AMBITIOUS PRICES AND RANDOM FOOD:
MY VISIT TO DUBLIN'S HUGE NEW RESTAURANT
1 Essex Street East
Phone: 01 616 9612
Irish Daily Mail
29 July 2017
I’m hopelessly out of step. For me, restaurants are all about the food. If the food is good enough I’ll put up with hideous décor and rude staff. Equally, if a restaurant is beautiful and staffed by beautiful and pleasant people, that’s not enough for me. I don’t want dull food politely served to me in lovely surroundings.
Well, what of Roberta’s? It seems to have been very busy since its recent opening and it’s all over social media. It is, it would appear, the essential place in which to see and be seen at the moment in our nation’s capital.
The bar is big and so is the restaurant. Vast, I decided. And having clocked this I then discovered that there’s another restaurant area on the other side. Roberta’s is humungous.
Looking the menu, two things strike me. Either the kitchen is a bit undecided as to what to do or they have a curious notion of what punters are looking for. And the prices. They are a bit rich, for wine as well as food.
It was good to see a starter of duck hearts, less good to eat them. Duck hearts can be tough little nuggets of offal but they need to be cooked a little pink if you want to have any bit of moisture left in them. The accompanying sesame, chilli, coriander kohl rabi remoulade and smoked mayonnaise seemed to be confused, indecisive, perhaps composed by sticking a pin at random into a list of stuff you can eat. And it was a slaw, not a remoulade.
Potstickers, a tribute to gyoza dumplings, were a lot better and marginally less confused. Filling such dumplings with slow-cooked oxtail is an interesting thing to do, and surprisingly successful as it turned out. And I suppose adding pickled ginger, normally confined to a supporting role with sushi, is not wildly inappropriate given that gyoza are originally Japanese. Whether it added to the dish, I think not. But the umami rich braising juices were so good I drank them from the bowl. Politely.
Orecchiette is one of my favourite pasta shapes, little “ears” of dough, quite thick and resilient, nicely shaped for good uptake of sauce. Here they were served intriguingly – this is becoming a bit of a pattern, right? – with roasted pork mince, chicken sauce and Swiss chard. That menu description was not selling it to me but my niece, a better man than I am, Gunga Din, thought it worth a punt.
It wasn’t. For a start combing pork mince with what seemed like chicken gravy with a touch of Pot Noodle (no, I’m sure they have a way of achieving this effect) turned out to be just as bizarre as it sounds. The Swiss chard may have been there somewhere but what impressed us most – and not in any kind of good way – was the saltiness of this dish. Any hoping of detecting actual taste – perhaps a strangely beautiful if implausible mingling of pork mince and chicken gravy – evaporated in the presence of what seemed like a large portion of the Dead Sea. And the pasta was overcooked.
A salad of old-fashioned, sorry heritage, tomatoes was very good.
As a somewhat dull yin to my niece’s yang, I had the pizza special. It sounded good and, for once, not random or simply crazy. It came with Cashel Blue cheese, prosciutto and fresh fig. Singular. In fact, I’m not sure it came with an entire fig. A certain amount of fig, thinly sliced and under-ripe adorned the cheesy topping along with not quite enough swags of ham.
I don’t know why a restaurant like this serves pizza in a city where there are masters of the craft like The Yarn, Cirillo’s, Paulie’s and Gotham to name but a handful. Roberta’s pizza, on this outing at least, was distinctly unmemorable.
On the other hand, puddings were good: a lemon curd-based affair and a proper ice cream sundae with chocolate sauce and caramel. And service was charming if a little slow in parts.
Our bill, with aperitifs a modest bottle of wine and no coffees, pushed northwards of €140.