Oh hey! Good to see you. How’s tricks? What you been up to? Not much? Yeah. Same. Busy with work at least? Uh huh. It turns out that (here at least) time is indeed a flat circle. We are still here, spinning our wheels and grinding our gears, passing the time that would have passed anyway. Nothing but the blues on the news and that hope on the horizon seems to retreat every time we take a step toward it. Bound by the trammels of fear and uncertainty, we are approaching peak Schopenhauer. And yet, and yet, in other places it seems that corners are being turned, pallid ghouls emerging blinking and bleary-eyed into the light.
My buddy Riggins tells me that Lucien, a restaurant at the end of his East Village street, where I enjoyed drinking martinis in the before life, is nightly packed to the rafters with maskless sybarites. Careless or care-free, or both. Across the Williamsburg bridge, the venerable Peter Luger steakhouse had been filling out its dining room by seating life-sized waxen figures while indoor capacity was restricted. I’ve long suspected that our own Trocadero has been doing this for decades. Meanwhile, in London, sexual favours are allegedly being offered for reservations at modish places that can serve liquor and food en plein air. Those places feel worlds away right now, but, if you’ll bear with me, I’m actually going somewhere with this.
Back to Dine is a concept that proposes to take you away from all of this by transporting you to out of reach destination restaurants. No previous experience of astral projection is required, nor is the famed bi-location of the saint formally known as Padre Pio, who was proven (on at least two occasions) to have enjoyed the same modest dish simultaneously in non-adjacent trattorie. No, the mode of transport here is the menu. The idea is that chef Temple Garner (San Lorenzo’s, Bresson etc.) teams up with other chefs who are not small but far away to bring some of their signature dishes to us poor souls trapped in Dublin. It’s bringing the menu to Muhammad, or whomever. Collaborators (transportations?) to date have included JP McMahon (Aniar etc.) and Yann Florio (Kreidel, London).
The menu I happened upon featured dishes from the much-garlanded Myrtle restaurant in Chelsea, where chef and owner Anna Haugh (all the way from Tallaght!) has had urbane types eating from the palm of her hand since opening, when she could open. Myrtle has been on my radar for a while now but as I can’t stomach the idea of travelling to London (even if that were possible) while Boris Johnson continues to exist, this particular BTD collaboration represents something of an ideal scenario.
I trekked the fifty-odd metres from the office to San Lorenzo’s on George’s Street with my lockdown wife to pick up the box on a recent Saturday. As with all such meal kits every element is meticulously prepped and packed, rendered as idiot-proof as possible. There’s even a ‘cook along with Temple’ instructional video! We pop the cork on an excellent bottle of cava (name absent from my notes, alas) suggested by noted sommelier Cathryn Bell (Wine Rover) and set about it.
There is some good soda bread with buttermilk-whipped butter to kick things off, followed by some snacks showcasing some fine Irish producers. In rapid order, we dispatch some Gubbeen chorizo, some very pleasing hot-smoked trout paté from Goatsbridge with potato crackers and some charcuterie from McGeough’s of Connemara. Of the air-dried ham and lamb offered, it is the latter, with its buttery, sweet fat that induces a brief state of mutual mastication around the table. A chicken liver parfait is exemplary too, impossibly smooth and profoundly rich. Slathered onto slivers of tea brack crisp, it lubes up our appetites nicely for what’s to follow. Although the written instructions are perfectly clear, we fire up the video and I note that something about Temple Garner’s mouth reminds me of Enda Kenny, or rather of Kenny’s mouth. I also note that an hour has somehow passed and the bottle is empty.
We collect ourselves to focus on the shared starter – Castletownbere crab and Mungo Murphy’s seaweed salad. It tastes like rockpooling, bright and briney, a dish I would be proud to serve to a Japanese or a mermaid. The first main (there are two, one of each) – lemon sole, Dublin Bay prawn, tarragon & Cais na Tire mousseline, verjus & golden raisin velouté – sounds like a mouthful and eats like it too. It doesn’t quite come together for either of us. However, I have little doubt that if I were to have the dish cooked to order by either chef I’d be forced to recant. It would be foolish and unfair to judge at this kind of remove, with tipsy amateurs plating up and timings lax. I wouldn’t have tipped heavily for the service neither.
The second main, a roast rack of lamb with both salsa verde and a bordelaise, features a dainty double chop of impeccable quality. We may have briefly rested heads upon forearms at this point before tackling a dessert of hot cross bun bread and butter pudding, which duly felled us. Further sweet treats were pencilled in for the next day, the best of which being a compact yet dense slab of Gur cake, the madeleine of Dublin’s scruffy recollection. My late father (although never a gurrier) had a conflicted relationship to the stuff, being at once connoisseur and martyr to its quality of indigestive repetition. Behan himself was said to wield hunks of it in sock-ends during borstal skirmishes. I quite enjoyed it, despite the indigestion. A generous addition to the experience was a hulking serving of Welsh Rarebit to be enjoyed for brunch.
Although I must admit to a little meal-kit fatigue (not quite Strumpet City hardship), I very much hope that this one carries on and finds a place of its own, it’s a neat concept. Ideally, I’d prefer if all such chefs were busy feeding their own bustling dining rooms in the near future, but maybe some of those ghost kitchens (that Deliveroo will no longer need?) could be repurposed for the overflow of demand.
Some are talking of a period of Dionysian excess to come for restaurants, a feeding of the febrile anticipation and dammed desires of 18 months. Will we see a roaring twenty twenties, a decade of fevered consumption? Will restaurant patrons be ordering the most expensive item stuffed with the second most? I suspect that the truth will lean prosaic, more sliced pan than pandemonium and that’s just dandy from where I’m sitting. Right now, I’d settle for a lunchtime bloody mary and a cheeseburger in Loretta’s, or a plate of linguine and clams downstairs in Rosa Madre or whatever. I’m easy, your call.
Words: Conor Stevens
Back to Dine
Eight course set menu for two, €99.95