I review restaurants with some regularity. When individuals inquire as to my next port of call my response is generally met with a degree of feigned interest or occasionally, unvarnished envy. Not so for The Trocadero. The very dog on the street was offering his two cents worth. Mr Kaye warned of the kitchen’s penchant for incinerating pieces of fish (more on this later). Mr Roper deemed the place a voyeur’s paradise and Payter proclaimed his love for the place before profaning the food. The editor of this august organ had himself been suggesting this review for some time but what pushed it over the top was his casual disclosure that he had last eaten there in the company of Marcel Marceau! An imagined scenario of him maniacally miming his dinner order began to play out like a fever dream. I had no choice but to pick up the phone. I’m also aware that this venerable grand dame of Dublin’s restaurant ‘scene’ celebrated its seventieth anniversary last year so they must be doing something right. Right?
I dimly recollect eating here at some point in the mid-nineties but it may have been some other place, or indeed someone else’s recollection. Some drink to forget. I appear to eat. On a chilly recent Thursday night the place resembles a scene of middle-aged, middle class jubilation, a bacchanal in beige. Everyone is jolly pleased to be there and bully for them, I’m sure they deserve their little treat. ‘The Troc’ has long been beloved of luvvies and the headshots of these ‘stars of stage and screen’ line the walls in serried ranks, a testament to decades of fey, mildly affected patronage. It’s like a cross between Katz’s Deli and an upper West-Side dry cleaner’s. Some shots are starrier than others. I am seated directly opposite a young Pauline McLynn and as the meal wears on impure thoughts regarding a surprisingly gamine Mrs Doyle begin to intrude. She implores me to do something, over and over again. Every inch of each room (the place is enormous) that doesn’t feature a thespian is covered in plush or mirrors. It’s an aesthetic that screams grown-up fun times, but not every detail works. My extremely design-sensitive date for the night (and most other nights) almost fell into a swoon upon seeing the chairs, and not in a good way. Nevertheless, the place has character in spades.
As you might expect, the service is warm and the welcome genuine. I’m tempted to comment that this may be the most hospitable restaurant in the city. For the floor staff, this is an actual job rather than a means to improve your English and it shows. Our server Dee (a twenty-year veteran) was charm personified although I was mildly disappointed not to be addressed as ‘love’. I guess I was having a needy night. As I pretend to peruse the menu an older gentleman to my left, dressed for the nineteenth hole, struggles to scrape filaments of carbonised sole from his plate. My second warning. It is not unfair to say that this is not a restaurant that has ever wished to be considered at the vanguard of modern cooking, or any kind of cooking. The menu exists in an aspic of its own creation. The kitchen is untroubled by talk of Thermo-mixes or sous-vide tomfoolery. That’s just dandy — do the simple things well and all will be well.
From a list of starters that includes Chicken Liver Paté and Goat’s cheese Crotin we throw caution to the wind and order the scallops and a prawn risotto (with sambuca). Three little scallops (queenies) are accompanied by some chorizo and a smear of sweet potato puree. I can’t bring myself to describe the risotto. Determined to enjoy my Kilmore Quay Black Sole, I instruct Dee to tell the kitchen that I enjoy chronically under-done fish. Perhaps they didn’t hear her. The fish is overcooked and hasn’t been in Wexford for some time. My ‘chipped potatoes’ are very good and their creamed spinach is some of the best I’ve ever had. Let’s accentuate the positive. My date’s Rack of Wicklow Lamb with champ was properly cooked. You would be pleased to get it in a regional hotel. Our spirits are lifted at the finish with an excellent Creme Brulée. Our bill, with two glasses apiece of wine from a well-priced and (almost too) accessible list came to around €180 with gratuity. We enjoyed a very pleasant evening and you could certainly do worse than bring your other half here on Valentine’s as a prelude to some slightly mechanical, vanilla lovemaking. Comfortable and predictable can really hit the spot sometimes but that’s not to say that the occasional stinging slap on the arse wouldn’t go amiss.
Words: Conor Stevens