HOST STORY: IN WHICH I’M HAUNTED BY A FINE PORK CHOP BEING TRADUCED. BUT HAVE A GOOD TIME ALL THE SAME.
Phone: 01 561 2617
Irish Daily Mail
12 May 2018
I ate the best lemon tart on the planet last week. It would be unfair to go into drooling detail but suffice it to say that part of the secret is that slices of Sicilian lemon are cooked over charcoal before being blitzed with the rest of the ingredients.
You see, this was in London, Shoreditch to be precise, where the latest restaurant sensation – deservedly so – is Brat which happens to be above another celebrated Shoreditch establishment, the recently relocated Smoking Goat.
The reason I mention this (apart from encouraging you to try them, should you find yourself there) is that Host in Ranelagh struck me as having a somewhat London feel. London is, at present, probably the restaurant crossroads of the world, so I mean it as a compliment.
The chef here, like Barry FitzGerald of Bastible, was at the Michelin-starred Draper’s Arms in Islington, and also the brilliant and ground-breaking Bocca di Lupo near Piccadilly Circus, the place that has been known to serve a dessert made from pig’s blood. So, not a coincidence.
This is a bright space and, as is becoming more common, filled with tables both high and low. We went high.
The menu is concise, not unlike a telegram, not much bigger than a post card, indeed. It’s about small plates, plates for sharing. So, bang on trend then.
And how was the eating?
Well, two little arancini of Cashel Blue – spheres of risotto around a core of cheese, coated in breadcrumbs and deep-fried – were decently savoury, both of them bedecked with fluffy Parmesan. Pumpkin cappellacci – they are a pasta speciality of the city of Ferrara, essentially hat-shaped ravioli – with sage and butter were better, combining some of my favourite things.
House-cured salmon was served with crunchy black radish and it was fine if a little apologetic and tame.
Pappardelle – broad ribbons of pasta – with duck ragu looked so delicious, promising the depth of flavour of long, slow cooking, glistening beneath some flecks of Parmesan – was… well… it was okay. Not bad. Not as good as it looked. And it had appeared to promise so much.
A rare breed pork chop turned out to be a fine piece of meat, cooked on the grill to the point where it was just done but retaining its moisture with a hint of pinkness, was topped with wilted wild garlic leaves, which was a good idea. Wild garlic leaves have an affinity with oil or butter and they deliver a massive payload of flavour, the kind of thing such a decent piece of meat will happily tolerate.
What wasn’t a good idea, at least as far as the pair of us were concerned, was drizzling honey over it. Here’s a properly meaty, intensely savoury dish and somebody thought it was clever to send it hurtling towards dessert-hood?
Of course, we live in a world where sweetness is dietary wallpaper. If you live on biscuits and sweets and Coca-Cola you’d probably quite like what was done to this otherwise blameless dish. I suspect this is a minority pursuit amongst Host’s customers.
Savouriness was fully restored by a generous dish of white asparagus – with a lovely mineral tang and right in season just now, topped with mustardy breadcrumbs. I would eat at Host for this alone.
Having left Host, strolling along Ranelagh, my guest suddenly asked “do you think they’re trying to be Etto?” (which, of course, I revisited here last week).
It’s a good question. The (considerably smaller) menu belongs to the same very broad part of the culinary sphere (a touch of Italian, a large dash of the cosmopolitan, careful cooking, apparent simplicity). Host is more emphatic in blurring the lines between what you might think of as a starter and a main.
However, and admittedly having eaten there only once, I don’t think the food is yet in the same league. But I have to say that I liked Host and we were highly impressed by the friendly, knowledgeable and enthusiastic service. It’s a place to which I’d happily return and it’s certainly a bonus for Ranelagh.
The bill, with wine, lots of mineral water and an espresso, came to €147.