SUBURBAN SENSATION: SMALL BUT PERFECTLY
FORMED PLATES AT LITTLE MIKE'S
63 Deerpark Road
Phone: 01268 0377
Irish Daily Mail
25 May 2019
Michael's in Mount Merrion, once a rather jolly neighbourhood restaurant with an Italian accent, has become a destination for anyone in search great seafood. The transformation started just two years ago and was rapidly completed.
Chef Gaz Smyth insists on the best and the freshest when it comes to the creatures of the deep and Mrs Smyth works like a demon to ensure this. It's pretty well a full-time job, I'm told. And boy, is it worth it.
There's an intensity, a plumpness and certain magic to the crab claws, the lobster, the John Dory fillets and what have you. Seafood at Michael's reminds me of what Kurnonsky, the great food writer of the early twentieth century, said about... well, great food. That it must taste intensely of itself.
And that requires, not just impeccable raw materials but, also, a restraint in the cooking. Keeping it simple. Not mucking it about. Resisting the temptation to add bells and whistles.
Gaz has the confidence to know where to stop. A lesser chef, using lesser materials, would have to tart it up. Gaz, if anything, tarts it down.
The news that Gaz and his team were to open a wine bar with small plates was greeted with excitement but with a degree of scepticism. Michael's is known for its generosity; there are no half measures. How, we wondered, could Little Mike's resist the urge to bulk up those small plates?
Well, the generosity is still there but the plates are, indeed, modest, assembled with great care and orchestration of flavours and textures but always putting the main ingredient centre stage. We went when it had been functioning for only a few days and were enchanted.
So, what did we have? Naturally, the Lambay Island whelks in a ginger garlic and lemon butter on little pieces of toast. These are offered, for €6, on the basis that if you don't like them, you won't have to pay. We loved them and their butter, the butter providing the flavour, the whelk flesh the texture and a touch of briny taste.
There was the much sought-after acorn-fed Bellota jamon (€14), one of those delicacies that does, actually, melt in the mouth with a kind of buttery savouriness, along with 24-month aged Parmesan, some oiled and grilled open-textured bread and four little olives, redolent of cumin.
Then came an exquisite little piece of perfectly cooked turbot (€10) with just enough punchy salsa verde, followed by what the menu economically describes as "Fried Gruyère cheese with honey, onions" (€9) which was outstanding. Batons of cheese had been coated in breadcrumbs and deep-fried until the interior was molten, the whole lots drizzled with warm honey and served with both a sweet onion marmalade and dried caramelised onion. Oh what a dish!
Balscadden Bay (that's Howth, by the way) lobster with prawns and, in our case, squid (substituted for mussels for allergy reasons) comes in two sizes, at €16 and €32 respectively. We piled everything, bathed in its lovely beurre blanc sauce with chives, on to croutes of toast. Heaven.
Then came the umami-in-overdrive of the wild duck and mushroom arancini (€10.50) which are familiar to Michael's customers: dark, crunchy outside, melting and rich and fabulously savoury within.
After this, there was a change of gear and we went from this richness and earthiness to the delicacy and freshness of blue fin tuna tartare with an avocado purée and sesame dressing with tiny Thai prawn crackers (€12). This was both palate-cleansing and filling.
Little Mike's is a delight, with its bright open kitchen and bar, and dark, warm "snug" and food that revels in simplicity and freshness. Plus there's an extensive and very thoughtful wine list which has been compiled over the past three months by Talha Pasha.
This level of quality does not come cheap or without huge effort. And Little Mike's has just made life in Dublin that much better. For those who can manage to get a table!