Marcel’s: Hey good looking in Dublin 4
The food at this handsome new place lives up to its looks
In her memoir I Remember Nothing the late Nora Ephron said senior moments have become hipper and more respectable “Google moments”. Forgetting has become an equal opportunities affliction. So when the name of that movie, edible crustacean or close family member hides behind cerebral cotton wool, you whip out your phone and find it there.
Waiters see memory blanks all the time. They ask “who ordered the fish?” and there’s a pause as a hot plate hovers in the air. No one remembers. Not because we’re too drunk, but because the memory has vanished in the minutes between ordering and arrival. And in this case (God help us) Google doesn’t know either. Good waiters, like good smartphones, remember these things for you.
It doesn’t help that menus now often read like epic poems. At Marcel’s Restaurant on Dublin’s Mary’s Road they’ve pared it all back. Each dish is one word printed in bold capitals. There are lots of other words beneath but there’s one simple punchy word to shortcut the whole ordering and then remembering-what- you-ordered business.
Marcel’s is where the Expresso Bar once was on this leafy D4 road. It was, I’m told, a regular haunt for breakfast meetings. Many a suit wept into their briefcase when it closed. It’s a sister to the city-centre restaurant, The Green Hen.
It looks great from the outside, orange-canopied with real mixed hedging around the outdoor tables. Inside there’s a lava lamp retro sensibility to the decor. There are good white linens on the tables, tea lights, and a dark, glamorous floor-to-ceiling bar.
With all that effort going into the decor, you might think that they would just slap a few bistro staples on the menu and be done with it. But no. Somebody has put a lot of thought into the cooking. And lots of things about it work. Like the twirl of toasted salmon skin that sits on top of Liam’s salmon starter, a slab of lightly cured fish and a mound of softly chopped pieces with an avocado puree, lime and cucumber ribbons.
His lamb main course is a beautiful plate of expertly cooked elements, pan-fried sweetbreads, slapped-cheek pink, juicy meat and a deeply-flavoured ratatouille, where each element has been julienned to microscopic proportions. The only clunker is a Panisse, a chickpea cake, which is dense and deadening with that bitter gram flour kick that spicing usually covers up.
A pig cheek starter, two oyster-sized portions of sweet brown meat, is a great change from the ubiquitous pork belly. The meat has been cooked slowly until it falls into threads under the fork. Less successful is the watermelon wedge under the meat. It’s too watery. The other grit in the oyster is a scattering of raw skinned almonds which have all the flavour of wax drippings.
I get the monkfish main course. Having forgotten what was on the menu, I assume the long orange things are ugly-but-good heritage carrots. It’s great to find that they’re lightly spiced octopus tentacles that curl all the way to root-like tips. A couple of chorizo wedges are a bit too bully-boy in their flavour. A few tiny cubes would have worked better. But there are crunchy white anchovy fritters that deliver a pickled blast of the sea. Dessert is another innovative dish that works. It’s a poached peach with a champagne sorbet on one side and a ginger panna cotta on the other.
Opening a new restaurant is a daunting prospect, which is why most cling to the comfort of the old reliables. Marcel’s is a new place that pushes the boat out just a little. And that makes it memorably good.
Dinner for two with three glasses of wine and an espresso came to €95.95.
THE VERDICT: 8/10. A smart and interesting new restaurant. Marcel’s Restaurant, Mary’s Road, Ballsbridge, Dublin 4, tel: 01-660 2367
Facilities: Chilly and badly lit
Music: Nice easy listening jazz and pop
Food provenance: Suppliers named but no producers
Wheelchair access: Yes