Tweaks needed on Express route
EATING OUT:The staff are excellent and food is almost there, Beirut Express just needs a few tweaks to become a cosy neighbourhood joint
THE OLD MERMAID on Dublin's Dame Street was never a venue to visit if you were having an affair. With its huge windows you may as well have eaten your dinner in the Brown Thomas Christmas window. The Mermaid was a goldfish bowl where gawkers got a full view of your plate and your date. Back in the day that was what people loved about it, the opportunity to be seen enjoying your weekend brunch.
The owners of the new Beirut Express restaurant that has taken the Mermaid's place in this old corner restaurant have put frosting on the glass windows at face level. They've mosaic-ed the pillars and arch-mirrored the interior in an attempt to Middle-Easternise what was a simple open space. There are plastic bamboo plants, black ash tables and a set of central casting lanterns and other props. It's "all very machine washable and dishwasher safe," Eamon remarks.
The wine licence is on its way but in the meantime we can bring our own bottles so there is a trip out into the night. Finding a chilled bottle of white wine in Temple Bar is tricky so the helpful waitress brings a small ice bucket. We have to tip the ice onto the table in the attempt to shoe-horn the bottle in. It's all mopped up and settled quickly. And the scientist at the table sprinkles salt on the ice to lower the melting point. Corkage is a reasonable €3.
The menu takes a little deciphering. There is a lot to read with small hot and cold mezza plates and combinations. These are an array of starters and then a choice of main. Eamon and I opt for the €38.50 vegetarian compo (sic) for two and Frank goes for a shish taouk chicken dish with ferri, or quail, to start and some Lebanese bread.
The good notes of the meal are the bread, which is the best flatbread any of us have tasted. It's got that lovely warm damp bed sheet softness that only the freshest bread has. Frank's chicken has been marinated and tenderised and then simply cooked with tomatoes and onions. In the platter of small starter plates that come with the vegetarian combo there's a great baba ghanoush, smokey as a campsite bonfire and speckled with sweetly pink pomegranate seeds. There's some pleasant hummus and some chewy rikakat jebne, filo pastry tubes filled with mozzarella and haloumi cheese. These also come in a prawn version although the prawn seems to have been waved over the concoction as the tube is a hollow prawnless space when bitten into.
The biggest failure is the quail which is served with panagranit (sic) sauce. This, we think, is pomegranate sauce, prompting a memory of the Galway restaurant which had a menu listing Milk Foil as one of its desserts. The quail is overcooked and leathery, a tough chewy end for this tiny bird and the sauce is a syrupy brown drizzle of something that tastes vaguely fruity in the way that bottled brown sauce does.