While You Were Eating: Stories You May Have Missed
Heron & Grey Emerges From Canteen: Anxious Hordes of South Dubliners Reassured
Discriminating diners in south Dublin (and beyond) were dismayed when Soizic Humbert and James Sheridan announced that they are moving on (specifically to somewhere closer to their home in Celbridge and more compatible with parenthood). However there seems to have been a seamless transition from Canteen to Heron & Grey with seasoned professionals Damien Grey in the (tiny) kitchen and Andrew Heron out front. I left it until early February to check it out and you can read my review here.
Suffice it to say, this little restaurant in the middle of a pretty tatty market, is quite brilliant. The barrios of Monkstown and Foxrock are quiet again.
Mercantile Group and Capital Bars Merge: Big Can Be Beautiful
A lot of people don’t realise that some of their favourite restaurants are under common ownership. Common ownership always seems to imply a kind of norm, a risk of corporate blandness, but the genius of the Mercantile Group is the nurturing of individual identity and character throughout the range of restaurants that they own. That’s one impressive achievement.
I mean, we’re talking about such diverse places as Pichet where Stephen Gibson still weaves his magic, Marcel’s where Matt Perry (formerly of Pichet and Bang Café has just taken over in the kitchen) and East Side Tavern on Lower Leeson Street where, inter alia, I first tasted sweet woodruff. How’s that for diversity?
Frank Gleeson’s Mercantile Group includes The Green Hen, Le Petit Parisien and The Mercantile on Dame Street from which it takes the name, and Opium, where Asian street food meets pub in a fun explosion of flavour.
A complete revamp and upgrade of Lost Society in the Powerscourt Centre is already underway and it is reported that Ronan Ryan, formerly of Town Bar & Grill and currently Counter Culture will be managing that establishment upon its relaunch.
Regime Change at Suesey Street: It Gets Even Better
Suesey Street was already making a new name for itself as a place that manages the difficult combination of a relaxed atmosphere with serious food when it was relaunched (having been Brasserie Le Pont) last year. It now has a new chef. Graeme Dodrill, formerly of Mulberry Garden in Donnybrook, has taken over the kitchen while John Healy, formerly of The Four Seasons (but better known as the maitre d’ on the television series The Restaurant, is front-of-house.
This is significant news. Suesey Street was very good to start with. Now, with two of the very best people in the business heading up the operation, it promises really great things.
The lunch offering is changing under the new regime and there will be more emphasis on catering for people who want to eat well but quickly and the informality is enhanced by the introduction of a landmark hamburger for €15.
It uses John Stone beef, Hegarty’s cheddar and Gubbeen bacon. Graeme Dodrill comments “if you’re going to make a burger, make it a great one.”
Oh how I wish other chefs would listen to this sage advice.
Other highlights from the lunch menu include a delicately clean Dunany Crab Salad at €12 with radish, lime crème fraiche, dill and kohlrabi. And there’s a proper, old-fashioned pork pie. When did you last see one of those in Dublin?
Bastible Brilliance: No Nepotism
Bastible, which opened at Leonard’s Corner in south Dublin late last year, rapidly became the talk of the city. Most of the talk was very positive; some of it consisted of complaints that it was painfully on trend and self-consciously fashionable. Well, that’s Dublin for you. It’s not short of begrudgers. I went along after it had settled down and found it brilliant. I also found (after I had made my verdict) that chef Barry FitzGerald is my third cousin once removed. Or something like that. He also went to Gonzaga with my nephew. Small city. Read my somewhat drooling review here.
Here's Johnnie! Mr Cooke is Back in Dublin 2
The first restaurant review I ever wrote was of Cooke’s Café, just after it had opened in at the dawn of the 1990s. It was never published but was done for The Sunday Tribune as a sample, I being confined to wine writing and news journalism in those days.
The review is lost in the labyrinth of irretrievable AppleWorks files (I resisted Microsoft to the bitter end) and this is probably a blessing. My companion on that occasion, Johnnie and I had all been at school together. My companion commented, somewhat sourly, that to judge by his food, Mr Cooke had acquired a remarkable sense of subtlety since sixth year.
I distinctly recall that Johnnie, recently home from the West Coast of the USA, blew into Dublin like a hurricane of fresh air. His Cal-Ital cooking (as it was called back in our salad days, so to speak) was a little ray of sunshine in a city that, in those days, was genuinely provincial. I mean, Conrad Gallagher didn’t arrive until 1995 in what was the original L’Ecrivain (having worked, at first, with Alan O’Reilly in Morels of Glasthule). We were excited by sun-dried tomatoes. I greeted one of Johnnie’s parsley salads with raptures.
Cooke’s Café lasted for sixteen years and closed only because of the downturn and the squeeze on mid-priced restaurants (although, to be fair, it had been highish-priced before the competition stiffened) and Johnnie spent many years in private catering before opening a rather splendid deli deep in yummy mummy territory opposite Monkstown church.
Now he returns to Dublin 2 and the ladies who lunched at Cooke’s Café – and now their daughters – as he takes the reins at Brown Thomas’s restaurant. I hope for his sake that BT’s management have stopped dithering about the restaurant.
Previous incumbents include Alan O’Reilly and the Kemp sisters, followed by an operation that included John Healy of The Restaurant fame. Johnnie succeeds Kylemore (whose flow-wrapped muffin image is not really dispelled by an association with Patrick Guilbaud) and they were there for less than two years.
So who knows how long Johnnie will last? The pub licence that Brown Thomas has just acquired is not going to mean a pub in Dublin’s premier department store. It’s so that the restaurant can serve cocktails. That will be good for trade and serves as a reminder of how utterly antiquated our licensing laws are.
Remember the promise of a “café society”? Well, we will just have to settle for a renaissance of Cooke’s Café society on the third floor of BT’s. I wish Johnnie well.
The Judgement of Paris Remembered: The Wine and Food Event of the Spring
The excellent Restaurant FortyOne, where Graham Neville cooks some of the best food in Dublin, is holding a special dinner on 23 March where sommelier Victor Nedelea will help diners recall the Judgement of Paris in 1970 when, in a blind tasting, California thrashed Bordeaux. It costs €85 per person including wine and sounds like a lot of fun (possibly with some oenological surprises). Reservations can be made by phone or email. Contact details can be found on their website here.
From Our Own Correspondent: Latest From the Urbs Intacta
Momo in Waterford, a restaurant that puts a special emphasis on local raw materials, saw Johann and I descend on it a couple of weeks ago. We can report that they are doing good, simple, wholesome food and prepare everything from scratch on the premises (including a very bracing and tasty chilli jam). It’s unpretentious, democratic and fun without a “foodie” in sight, thank heaven. Chef Kevin Joy, formerly of Sage in Midleton, has now left and headed out to Tramore where he has opened Source Restaurant.
Mór on McDonald’s: Is That Enough?
McDonald’s have announced that the McMór is back for a limited time, thanks to what they describe as public demand. It involves Irish beef and bacon, as you would expect, along with Ballymaloe Relish and Charleville Cheddar. I have tried it, so you don’t have to and I can report… it’s actually not that bad. Even if contains “shredded cabbage and whole baby leaf kale”, something I don’t generally hanker after in a burger context.