“Can I have a spoon, please?” It is either terribly bad manners or the height of politeness to ask a kitchen team for a spoon to slurp up a particularly delicious sauce on a savoury plate, I like to think the latter, and I hope the team at Host appreciated my sincere gesture of appreciation on a recent supper visit.
Host opened its doors in Ranelagh in late September, and a beautifully tailored Instagram feed featuring pretty pics of pork chops caught my eye. This feed is managed by co-owner and front of house Chloe Kearney. She and her partner, co-owner and Head Chef Niall McDermott, moved back to Dublin after living in London for ten years where Kearney worked in fashion, and McDermott worked in kitchens including gastropub The Draper’s Arms and casual Italian Boca de Luca in Soho.
Inspired by their favourite restaurants such as Hill & Szok and Barrafina, they moved back to Ireland with a plan to open their own place. Kearney worked in Bastible in Dublin 8 under the tutelage of Barry Fitzgerald and Claremarie Thomas until they found the space in Ranelagh. With the help of Ahmad Fakhry at ODOS Architects, they have created an open plan kitchen and dining area that is clean, minimal and bright. “Rather than having Niall hidden away in a kitchen basement, he’s cooking right under people’s noses at the bar,” says Kearney. “It means the front of house team and the kitchen team can really work together.”
The menu is short but tantalising, and it’s set up for sharing. A selection of small plates include fried squid with pickled pimentos (€9) and a salami and manchego plate (€9). There are four pasta dishes, with all pasta prepared from scratch in house, and there are a few main courses such as piri piri chicken with burnt lemon (€18).
A small plate of milky burrata (€9) is elevated by a dollop of smoky aubergine and a few crisp leaves of seasonal raddichio. The chef has gone a little easy with the seasoning here for my taste so I add a sprinkling of sea salt, no harm done. Deep fried mozzarella balls (€6) are very nicely done, surprisingly light and served with a piquant tomato sauce. On the side is some fluffy focaccia that is pleasantly like cake, perfect for mopping up drizzles of great quality olive oil.
Thick and glossy pappardelle is piled high and doused in a spectacularly tasty duck ragu (€11 for a small plate and €22 for a large plate). I haven’t enjoyed pasta this much since my trip to Padella in Borough Market in London, and that place does pasta good. A small plate of pumpkin cappellacci, similar to ravioli in that the pasta creates a parcel for pumpkin laced sage, is a delight.
Remember the sweet sauce I was sourcing a spoon for? That comes along with a huge hunk of pork chop, cooked just a little pink to preserve the juicy sanctity of a great cut of meat, supplied to Host by the award-winning Higgins Family Butchers in Sutton. “They age and butcher their meat in-house using really traditional methods,” explains Kearney. “They come in to us every day and we select their best cuts of meat.” The chop is served simply with some utterly autumnal girolles mushrooms (€19). It’s a delight to experience a pork chop so sublimely cooked.
We get a side of baby gem leaves with a Parmesan crumb (€4.50), which I’m a little underwhelmed by. I would have liked if the leaves had been grilled so that the Parmesan crumb had some texture to hang on to. Much more interesting is a side of roasted cauliflower with pistachio and yogurt (€7) taking our tastebuds away from the Portugeuese, Spanish and Italian influence that we can see between the lines of this menu, and towards the eastern Mediterranean. Desserts are a charming affagato with a luscious hazelnut ice cream (€6) and a comforting slice of spicy ginger bread with mascarpone and caramel (€6).
A couple glasses of Aperol Spritz (€7.50 each) go down well as an aperitif, as do a few glasses of the house red which hails from Navarra, Spain (€7 a glass). When I ask for a non-alcoholic option, I initially think the team are joking when they say they have a non-alcoholic white wine. But lo an behold, in their fridge lies an intriguing bottle of alkohol-frei Muller-Thurgau by Fritz Muller (€25 for the bottle). It tastes like an expensive and quite lovely grape juice. And, after all, isn’t that what most wines are? “I just wanted everyone to be able to use our lovely wine glasses,” Kearney tells me, a touching indication of what drives her as a host. The Muller-Thurgau is an enjoyable quaff; I’d almost forgotten how well expensive grape juice complements food. Our bill, which includes a bottle of sparkling water, comes to €146.
Host is not alone in Dublin in terms of stylish minimalism but it does stand out for the quality of the casual, subtle yet super cooking. Everything comes back to the same ethos of simple, pared back and clean. No fuss. Hosting at its best.
Words: Aoife McElwain
Photo: Killian Broderick