called the Maillard reaction, something that need not detain us here but I feel that traditional cooking (hot, fast) would produce a better result than the high-tech one used at Featherblade.
Side dishes were exceptionally good: first class chips had been cooked in beef dripping (a happy and a wholesome thought), a rich mac and cheese was made more decadent by being heavily scented with truffle oil, and creamed spinach with Parmesan was an exercise in savoury greenness.
We shared a slice of depressingly ordinary cheesecake to finish.
Featherblade is a new kind of restaurant, one that concentrates on a particular area of the culinary repertoire. I believe this kind of thing will be a big part of the future of restaurants but it’s brave to kick off in Dawson Street, a part of the capital not generally known for gastronomic radicalism.
There are generally three starters and three mains and a modest range of sides, so the kitchen can really concentrate on getting things right. But in a restaurant this focused, this specialised, you need to do more than get it right.
Our meal, bar the tough steak, was right. But it needs to be exceptional when the menu is this tight. Featherblade is only just over a month old and it’s good, even in the highly competitive context of Dublin 2. But it needs to be brilliant.
The bill, with aperitifs and a lovely Rioja, came to €120.