OUTSTANDING WINE OUTLET NEEDS
A LITTLE MORE SWAGGER IN THE KITCHEN.
The Silver Tassie
Phone: 01 901 1144
Irish Daily Mail
14 April 2018
I have to admit it. My heart sank when I saw the menu.
And I had been so looking forward to this: dinner in the new restaurant that forms part of what may well be the city’s best wine retailer. I could spend hours, days even, browsing the shelves here, and a great deal of money too, despite the very fair prices. Whelehans is my idea of heaven.
Perhaps you will understand when I say that it’s quite a long menu. Short and to-the-point is generally a better idea. And I should mention a tendency to cater for all, to cover all the bases. There’s a tomato bruschetta (a bit early in the year, perhaps?), a chicken salad, warm Thai beef salad, arancini with sundried tomatoes (bringing us back to the 1980s), pork belly (now compulsory in virtually all restaurants) and… a vegetable stack. Those two words usually have me taking to my heels.
But wait! On closer examination, this is a menu that could do rather lovely things. If a potted crab is done properly, there are few better starters. Boeuf Bourgignon, again when done properly, is a thing of joy. Scallops with black pudding? A modern classic.
And, so, we decided to stay. We were glad that we did, glad to have our fears assuaged.
Potted Lambay crab, lying in a ramekin beneath a roof of rosemary-scented clarified butter, was very good. It came with a spicy celeriac remoulade, and toasted sourdough (a better choice than what the menu promised, ciabatta). Simple, bistro food done well, no messing about. We liked it.
As we did the scallops, plump, sweet and cooked just right (none of your fashionable but silly raw-in-the-middle nonsense). They were paired with Clonakilty black pudding which was, of course fine, but there are lots of other black puddings, smoother and richer which would be better in this context. Sweet pea purée had me thinking of the scented flowers but of course it was a green, sweet purée of peas, a classic accompaniment for scallops. The red pepper salsa was good as such things go but it wasn’t really needed.
Onward unto main courses and dishes chosen for their apparent simplicity because we were taking advantage of the vast and very fairly priced wine selection. We were sharing a bottle of Bordeaux cru bourgeois with enough age to be properly interesting. In this context we didn’t want any messing about with the food.
What better then than a fillet steak? What am I saying? Any kind of steak generally has more flavour than a fillet but this was what my companion chose. And it was good, cooked as ordered (medium-well), served with French beans and a slab of good dauphinoise potato. It was fine but in a restaurant that is steeped, figuratively speaking, in great wines, you really want your steak with skinny chips and freshly-made Béarnaise sauce, in the true bistro tradition. And I’m not suggesting for a moment that this is easy to pull off.
The boeuf Bourgignon was good. Rich, tender meat in its own wine-rich gravy, perhaps with a little too much tomato. Julia Child’s recipe is one of the best, and she’s quite strict about this ingredient. BB should not have the kind of faintly oompa-loompa hue that this one had, but it tasted fine.
It, too, came with a slab of dauphinoise which, good as it was, didn’t fill the gap left by what most of us always expect with this dish: creamy, buttery mashed potato which is, so to speak, in season at this time of the year.
Puddings were simple and sound. There was a more than adequate sticky toffee pudding and a perfect crème brulée. Tempted as we were by the pear and almond tart we were thinking “What? In April?”
I’d like to see this kitchen become more adventurous and less focused on being all things to all people. A look at what the more exciting Dublin restaurants are doing right now would pay dividends. For all the sound cooking – and it’s sound rather than exciting – there’s room for a bit of swagger, for a boundary or two to be gently pushed.
But, having said that, we had a good time. The bill, with a bottle of wine I could never have contemplated in a “normal” restaurant, mineral water and coffees, weighed in at €138.90.