With the season of goodwill, comfort and joy now in the rear-view I’ll begin by noting that ominous storm clouds appear to be gathering for the restaurant industry. The forecast has been forbidding for some time but recent closure announcements from Clanbrassil House and Richard Corrigan’s Park Café certainly don’t augur well. Seek out John Meagher’s recent piece in the Indo for further reading on the latter. When you throw in the sotto voce acknowledgement that we are apparently in recession coupled with the ripple effects that the Thanksgiving riots could have on trade in the city and it’s beginning to look a lot like a shit-show at the fuck-factory. Hallelujah then that we have one high-profile opening to talk about – Kicky’s is here to turn Dublin’s frown upside-down. Ironically enough it was a non-riot related fire that made this opening possible. The place has risen from the ashes of previous tenant San Lorenzo’s, a restaurant that I quite liked and was sorry to see go up in flames.
This ‘Mediterranean-inspired’ project is a partnership between chef Eric Matthews (former Head Chef of Chapter One) and GM Richie Barrett, a Dublin hospitality veteran. The joint has been preceded by successive flurries of hot internet fuss and general ballyhoo. This is just the way of things now. I imagine that this is what internet dating must feel like – the slow burn tease of sexy tid-bits that might be on the menu if you actually show up in person.
If you do swipe right the first thing you’ll notice is the implausible brightness in the room. For anyone familiar with the gauzily-lit intimacy of San Lorenzo’s it will come as something of a shock. Who wants to feel as if they’re being interrogated over dinner? Is this what the kids like? Maybe it’s related to the current vogue for flash photography. Photographs don’t last for three courses. Our request for dimming is acceded to, albeit served with a side of side-eye. This could possibly have been avoided if one of our party had not declared that they were just returned from Reykjavik where they know how to light restaurants. Let’s move on. If we had been two rather than three I would have gravitated toward a pair of stools at the bar, which has now moved to the back by the kitchen. We are seated at a bizarre triangular table in the middle of the room, next to us is a peculiar high-top seating six. This is not ‘the filet of the neighborhood’. There’s lots of white walls (to better reflect the lumens) and a Gen-Z adjacent mural above the pass for an Insta-friendly backdrop. If Insta-friendly backdrops are an important part of your dining experience then you should feel seen here.
The Carbonara butter (served with excellent potato focaccia) has spread across social media like disinformation but this thing is for real. It lodges in the memory as it occludes the arteries, predictably rich and salty with guanciale. I was going to say Elon Musk rich but that might put you off your food. X marks the twot. At about 9.30 on a Thursday to a greatest hits of indie soundtrack, folks are having a rare ‘ol time – laughing it up and scarfing it down. I’ll return to the table of ladies seated next to us in a moment. We enjoy some good (now obligatory across Dublin) croquettes with Tallegio, Leek and Nduja. I remember when these things used to be made with Jamon scraps and béchamel. I had some at a modish spot recently that pulled off the trick of boasting perfect texture(s) while tasting of Fanny Adams. (Pick up your jaws younger readers – that literally means nothing). We are just getting our laughing gear around those ‘Bites’ when all three of our ‘To Share’ plates hit the table. In pre-internet times of yore these were referred to as ‘Starters’.
A hungry person might feel disinclined to share these portions but I guess the suggestion makes the €16 price tag a little easier to swallow. This section of the menu leans heavily into house made pastas and they’re well executed across the board. I prefer my Cacio e Pepe with a little more Pepe but the fat worms of Pici are quite perfect. A 72 hour Short Rib Ragu with 36 month aged parmesan and silky pappardelle disappeared in about 6 bites. Rabbit Bolognese on Toast with Girolles is finished with a drift of Cais na Tire. At this point a certain degree of palate fatigue hits the table. There’s a certain uniformity to the flavour profile of each these dishes – a relentless barrage of salt, tang and umami which becomes a little wearing even for a fan of enthusiastic seasoning. Everything about Kicky’s is brash.
There’s some respite in the form of a main course of Brill on the bone served with a lemon butter sauce strewn with cockles and tiny shrimp. A purée of white broccoli calms the plate down. It’s probably the dish of the night although ninety seconds more heat would have helped the flesh slip better from the bone. A Barnsley (double) chop of Wicklow Venison with house Morcilla is less successful. It doesn’t yield easily to the knife and that jus is too intense and salty with lardons of smoked bacon. Our struggles go unnoticed by floor staff. These mains are both adventurously priced at €39 without sides. Much, too, is made of these dishes being cooked over live fire although neither bears a hint of that smoke and heat. I had the same issue with Mr S when they opened. Why bother, if the (considerable) effort doesn’t translate to the table? We finish with a delightful slice of Spiced Brioche Apple tart brought to the table by the charming and talented pastry chef Audrey Cahatol who formerly sweetened the deal at Library St. I have a glass of Sauternes with it. The lairy ladies at the next table are now audibly and visibly drunk. I have no problem with folks being drunk in a restaurant but if you can’t do it invisibly then maybe you should try something else. Maybe try being imperceptibly high instead.
There’s some solid cooking on show here but I’m struggling a little with the positioning. If it’s pasta you’re after I’d suggest schlepping over to Grano or Bar Italia. If you want to rent a seat at a party where people interrupt occasionally to bring good food go a couple of doors down to 777. As for those mains, if you want chunks of protein cooked over fire you’ll be better served at Variety Jones. That’s the price point we’re flirting with here. On the wine side there’s a thoughful list with lots of interesting options. Service on the night is patchy, occasionally a little off-hand or thoughtless. No one bothers to take our coats upon arrival. Anyone working the floor should have seen that the venison needed to be sliced to share. The job is not to simply ferry plates but to pay attention. It’s a young restaurant nevertheless, kinks can be worked out.
On a final note the degenerates who shamed us last month want to take our city away, to frighten folks back to the suburbs. They want our restaurants darkened because these are places where exotic and foreign flavours are celebrated. These are spaces that are often staffed by people who keep their homelands in their hearts by sharing their food cultures with us. So if you’re considering a New Year’s resolution (and you have the means) maybe think to help such restaurants to keep the lights on and stoves burning in ’24 by coming into town to break bread.
9 South Great George’s St
Words: Conor Stevens