GREAT BARS AND STEAK AT THE GRAYSON,
BUT LAY OFF THE BELLS AND WHISTLES, PLEASE.
41 St Stephen’s Green
Phone: 01 683 3680
Irish Daily Mail
20 October 2018
The Grayson on St Stephen’s Green, an establishment featuring lavish amounts of fashionably dark grey paint, used to be the kind-of-private members’ club, Residence. Once upon a time, this was where the exceptionally talented Graham Neville cooked like a culinary angel; he now does the same round the corner, in Pembroke Street, at Dax.
But now, all is changed, changed utterly. I’m not sure about a terrible beauty being born, but The Grayson, now part of the Press Up group (think Sophie’s, Roberta’s, Tomahawk, and the like) feels more accessible than Residence once was. The food is less ambitious but Press Up being brilliant at creating lovely spaces and impressive bars, the efforts of the kitchen are only part of what this place is about.
The Grayson is a textbook example of the restaurant (and bar, of course) as entertainment. It’s not about haute cuisine, certainly, and the food is probably not actually meant to take centre stage. Having said that, the dinner we had there was moderately good; restrained and tempered in parts, over-complicated in others.
But anyway, the bars. There’s one – of varying size – on each level of this tall, narrow, Georgian building, from the large, airy Atrium in the basement to the cosy, snug one on the low-ceilinged top floor. They are all impressive, glossy, beautifully designed, the kind of bars that don’t scream Heineken or Guinness but more Manhattans and dirty martinis.
We enjoyed a well-assembled Negroni and an unleaded cocktail based on the Seedlip non-alcoholic spirits. (Yes, I know, but they are a thing, and not bad either).
Our table for dinner overlooked Stephen’s Green in what some commentators are inclined to describe as “an iconic” way, and that was rather lovely, tucking into dinner as the evening light declined over the Shelbourne and Wolfe Tone.
It was not The Grayson’s fault that the nearby table of four alpha males became so unbearably loud that we didn’t even think of lingering. However, the lack of self-awareness was a form of entertainment in itself.
To starters. Slices of roast pork belly, very tender but slightly waxy in texture from reheating, came with a croquette of “pulled” pork in which tenderness, crunch and flavour combined pleasingly. But the star of this dish was the tender Puy lentils bathed in just enough savoury jus (with a little bacon). Crunchy, peppery watercress provided a foil to the richness while dots of a kind of sharp unsweetened orange curd were a flourish too far.
However, this starter was no hardship to eat. Nor was the halloumi, grilled perfectly (which is a rarity, to be honest), cut in strips and served with a lot of crushed smoked almonds with proper tomatoes drizzled with a kind of loose pesto. It ate well, as they say, while coming across as maybe a bit too complicated for its own good.
The same could be said of the pan-fried halibut which in itself was delicious as were the nduja ratte potatoes. Ratte is the variety, by the way. Towards the end of the eating, this combination of spud and Calabrian spicy sausage threatened a coup d’état and the overthrow of the fish. At which point the crisp, salty samphire and rather redundant toasted sweetcorn were getting lost.
With a dish like this, less is more. Oh, and I forgot to mention the okra, or ladies’ fingers. I suppose it seemed like a good idea at the time. This dish needs to be reduced to its essentials and maybe a couple of clever twists. At most.
By contrast, a rib-eye steak was spot on. Cooked, as it always should be, medium-rare to retain juiciness but to break down some of its connective tissue, it came with just a sensitively dressed salad of rocket topped with a frizzy hair-do of fluffy Parmesan and some decent chips that had not been gussied up (I now know that all restaurants in the Press Up Group make their own chips from scratch, something of which they are justifiably proud). With its accompanying glass of Rioja, this was just right; no shouting for attention, no redundant elements, just good food allowed to speak for itself.
We called it a day at this stage but for one portion of brown bread ice cream for the companion. It wasn’t bad and the coffee was good.
The Grayson is a pretty impressive place and while the food is fine, I have a feeling that it will get better as the kitchen gains confidence. There are certainly elements that inspire confidence. The bill, with wine, came to €128.95.
(My niece was working here at the time, but I visited on her night off).