I HAVE A GOOD LUNCH IN DUBLIN 4 AND AM REMINDED,
BRIEFLY, OF CHARLIE HAUGHEY
8/9 Sussex Terrace
Upper Leeson Street
Phone: 01 538 8100
Irish Daily Mail
14 January 2017
It’s not often that I think of the late Charles Haughey, but in a roundabout kind of way he crossed my mind over lunch last week. The reason was the dish called Smokies.
This was in the Sussex, the restaurant above one of Dublin’s best loved pubs, O’Brien’s of Leeson Street. Gone is the slightly clubby décor with touches of the country house – I have an idea there were hunting prints on the walls – and now the place, low-ceilinged and quite cosy, feels like a very urban, cool gastropub.
It was recalling the previous décor with its country house references that put me in mind of the old rogue, the faux squire of Gandon’s Abbeville; it was the Smokies that reminded me of the other side of the man, the corrupt philanderer because Smokies were for many years one of the specialities of Le Coq Hardi on Pembroke Road where Haughey and Terri Keane would dine together, ususally in the private room upstairs.
Smokies, a humble dish of smoked haddock was, I suspect, far too humble for Haughey who had a penchant for foie gras and, infamously, ortolans. Ms Keane, by far the more socially secure of the pair, would have sought comfort in the simplicity of Smokies. I should have asked her on the one occasion when I was seated beside her at dinner. Instead, we talked, bizarrely, about schools and Champagne.
The pair drank Cristal, the champagne that is the first choice of the average rap artist these days and probably for the same reason: it’s very, very expensive so surely it must be good?; most of it is drunk far too young before its magnificent complexity emerges.
So, an apt symbol, perhaps, for the Haughey era.
All of this would have been paid for by that infamous AIB overdraft and, one supposes, the cheques and contributions (Haughey was far too up his own posterior to require a “dig out” like the styleless Bertie) from his various patrons, many of whom wore, one imagines, mohair coats. Or were they suits? I find it hard to imagine a mohair suit.
Anyway, what a pleasure it was to be reacquainted with Smokies; the chunks of smoked haddock were large and undyed, the tomatoes were cherries (and tasted of tomato, which is unusual) and the topping was pure melted cheese. It was simple, yet decadent (while the late Taoiseach was complex and decadent). It also avoided a common pitfall: being too salty. This something that is quite hard to judge in my experience (and I make this dish regularly at home).
Our other starter, squid rings, were tender, adequately crisp and came with a kind of roast pepper mayo. Our only complaint was that they were completely unseasoned. A very light addition of salt made a huge difference.
In the absence of Cristal, we had a couple of glasses of modest but more than adequate white wine; that’s just the way my friend Declan Gahan and I roll. Declan is a major supplier of meat to the restaurant industry (though not to The Sussex) and the authority to whom I turn on all matters butchery-related.
On this occasion he performed a forensic examination of my sausages, about which I had been enthusing, and declared them to be of quite superior quality. This was one of the specials of the day: two large sausages, fortified with herbs, nicely coarse in texture, surprisingly lean (about 75% meat we guessed) and deeply flavoured. They were served, again with admirable simplicity, with some mashed potato and plenty of grainy mustard sauce, creamy yet tart and spicy, a classic accompaniment executed with no frills or fripperies, just the way I wanted them.
My butcher companion, doubtless to get away from work, ordered seafood linguini, a dish that is occasionally a nightmare, frequently as dull as ditchwater and every now and then a simple – that word again!- masterpiece.
This was a textbook example of how it should be done. The pasta was perfectly al dente, the prawns and mussels were good, the clams exceptional little explosions of intense flavour, the liquid element, winey seafood stock with garlic and parsley was profound and, unlike the squid rings, perfectly seasoned.
In authentic Italian style as a seafood dish, it did not come with Parmesan.
The bill for this excellent lunch – no bells, no whistles, just good cooking and plenty of confidence – came to under €70 with two glasses of wine and a bottle of mineral water.