1 Windsor Terrace
Phone: 01 416 3655
Irish Daily Mail
14 November 2015
The last time I was in Locks it was under different ownership. It had, bizarrely, received a Michelin star the previous day and I’d gone along to see what amazing transformation had been achieved since my previous visit.
On that occasion I had been served gnocchi that were truly appalling. To borrow a phrase from Marina O’Loughlin of The Guardian newspaper, they were Rosemary’s babyfood.
Anyway, on my return, I was thrown out by the owner, with the words “you are not welcome ‘ere,” echoing in my ears. It was a bit of watershed for me, largely on account of the sudden realisation that Michelin had gone bonkers; but not bonkers enough for Locks Bistro to retain the star the following year.
Anyway, it was good to be back. This is one of the most delightful dining rooms in the city for lunch (it commands a charming view of the canal) and it’s cosy at night.
Gone is the crisp napery and also, it transpired, the lacklustre cooking. Locks is now, as far as I can gather, stripping things back and doing them really well.
It’s the kind of simplicity that takes a lot of work, great raw materials and some very clear thinking. The new restaurant’s DNA involves Etto, Dax and The Greenhouse, which, to be honest, is about as reassuring as it gets.
And reassurance is what comes with the amuse bouche, four little spheres of smoked haddock, described on the snacks menu as fishcakes but, in reality, far removed from the picture that word inevitably conjures up. They were the size of ambitious marbles, crisp outside, creamy and intensely smoked haddocky, so to speak, inside. And they sat in a shallow puddle of oyster mayonnaise with a mineral tang. How reassuring is all that?
With the soup, which involved celery and lovage (a very clever combination) in a silky velouté and crisp filaments of apple, came the realisation that the kitchen here really understands flavour and the great Curnonsky’s injunction that everything should taste intensely of itself.
Our other starter, four oysters with a shallot vinaigrette, was fine, but in the ha’penny place compared to the soup. And the vinaigrette, frankly, was too sweet.
We shared a main course of chateaubriand because, well, because we could. How often do you get the opportunity? And, of course, it was chateaubriand with what my parents would have called “all the trimmings”; except the trimmings were clever and considered and added up to a meal in themselves.
These included the best duck fat chips I’ve had in years, possibly ever, and the only ones that were round. How cool is that? There were king oyster mushrooms (like oyster mushrooms fed anabolic steroids but much tastier than this implies), gossamer onion rings (oh, onion rings, let me count the ways I love thee…), a little, perfect, caramelised shallot and, the pièce de resistance, the oxtail.
This had been cooked very slowly (the only way), its juices reduced to a stick consistency, the meat reduced to filaments and the whole lot shaped into a little rugby ball. On top lay an incredibly thin layer of lardo, the cured pork fat of Colonatta in Tuscany; it had melted to the point of translucence. Sprouting broccoli, perfectly al dente, came with oodles of shiny, delicious Béarnaise.
This is the very definition of how I don’t cook at home; I have neither the skill nor the time. That’s what makes eating food like this such a pleasure. It’s the grown up equivalent of being let off the leash in a toy shop.
The chateaubriand itself – essentially the thicker part of the fillet – had been cooked at the rare end of the medium rare spectrum and was flawless but for a certain lack of flavour. I suppose the fillet is never the part that will deliver on sheer taste and, anyway, cattle are killed too young these days.
Anchovy hollandaise was an inspired final flourish. Fish with beef? Er… it doesn’t work like that. Anchovies are flavour enhancers in the same way as soya sauce and Parmesan. And we have them with lamb, so why not?
We finished with orange cake and brilliantly bitter marmalade ice cream (and, do you know, wonderful as that sounds it was even better in reality). Plus cheese, in excellent condition, with proper crackers and a fresh peach chutney (I think).
With mineral water and much excellent Portuguese wine, the bill came to €155.