The Town that needs to warm up
In a previous incarnation Town was jam-packed and clubby - now it’s a much quieter place
There’s a calm after the storm feel to restaurants this month. Waves of cash and customers crashed over them during December and now weekdays bring occasional diners like driftwood to an empty beach. There are some lights twinkling upstairs from Town, the basement restaurant on Kildare St in Dublin’s city centre. Perhaps it’s a homage to their near neighbour Leinster House where the Christmas recess lasts long after the rest of the world has knuckled down to business again.
When it was Town Bar and Grill, this basement was the Groucho Club of Dublin. Not a club as such, but a restaurant where members of the media bubble went to see and be seen. On a busy night there was more rubber-necking going on than on an assembly line in a joke chicken factory.
In September 2011 Gillian Ronan, sister of property developer Johnny Ronan bought the restaurant. Last year it was relaunched as Town, Kildare St with former Chapter One head chef Cathal Leonard at the helm. Leonard is no longer cooking there – he’s back working shifts in Chapter One and looking for “a long term project”. His replacement in Town is Mark Bodie, late of Pearl Brasserie and a former chef de partie at L’Ecrivain.
Walking down the narrow steps on a Tuesday in January there is a powerful sense that the party is over. The feeling grows with a faint smell of damp that greets you inside the door. Inside Johnny Ronan is standing in the middle of the restaurant talking on his mobile phone. When he sits down, his table of two and our table of two seem to make up the sum total of patrons in the place.
Spirits lift a little at our comfortably large table for two with its heavy white linens, fresh orchid and flickering candle. A ceiling heater is wafting a tropical breeze over our table. And the waiter is attentive to the point of near-telepathy.
The set lunch hits all the right notes for a business meal, apart from one bum dish. Risotto is not a typical starter but my truffle version is good, a small portion in the middle of a glazed bowl. It has slivers of shaved white truffle (“looks like Alpen” my friend, Jeanne whispers) sprinkled on top of a nutty brown foresty risotto. There’s a tang of wine to the dish and threads of cheese inside the brown rice. The other starter, Castletownbere crab is a lovely disc of creamy crabmeat on top of some neon green pickled sea-vegetables. Two discs of green apple on top of the crab make this a clean marriage of flavours. Her main of roasted tiger prawns and black pudding (a riff on the scallops and black pudding theme) is served, at her request, without the black pudding. I would have preferred it served as described. My main is disappointing, a chicken breast (and yes, it serves me right for ordering chicken in a restaurant) on top of watery tomato-based bean and chorizo stew. Smoking the chicken or ditching it for duck and stewing the beans for longer with some wine would have nailed this.
Desserts are generous; a lemon tart, which is a deconstructed lemon meringue pie with elements arrayed on the plate like a lopsided smiling face. It comes with a “thyme jelly” but any herbiness is in some ice-cream which sits on clear jelly. Jeanne’s crème brûlée is glassy on top, silky smooth beneath.
You can still spend lots on lunch here but our set menu in post-tiger Town has come in at under €30 a head. This value might tempt a few TDs away from the subsidised Dáil restaurant. Business lunchers need efficiency and consistency and Town is paddling this middle lane pretty well. There’s nothing here to wow or dismay. They just need a few more customers to take the bare look off the place.
Town, Kildare Street, 21 Kildare St, Dublin 2: tel: 01-6624724
The verdict: 7/10. A well-priced mid-range lunch
Facilities: Chilly and dated
Music: Pop anthems
Food provenance: Castletownbere crab, Boyne Valley and John Stone beef Wheelchair access: No
Vegetarian options: No main course