The Little Kitchen
129 Upper Leeson Street
Phone: 01 669 7844
Irish Daily Mail
23 April 2016
Maybe nobody had tasted the soup. That’s the only explanation I can think of for something so bland getting to a customer. I mean, it was billed as Thai chicken soup and the reason people order Thai chicken soup is perhaps not so much for the chicken as the lemongrass, galangal, ginger, chilli and maybe even a few coriander leaves.
The soup that turned up at our lunchtime table appeared to contain just chicken and coconut milk, with a few bits of carrot and broccoli, the former pair being solid building blocks of Thai chicken soup but not even half the story. The soup itself, largely white and beige, tasted of chicken and of coconut milk. This is not one of the world’s classic flavour combinations for the simple reason that the two don’t go very well together in the absence of some serious competing tastes, not least the heat of chilli and the tang of lime juice, to say nothing of the salty umami savouriness of nam pla, the Thai fish sauce.
Anyway, the story of our Thai chicken soup is a mystery. As I say, I expect it had been thrown together in the course of the morning and nobody had tasted it in time for lunch. Maybe somebody was expected to add all the other flavours at some point and had forgotten (although this is not a good way of making soup).
But the real mystery is that a kitchen, little or otherwise, could produce a soup like that while the rest of our lunch was way above average.
Take the other starter, a risotto of pancetta, Gorgonzola and “soft herbs” (i.e. ones with soft rather than woody stems, it’s a cheffy term) that came in a little skillet. Risotto is the measure of any restaurant; it’s one of those dishes that too many chefs think are easy and then proceed to destroy. Not here. The texture was perfect, each grain of rice having, if you like, its separate identity without committing the cardinal sin of being chalky or gritty in the centre, the creaminess was spot on, the Gorgonzola payload was substantial and therefore lovely. I’m not sure you would get a better risotto anywhere, and I don’t say that lightly.
Fish pie was more mundane, containing haddock and coley and rather more carrot than was necessary for pure pleasure but it had a smoky, creamy attraction in a kind of homely, slightly crude kind of way. The piped potato on top was a nicely retro touch.
Carrots must have been cheap in the market that morning because they made another appearance in a dish of grilled salmon, this time in the form of a rather good, nicely buttery purée. The salmon was cooked commendably á point instead of being fashionably underdone. Little dollops of wild garlic purée made a good seasonal flourish.
A dessert of boozy berries with lemon curd cheesecake, was deconstructed and packed into one of those little preserving jars – something that belongs with serving stuff on slates, boards and miniature shopping trolleys. It’s not going to impress anyone at this stage. The cheesecake, however, must have been good because my companion, a restaurateur, scoffed the lot before I noticed.
The cheese selection was worth the €4 supplement. There was ripe Brie, less ripe Cooleeney, Cashel Blue, good cheddar along with slices of crisp green apple, some black grapes and what I think was apricot chutney. I wish more restaurants did this as a matter of course.
With three glasses of wine, a couple of coffees and mineral water our bill came to just over €80.
The Little Kitchen, I understand, is related to the Vintage Kitchen in Poolbeg Street, that delightfully mad little restaurant where the cooking is as eclectic as the brilliantly retro décor and the vinyl on the record player. This is much more staid, perhaps more in tune with the Upper Leeson Street clientele.
It’s small, bright and service is warm and charming. The Little Kitchen is certainly the basis of a very pleasant neighbourhood restaurant.
The competition, however, is going to get stiffer at the end of this month when Forest & Marcy opens just up the street. This satellite of Sandy and John Wyer’s brilliant Forest Avenue will be run by Ciaran Sweeney, a seriously talented veteran of the cutting edge pop-up scene.
The Dublin gastro gnomes, as I think of them, will be beating a path to that particular door. The Little Kitchen’s clientele will probably be a bit steadier and less swayed by fashion.