16 St Stephen’s Green
Phone: 01 676 3144
Irish Daily Mail
28 November 2015
Most restaurants have a personality. I suppose it’s the sum of the parts: the menu, the style of cooking, the furniture, the décor, the welcome inside the door (or lack of it, on occasion). And there are the little details like the pictures on the walls, the way the waiting staff dress, the presence or absence of stubble or hipster beards.
There are also the intangibles: is this a sense of hospitality or of entitlement? Is there a real desire to make people feel comfortable, especially if they are not used to eating out? Is there a sense of enthusiasm or drudgery in getting the customer fed.
Doubtless, there’s more to it than that, but I think those ingredients, by and large, add up to a restaurant’s personality.
Peploe’s is a famous city centre restaurant. It’s always busy, they import all of their own wine, it’s in a rather cosy basement and it ticks plenty of boxes. But its personality eludes me.
I suspect this has more to do with the customers than with the restaurant itself. I have a feeling that a lot of them are not interested in food (and that’s quite common, to be fair) but are drawn to the location and the cosiness. There’s a bit of a buzz too.
Last time I ate here, it was not a happy experience and it has taken me almost ten years to return. On balance, I’m glad that I did because it’s much better than I’d anticipated. There’s a kind of solidity to Peploe’s, a sort of undramatic dependability that puts me in mind of the old Dobbins in the days of John O’Byrne.
Service was brisk and efficient rather than warm but full marks to our waiter who, seeing us mulling over the wine list, said “May I make a suggestion? I’ve looked at your order and I think this Buzet would do very well…”
And it did. Peploe’s list is not cheap but this €30 bottle of red was an inspired suggestion.
The food varied. A starter of squid with chorizo and quinoa sounded curious. In reality it was ok: the squid had been seasoned with smoked paprika, the quinoa with which it had been partly coated failed to crisp and the chorizo had been warmed through rather than charred. All in all, it was an oily affair but pleasant enough.
Crab tortellini (“handmade” and with scallops that were as undetectable as they were unnecessary) came in a creamy sauce and tasted adequately of crab.
Main courses were in a somewhat different league. The ubiquitous confit duck leg was crisp outside and moist inside (it’s amazing how many restaurants get this wrong, although most buy them in ready to finish in the oven). It came with a tangy little kumquat jam, tart and not too sweet. So, a kind of duck à l’orange for our times. Celeriac purée and a dark, intense jus were good but a kind of croquette of boudin noir, the earthy French take on our own black pudding, was the star.
Pheasant was as moist as such a dry bird can be and served, in its own way, to remind us of how bland chicken is these days. It came with a combination of mushrooms and guanciale, a kind of superior pancetta, and the tart tang of cranberries.
I get to eat chocolate fondant pudding at home on a regular basis because one of my daughters cracked the recipe and the technique when she was still at school. Like most people, I like the way the sponge-like exterior is parted to reveal the molten core and I like the way it combines with good vanilla ice cream. At Peploe’s, it did all of those things very well.
Three cheeses, unnamed but including, I think, Gubbeen and Cashel Blue, were all in good shape and came with a very generous dollop of fig jam, grapes and water biscuits.
Hundreds of people will descend on Peploe’s for their pre-Christmas lunches and outings and I expect they won’t be disappointed. We agreed that our lunch had been pleasant if rather unexceptional, perhaps a little old fashioned (not that there’s any harm in that) and sound rather than exciting.
I suppose the point is that there’s a need for places like Peploe’s. It keeps a wide range of people perfectly happy while not aspiring to Michelin stars.
Our bill, with aperitifs and mineral water, came to €123.50.