So here we are, blinking into the dawn of a new decade. Welcome to an age that would have us either hunker down or take aim. The world is going to hell in a handcart, democracy and decency are dying on the vine and we wither not into the truth, but into a fetid morass of ‘alternative facts’. So take your pleasures where and while you can, and to blazes with your new year’s resolutions. There will be time enough to shed a few pounds or kick the habit under the totalitarian regime of Supreme Leader Cummings, or when President (Ivanka) Trump is dividing her time between stoning disloyal journalists and sharing Mexican recipes. Those border-side child detention centres were really for the purpose of tenderisation all along.
Thankfully the city is currently awash with places in which to celebrate our end times. This would appear to be a golden age for wine bars in Dublin, with a shower of openings in recent months. In rapid succession we’ve had Frank’s, Allta, Amy Austin (the opening of which has been delayed by a tantric degree) and now Bobby’s on Baggot Street with added Holly Dalton as executive chef.
I’ve decided not to visit any of those places to take a look at Piglet on Cow’s Lane, a far less modish wine bar, one that doesn’t even employ the services of a PR agency. I am joined by my old pal Stan and his new husband Swede Erixon, together considered to rank among Dublin’s top tier power queers. They are in fact, a pair of actual gay lords. They dine out a lot and consume fine wines like it’s the Weimar Republic but wouldn’t dream of drinking anything that even appeared to be going out of fashion. Who better to join me as I embark on my Dionysian rampage for 2020?
I go way back with this place. In its previous incarnation, and what feels like a lifetime ago, it was called called La Dolce Vita and operated by a genial Italian man named Ricardo who may have been a communist of some stripe. He would screen Fellini movies upstairs and had a policy of employing sallow, nervy-looking, girls with serious eyebrows. They would decorate the doorway, rolling cigarettes while I sat outside on the terrace drinking shit sauvignon. Halcyon days.
On this occasion, I begin with a white port and tonic. It’s a civilised aperitif, a brisk, tart jolt to the palate and a good way to begin anything. For three years now, post-socialism, the place has operated in relative obscurity as Piglet, an Osteria with some small plates to mitigate the wetness of the wine. During that time it has quietly evolved into a very good restaurant. They will still assemble good things on a board for you, such as a selection of smoked fish from Sally Barnes, or cheese and charcuterie from Sheridan’s, but you don’t want to do this until late Spring, if ever. You will want to range freely, as we did, across the animal kingdom to enjoy some faultlessly simple cooking.
The first thing to hit our table is a bowl of warm Duck Gizzards and some good Le Levain bread. They call them Gésiers de confit de Canard where I don’t come from and their presence on the menu should let you know that this Italian kitchen has been lifting the hem of French cuisine for some time. They are humming with garlic, savoury and toothsome. A similar treatment is given to Duck Hearts and Mushrooms with similarly pleasing results.
As Duck Dicks are off the menu, on this night, we reluctantly move onto some perfectly cooked octopus, served in the Gallego style with potatoes and pimenton. It is vigorously dispatched. Pan Fried Scallops are (rather cheffily) served with truffle mousseline, shards of chicken skin and a sauce of their own roe. It is one of the best scallop dishes in town. We order a bowl of Orecchiette with Pork Ragú just to see if the kitchen knows what to do with pasta. It does, delivering a rich, profoundly flavourful sauce that either of the Madres – Rosa or Terra – would be wowed by.
From the mains, a braise of Rabbit Shoulders exemplifies the work of the kitchen. Lacquered with an almost obsidian demi-glace, it is tender and moist and served atop a mound of colcannon. There is a confidence emanating from the kitchen that makes dishes often appear to be the preparations for the protein in question, rather than inelegant contortions. There is a ‘this is the way we like to do it’ feel rather than a need to impress. Roasted Quail with braised Chicory is another masterclass in restraint and good taste.
The floor staff were a man down so service was a tad slapdash, nevertheless our (French) server’s guidance through the wine list more than compensated. The wine really is the thing here (one of the owners, the delightfully named Signor Fantasia, is an importer) and the list is quite clearly not the work of mere enthusiasts, but savants. It is compendious and heavy on the natural/orange/skin contact side of things. Standouts included a transgressive and alluring Pinot Noir (Domiane Goisot) €47, while Cheverny (Domaine de Montcy) €51 delivered a Gamay-blend that fizzed on the palate like sherbetty dehydrated strawberries and induced the sound of distant tinkling bells (possibly).
The room is never going to win any prizes and we emerged partially steamed from the kitchen below. Just concentrate on the food before you and try not to think too far ahead.
Words: Conor Stevens
Photos: Killian Broderick