A family affair

 

RESTAURANTS:A D4 newcomer has potential to become a local favourite, writes Tom Doorley

IT WAS ONE of those rare evenings when you could sit outside without getting trench foot or pneumonia and this was just as well because Junior's, on its second night in business, was pretty well full. The brothers who run this tiny restaurant beside Slattery's pub in Beggar's Bush were clearly surprised at the volume of business. Expecting a trickle of customers, they had given the third member of the team the night off.

They must have been even more surprised to find two restaurant critics descending, independently of each other, on their infant venture, but they were far too polite to show it.

Now, I don't make a habit of visiting restaurants before they spring their first milk tooth. Yes, I know they are charging full prices and, yes, we have the right to expect them to get it fully right, but decency demands that if you're going to write an account of your experience you should allow at least a week or two for the inevitable learning curve. Contrary to what many people think, my milk-of-human-kindness quotient is almost as high as that of my colleague on The Restaurant, Paolo Tullio. It's just that I'm better at hiding it.

But every now and then I select restaurants on a pretty random basis, and so it was in this case. And I have to hand it to the brothers. The place was firing on all cylinders, and everybody appeared to be having a good time in a way that you don't often see in Ireland.

Being a neighbourhood restaurant, everybody seemed to know everybody else, and as the chef has worked at The Mermaid Café and Town Bar & Grill, it was no surprise to see a few habitues of those establishments and, on the menu, spaghetti with clams.

The menu is short. Very short. And written on a blackboard which, thanks to the dimensions of the place, is clearly visible even to the myopic. And prices are moderate (there are main courses at €17.50 and wine for €20), which is not really what you expect in Dublin 4, even though the horribly titled credit crunch bites deeper.

We shared a plate of decent antipasti which included very proper mozzarella with that texture that looks (but does not feel) like chicken breast, and nicely melting prosciutto.

A rib-eye steak with mustard mash will be familiar to Mermaid regulars. The mash was indeed genuinely mustardy and the viridian green maître d'hôtel butter was the business. The steak was impeccably cooked, but needed that butter as it was pretty light on flavour.

A bit of a flavour deficit was noticeable, too, in the other main course of grilled chicken, but the accompanying roast peppers, rocket and sauteed potato chunks made it a very pleasant dish despite its lack of any wow factor. Unfortunately, really good chicken and beef are never cheap, and while skilful and clever cooking can give a boost to the everyday sort, it can never achieve the culinary equivalent of alchemy.

A shared chunk of baked strawberry cheesecake on a crisp biscuit base was exceptionally good, and unlike most restaurant desserts these days did not come from a factory.

There's enough talent and enthusiasm here for Junior's to become something else - a bit of a destination so to speak - but this may not be the way the brothers want to go. There's a lot to be said for doing a decent job for a particular community who remain loyal. Small as it is, I expect the rent is high, even in these days of falling Bentley sales.

The bill, with two glasses of white wine, a bottle of red and a good double espresso, came to €98.20 before service.

THE SMART MONEY

The antipasti plate (€10) with a generous glass of the cheapest wine will set you back €15 and you will be well fed. Add an espresso or an Americano (€2.20) and you will hit €17.20. Ferrarelle mineral water at €3.50 is cheaper here than in many other places.

WINE CHOICE

A very short list, which will ring the changes every few weeks, and chosen for Junior's from the Liberty Wines portfolio. Our white was A Mano Fiano/Greco (€27/€6.50 a glass), a ripe but fresh local blend from Puglia. Our red was the ripe and spicy Costana Hecula Monastrell (€26/€6). Alpha Zeta R (€21/€5) is a vivid pink from the Corvia grape, of Valpolicella fame, and deliciously dry, fresh and crisp.