‘HAVE I EVER BEEN MORE TEMPTED
TO LICK A BOWL IN PUBLIC? RARELY.’
78 Thomas Street
Phone: 085 177 1805
Irish Daily Mail
12 January 2018
I can’t help thinking of friends in London at present, those who are traumatised – to say the least – by the chaos that seems to attend to whole Brexit business. And I have to say I was thinking of London when I ate in this week’s restaurant.
The food at Variety Jones, the new place from Keelan Higgs (think Luna and Locks), is very London; but not in the West End, Mayfair sense. Variety Jones is much more in the vein of places like the red hot Brat or St Leonard’s in Shoreditch and I have to wonder now if Dublin 8 and Dublin 7 is now our Shoreditch. Or, to put it more prosaically, the new Dublin 2 for food.
Not that Variety Jones is in any way derivative. It shares with these cutting edge restaurants a great respect for brilliant raw materials and very straightforward cooking, occasionally over fire. But there is more to it, a certain “art concealing art” that reminds me more of our own Forest Avenue, Forest & Marcy and Canteen in Celbridge. In other words, where deceptively simple food gets a highly complex fillip in the kitchen.
I brought my devil’s advocate companion for this one. And here’s a spoiler alert. I absolutely bloody loved it and she was enthusiastic too, but her comments are worth repeating.
It’s a very small menu, so you might not find what you like on it. And the portions, for the most part, are small, so macho appetites should look elsewhere. If you want starter, main course and dessert, it doesn’t really work like that. And nobody will ever say “I could murder a steak; let’s go to Variety Jones”.
Anyway, to table. “Snacks” were oysters with a gentle, subtle Vietnamese dressing, and all of the Summer freshness of cucumber smack in the middle of Winter. And crispy artichoke skins, slightly sweet, gloriously caramelised and chewy, filled with melted cheese. I will try – and fail – to reproduce these at home.
Then a dish baldly described as “grilled cauliflower, burnt yeast, trout, brown butter” which was, perhaps, the dish of the night. The slice of cauliflower was just cooked through, the intriguing “burnt yeast” was a creamy affair of almost unbelievable savouriness (no idea how they do this), the trout presented in what I can only describe as petals of flesh cooked just a nanosecond beyond transparent, all topped with popping little balls of trout roe. This was an exquisite, jewel-like dish. Have I ever been more tempted to lick a bowl in public? Rarely.
Then a plate with disparate elements that somehow came together in a glorious synthesis, the old (but very rare) more-than-the-sum-of-its-parts thing.
This was billed as ravioli of Comté, that under-rated cheese that combines deep savouriness with a kind of fruity sweetness. The little pasta packets were tiny but acted as depth charges of taste along with the rest of the elements: chanterelles, both fresh and pickled, thin slices of mushroom, both cooked and raw, and a creamy emulsion that gathered all the other elements together in a long, savoury embrace. Perfectly balanced, it could so easily have been too rich. There was a subtle alchemy going on here.
And then on to the main course, designed for sharing: a whole black sole on the bone, cooked to the point where the tiny veins were still red and the flesh didn’t part from the skeleton with worrying ease. It lay under a layer of little, juicy mussels and salty cockles which somewhat dominated its delicacy. Is that a criticism? Perhaps a mild one, but not a complaint.
Cavolo nero, smoky and crunchy, was the supporting act. So much more than a kale, we agreed. And a remarkable warm potato salad enriched with little nuggets of smoked eel. Exactly like you don’t do at home.
We decided to defer dessert until next time. Because, although Variety Jones is not for everyone, it’s certainly for me, so there will be a next time. Soon.
The bill, with mineral water and three glasses of wine, came to €118.