NOT ONE, BUT TWO, RESTAURANT CRITICS WONDER WHAT
ALL THE FUSS IS ABOUT IN DUN LAOGHAIRE
9-12 Haddington Terrace
Phone: 01 280 0011
Irish Daily Mail
3 April 2019
What are the chattering classes of coastal South County Dublin exercised about these days? Well, it could be anything, from the entrance exam for Willow Park to whose husband has been carrying on with whose wife. It might even be a power struggle in Elm Park golf club, it all depends.
The focus of such attention, right now, however, is quite possibly a restaurant with a splendid view of Dun Laoghaire harbour. They speak of little else in the morning coffee queue at Avoca in Monkstown and in the parents' car park at Mount Anville. Actually, I made that bit up. I think.
Anyway, what is this is suburban restaurant of the moment?
Oliveto, an Italian restaurant in a seaside hotel, is the talk of the place, from the Merrion Gates to darkest Cabinteely. It has had several enthusiastic reviews in the newspapers but the clincher, for many of the yummy mummies and...er...dishy daddies (are they a thing?) is that the chef held a Michelin star in his previous berth.
And so, for the first time since the late Paolo Tullio and I used to scare the living daylights of Midland restaurateurs by turning up together unannounced for lunch, I ventured forth with a fellow critic. It's something that we had been promising to do for ages. And not an eyelid was batted, I'm happy to report, although my fellow toiler in the vineyard was quite choosy about where to sit.
The window seats, the manager explained, need to be booked three months in advance. The view is quite lovely, but seriously? I'm inclined to believe him.
There were several good things about our evening. Service was lovely, good humoured, attentive but not at all intrusive, first rate. A gin martini it seemed is not often ordered here but the one we got was absolutely spot on; a little dish of crisp baby calamari (with passable roasted garlic mayo) was pretty much as good as it gets. And it was good to see salsify, that rare root vegetable, on an Irish menu and we enjoyed its pairing with crisp green apple.
But, having said that, our efforts to see what all the actual fuss is about went pretty much unrewarded.
Our other starter made me wonder if it had been tasted in the kitchen. It comprised whipped ricotta with very mildly pickled pear, baked beetroot (red and yellow), burnt honey and toasted seeds and was more than half way to being a dessert. As a way to start dinner, it was simply too sugary, too bland, too unbalanced.
Blandness recurred. Potato and cheese agnolotti were a bit clumsy and, yes, distinctly lacking in flavour. When you put two carbs together, spud in a pasta packet in this case, you really need to be careful. The pasta has to be silky and delicate, and, well, it simply wasn't. And the packets, so to speak, need to underline the delicacy by being small; these were a shade too big.
To be fair, the potato element was suitably delicate, ethereal even, but the whole thing, even with €2.50 of optional pancetta added to a dish that already contained slivers of king oyster mushroom, came across as poorly thought through and a bit of a yawn.
Our other main course was a mixed bag and one that seriously underwhelmed my fellow critic. Taglioni - very delicate strands of pasta - in a lemony, buttery sauce were lovely; on top there was rainbow chard, again good to see on a menu, and pleasant toasted sourdough breadcrumbs adding texture. But little cubes - too little - of monkfish were thoroughly overcooked. Otherwise, for me, this was not a bad dish but not a hop-on-the-Dart must-eat dish.
We finished by sharing a cheeseboard, the star of which was spoonable Gorgonzola Dolce.
Thanks to the addition of several glasses of good wine the bill came to €139. We enjoyed a lengthy chat and catch-up and, in the heel of the hunt, isn't that a substantial part of the pleasure in eating together?