31 North Brunswick Street
Dublin 7
Phone: 01 671 9420

Irish Daily Mail
6 May 2017

I’ve often been told that people like reading bad reviews and I suspect there may be some truth in this. I have to admit that I love when Marina O’Loughlin in The Guardian skewers one of London’s more pretentious restaurants; I cheered when Jay Rayner described in borderline obscene terms the sheer awfulness of one of the most expensive places in Paris because I knew, from personal experience, how right he was.

However, none of us actually go looking for unpleasant experiences. They simply present themselves every now and then. In fact, I actively seek out good things because… well, because I think that people who are trying hard, often against the odds, deserve a bit of recognition.

And so it came about that I was keeping an eye on Lavanda, a little restaurant in north inner city Dublin that I first encountered on Twitter. And then Abie Philbin-Bowman confirmed for me that it was somewhere to visit. Simple and very good is essentially what he said and so it proved when I rolled up there one cold evening a couple of weeks back having walked up the quays from the Dart.

The shocking thing was that I was the only customer. It was early in the week, I know, but when several overpriced and rather rubbishy restaurants closer the the city centre were rocking, Lavanda was empty but for me.

I realise that North Brunswick Street is a bit off the map for most people – I had to resort to Google Maps for guidance – but the sense of hospitality in Lavanda is reason enough go. And you stay for food.

Kitty Zhao, who is originally Chinese, is in charge of the kitchen and her partner, Robert Velic, who grew up in Croatia, are amongst the New Irish who are doing great things, very quietly and very effectively.

One aspect of the meal I ate at Lavanda was a personal first, but we’ll come to that shortly.

I started with little filo parcels of that modern classic combination: Cashel Blue cheese and walnuts. They were drizzled with just enough honey to provide the sweetness that makes the nuts and this glorious blue cheese really sing. And to add contrast, some poached pear, fanned out on the plate. Simple? Yes, like a lot of the best things it certainly was. And also delicious, a combination of crunch, salt, sweet, earthy, wholesome.

And then came a fine risotto, a dish so often misunderstood and traduced that I tend to avoid it. I’ve been making risotto since before we even had the right rice in this country and I’ve sat at the feet – metaphorically speaking - of Valentina Harris and Marcella Hazan in order to learn how to do it properly.

This one was a triumph, albeit devoid of any bells and whistles. It featured peas and little cubes of Croatian ham and – an inspired touch – a new take, for me at any rate, on gremolata that involved flat leaved parsley, garlic and lemon juice rather than the usual zest.

On top of this sat a perfectly soft poached egg which, when sliced, poured its yellow yolk all over the richness of the rice, all together sharpened and counterbalanced by the gremolata. Sheer, unadulterated pleasure.

And then a pause in which to consider something sweet to finish. This was to deliver my personal first. My starter had enough sweetness but also a delightful savoury touch of umami so I decided to have it one more time.

There used to be a tradition of finishing a meal with a “savoury”, something that is still done in some of the grander clubs of Pall Mall in London: things like a slice of Welsh rarebit with Lea and Perrins Worcestershire Sauce or prunes wrapped in bacon and then grilled. It’s a great idea, a palate cleanser of a sort.

And so it proved. I had a “savoury” (with plenty of sweetness) in place of pudding.

With mineral water, two glasses of wine and very good coffee, the bill came to €67.