HEY DONNA, I’M NOT SURE I’D STAND ON MY HEAD FOR YOU BUT I’D EAT HERE AGAIN...
137 Lower Rathmines Road
01 491 3731
Irish Daily Mail
25 November 2017
My barber, Ibrahim, not only manages occasionally to tame my unruly hair but is also a very keen home cook and a fund of information on North African food.
I was talking to him the other day about baba ghanoush, the smoky aubergine dish that is best eaten scooped up on pitta or a flatbread. I said that I could never make it as smooth and as silky as the sort you get in so many Middle Eastern restaurants in Dublin.
“Oh,” he said. “There’s a very simple reason for that. It all comes out of the same tin.”
Well, you live and learn. I learned last week in Hey Donna, Joe Macken’s new Rathmines restaurant, that they make their own. No tin there.
I mean, it’s got recognisable strands of aubergine flesh in it. It has real texture and what it lacks in smoke flavour it makes up for in other ways, not least the sweet, acidic tang from pomegranate seeds. Charring individual aubergines isn’t really a runner in a busy restaurant; I suspect Hey Donna just roasts them in the oven, and there’s no great harm in that.
Anyway, it was a good baba ghanoush and so was the labneh, essentially strained yoghurt topped with a nutty mixture of spices (dukkah, I think). Both were mopped up with excellent flatbread.
These two little dishes appear on the menu under the compelling heading “Feed Me Now, This Minute!” and in those simple terms they acquitted themselves very well indeed.
The menu gets a bit twee thereafter. From “Garden”, we chose “ember baked beets, sheep yoghurt & fennel, pistachio”, long cooked, a little smoky. Are these little beetroots naturally this sweet? My own home-grown ones are not. I suspect the addition of sugar because they were a little cloying and the sharpness of the yoghurt couldn’t cut the sweetness. The crushed pistachios, emerald green, were great.
Roast cauliflower – bang on trend if such things exercise you – was tender and thoroughly caramelised but the accompanying roast pepper sauce in which it sat was as sweet as some desserts. What this otherwise well-conceived dish needed was the sharpness of lemon or sumac and a heavy hand with salt.
A special of long green Turkish peppers, which looked like very ambitious chillis, were reminiscent of the Spanish padron peppers in taste and texture and also the sense of playing Russian roulette with the heat scale; most were sweet and delicious, one was nuclear, all pleasantly charred on the “grille”.
From the section of the menu headed “Grille” (for some reason), came good, meaty, coarsely textured garlic sausages for which I’d happily travel. They were joined by finely shredded red cabbage, thrillingly acidulated with vinegar and with an occasional strand of red hot chilli. A perfect combination.
Short rib of beef was so tender that it could be pulled into strands of meat at the table. Subtle spicing made it so much better than this now fashionable cut often is when subjected to American barbecue style cooking.
From the “Absolute necessities” part of the menu we had smoky fried potatoes which were properly crisp and topped with a generous payload of completely fresh finely chopped red onion, coriander and chilli. We also had a small ramekin of thinly sliced cucumber with almost an equal quantity of roughly chopped dill which were masquerading as “pickles”. And cost, like the spuds, €3. Pull the other one.
There’s one pudding, a “whip” of the day which involves cream and yoghurt expelled under pressure from one of those flask-like devices you see on Masterchef and the like. Our one was flavoured with lemon, honey and bay leaf syrup, topped with excellent crushed pistachios. It was ethereally light, delicious and palate cleansing. A clever idea.
With below average coffee and variable wine, the bill came to €110 for more food than we managed to eat.
Hey Donna cannot be pigeon-holed (hence, I’m told, the rather random name). It’s Middle Eastern in parts but from next week it will be open all day and serving, inter alia, porridge for breakfast.
It was only open a couple of weeks when we visited and it needs, perhaps, a little more time to settle. It’s about big flavours and generosity and we need more of both in contemporary Ireland.