Imagine my surprise as a self-absorbed monomaniac, upon hearing that the hottest new joint on resto-row/tin pan alley was named in my honour. Was I flattered? Sure. A little turned on? You bet. Nevertheless, as I began to detumesce and take stock of what this might mean, a rodent niggle began to gnaw at the edge of my consciousness. Could this represent a conflict? How could I go about the business of unbiased criticism in the face of such veneration? Ever more fantastical scenarios consumed me for some twenty minutes before I was disabused of my presumption. I am probably not the Mr S in question. Validation will have to wait.
Turns out that Mr S is the sophomore project from the folks behind Featherblade on Dawson St, an approachable, bare-bones take on the steakhouse known for its keen pricing and a killer burger. Daniel Hannigan (ex-Richmond) has been installed in the kitchen and the new kid on Camden Street has been lavished with praise of the most effusive kind. Commentators have been lining up to genuflect as if receiving the body and blood of our lord and saviour. One venerable old critic, clearly disoriented by the force of her pleasure response, took to Insta stories to declare that – “this shit be tight, place is fu*$ing fuego yo (flame emoji, flame emoji, eggplant, exclamation point x 3)”. She is not known for such concision.
I must admit to a diminished state on the night of my visit. I was bronchial and not a little shook as I left my bedchamber to join a select group in the down-at-heel gloom of Anseo. I had taken the trouble to gather a couple of educated palates in case my taste-buds weren’t feeling too pally and was joined by my current care giver, my non-suffering editor and the one and only Donegal Catch. The latter is known for her ferociously unvarnished opinions, especially when it comes to music, politics, religion, culture, builders and the opinions of others. Problems begin with the reservation policy, or lack of it. I had sent young Catch out as a scouting party around 6.30 (it’s a Friday evening) with a view to snagging a table at a (more) civilised hour. The worst-case scenario would be our bluff being called and a table being available at the actual time of interaction. Such was the case. I’m still at home. A ninety minute wait hoves into view. I don’t feel like spending an hour and a half in the boozer, much as I like this one, but this is where we’re at. I note that this stretch has become a truly unpleasant place to be at weekends, blighted with staggering, whooping groups of rural clowns. If you are (foolishly) planning to open a modish new restaurant, could you please do so elsewhere.
I suspect that the room might be more attractive by day. There are pale pink walls. The lighting is punitive. It’s a brutally utilitarian space with the kitchen elevated at the back like a Fatboy Slim stage set. The room is fairly humming, there are a lot of young men in t-shirts accessorised with their inevitably basic female analogues. It’s wall-to-wall guns and huns. We are initially placed (by a dour, sullen and rude young woman who has no business being in the service industry) in the downstairs room. It would work well as a space in which to dismember your wife’s lover. Service is salvaged by a charming young man named David who liberates us from the crypt and into the restaurant proper.
From the ‘Nibbles’ list, the cured monkfish dish is Pollocked with dribs and gobbets of things purporting to be related to dates and elderflower. Skip it. Rendang spring rolls (with burnt ends) were pretty good but just gave me a pang for the dearly departed Chameleon. The Gambas with Bisque butter is one of the best dishes I’ve eaten this year, mirabile dictu. A tumble of tumid, juicy, prawns sitting atop a just-sweet pillow of flatbread and the entirety bathed in a profoundly powerful sauce that alters my posture. It could not be improved upon. We soldier on to the mains. The Marinated Pork Tomahawk identifies (online) as something more than a pork chop. It can’t quite pull off the bluster. It is perfectly fine although again, the kiss of smoke is imperceptible. I find the jus unpleasantly sweet. Also – if that tomahawk were to scale, the Sioux Nation would have resembled ewoks. The Smoked Beef Shortrib, another signature, is one of those dishes beloved of the kind of people who think it’s cute to employ the term nom. It is expertly cooked, with the kind of texture of you would associate with Texas barbecue. Unlike Texas barbecue though, it doesn’t really taste very much of beef, or smoke. This is something of an achievement for a live-fire restaurant.
The whole flat fish over live fire schtick has been doing the rounds for some time now. Originating, inevitably, in NYC, London’s Brat (itself a term for turbot) and Träkol in Gateshead have led the charge in what used to be called the UK. Those fishes (and their ineluctable dishes), having navigated the breadth of the roiling Atlantic, have in due course conquered the stout-dark depths of the Irish Sea to wow the seafood-averse Gael with the haughty thrill of their piscine totality. I note that the kitchen has eighty-sixed the langoustine that used to adorn their brill dish. They have also eighty-sixed the brill. It has been re-plaiced and plated with a handful of mussels and four clams.
The coral-spotted Plaice is a fine eating fish, white fleshed and clean-tasting. It’s delicacy and digestibility have long made it a favourite for the indigent and ancient alike. Nevertheless, in the flat-fish pecking order, turbot is the ne plus ultra, brill the next desirable. There is a large gap to third plaice. I will stop doing that now. It is an enjoyable preparation, deftly cooked, with the shellfish sauce perked up with some wine (perhaps vermouth?) and chives. However – it should not carry the same ticket price as the advertised brill, and actually became more expensive as the night went on. It was €34 on the menu and €36 on the bill. Inflation is a bitch. Those Brown Butter and Miso ‘Roasties’ taste of both of those things (which is good) but eat like leftovers, yielding and defeated. I’m not going to write about Hispi cabbage. There is a lot of potential here but the flavour profiles of too many of the dishes seem curiously polite, when I had been expecting full-throated profanity. Cooking over live fire conjures certain expectations and Mr S, on this night, did not live up to its name.
Words: Conor Stevens
Photos: Killian Broderick
33 Camden St
01 683 5555