LOCKS REACHES NEW HEIGHTS
“All the talking, if you like, is done on the plate.”
1 Windsor Terrace
Phone: 01 416 3655
Irish Daily Mail
24 March 2018
Locks enjoys the distinction of being one of only two restaurants in these islands from which I’ve been thrown out. The other is a long-vanished London establishment which was once under the baton of Conrad Gallagher; he was quite polite but firm.
My experience at Locks - when it was under different ownership – was less civil, but that’s all water under the canal bridge now. The lovely, old-fashioned and cosy dining room at Locks enjoys a rather lovely view of Dublin’s Grand Canal. It’s one of my favourite dining rooms anywhere.
Rumour had it that Locks, always good in recent times, was surpassing itself thanks to the arrival of a new chef, Chris Maguire who has been in the stellar kitchens of Chapter One in Dublin and in both The Ledbury and Trinity in London. So, after my recent run of unfortunate luck, I decided to explore its promise. I can report that Locks is now one of the best places to eat in the capital. The food is all about serious talent and discipline, nothing out of place or redundant, clever but not smartypants.
They were too substantial to be called nibbles so I’ll have to break with my taboo and use the phrase “pre-starters” to describe an ethereal whipped chicken liver parfait with crisp apple and a deconstructed pig’s trotter encased with crisp breadcrumbs on a bed of sharp fermented white cabbage. On the menu they appear under the over-modest heading of “snacks”. Both demonstrated very clearly how dinner was going to go.
Wild garlic soup was stunningly, startlingly green, luminously so, and it had a similarly intense flavour. Loosely liquid in texture, no thickening, it was a kind of essence of the plant. Within it lay two agnolotti, little parcels of silky pasta containing light, delicate, smoked potato. I know that sounds impossible but it wasn’t. Simple, inspired, quite brilliant.
Quail, cooked pink and moist, deconstructed and served with earthy celeriac and hazelnuts, seemed a relatively straightforward dish until the flavour of cumin – just enough – kicked in and made it complex.
Tempted as we were by mutton – my first sighting of it on a Dublin menu – I had to have the gnocchi for sentimental reasons. The review that got me thrown out of Locks’ previous incarnation involved a truly awful dish of pumpkin gnocchi. On this occasion, they were from a different solar system: small, so light they threatened to defy gravity, served with winter chanterelles, chestnuts and a soft-yolked egg. The elements demanded to be mixed up messily and consumed in concert, so I did.
Impeccably cooked cod was cleverly paired with intensely savoury, meaty chicken juices – something that works brilliantly with a lot of seafood – while further substance and a marine, mineral tang came with sweet little mussels. Violet artichoke, pleasant enough, seemed a little out of place, adding little or nothing to the jollity of the affair. But did we care? Of course, not.
A pre-dessert featuring coconut cream, lime and passionfruit was arrestingly full of those concentrated flavours and, following a theme, gossamer light. And ‘tis far from pre-desserts we were rared, we agreed.
The menu reads in the fashionably staccato style of a telegram (which I find often indicates good food to come; economy in words seems to go with thoughtful cooking). And so the bald description “rhubarb and custard” looked promising.
Did it deliver? Of course it did. This was a fabulous reimagining of a childhood favourite, the custard like velvet and marvellously custardy, and a dish in itself, the rhubarb’s sharpness thrown into even sharper relief by being turned into granita.
Our other pud, so to speak, was savoury: a generous chunk of Coolattin Cheddar, one of the strongest and most impressive of our own hard cheeses, and the creamy yet umami-ish Boyne Valley Blue.
This is immensely skilled and disciplined cooking based on exceptional raw materials. And it’s done and served with no fuss, no bells and whistles. All the talking, if you like, is done on the plate.
The bill, including mineral water, a bottle of Portuguese red wine and coffees, came to €124.