Clever food at Cleaver East

The decor may be macho, but the food at this new Temple Bar restaurant is anything but


In a world of domestic sous vide machines, various bits of restaurant kit have made it into home kitchens. But hands up, who owns a cleaver? Thought not. Something that cuts through bone, gristle and sinew with a deadly thunk doesn’t lend itself to a Cath Kidston handle.

There are dozens of cleavers chasing each other along frames in the windows of Dublin’s Clarence Hotel where Michelin-starred chef Oliver Dunne from Malahide’s Bon Appetit has opened his first city centre restaurant. He’s joined by former Locks chef Rory Carville, who also got a star before he left the canal bank for the river bank. It’s called Cleaver East, which makes it sound like a New York restaurant.

A few weeks ago it was The Tearooms, a once grand old dame. The revamp is so startling it’s a bit like stepping into your Auntie Mary’s sitting room to find a rubber-lined fetish chamber. There are those cleavers lined up in the windows, which are a teeny bit much. And anything that hasn’t been metro-tiled has been painted black. Scaffolding timbers hang down from rusty chains, like the ghosts of a boom gone bad. Chunky chairs (more of which later) surround the bar in the middle of the room. Cleaver East puts the butch in butcher.

My foodster friend has already identified the New York hotel this place reminds her of. It’s The Ace, where techie hipsters made her feel old (she’s not), sitting bathed in the glow of their screens. She’s also digesting the menu which is sprinkled with coloured dots reminiscent of those quizzes in teen magazines. Except these are allergy indicators so they come with the reveal: “If you are mostly yellows, you are ... allergic to gluten.”

You might expect Cow Pie, Desperate Dan style, served in a meaty place like this. But no. The “savoury tasting plates” menu (prices between €7 and €14 apiece) is pleasantly light on meat. You want beef? They have it but as trembling silky slices (no cleaver used here) of carpaccio so thin they have to be peeled off their glass platter with the prong of a fork. Our waiter recommends four plates each. We order seven for the table and they arrive in a slightly-confusing way. Two of my dishes come at once, with one of my friend’s, so that we split everything down the middle. This suits us fine but might be slightly mortifying if it’s your boss sitting across the table.

There are lovely small portions of food on these beautiful plates. Nothing comes on a slate, for which I give a prayer of thanks. There’s a magically-poached egg (it was to be duck but they ran out, so ordinary egg it is), that doesn’t spill its yolk onto the scallions and asparagus but stays weirdly and deliciously firm. This is where Michelin chefs rub their stars together and create a bit of stardust. The ricotta and hazelnut mousse it’s served with is another reminder of the wonderful things skilled hands can do with ingredients.

A heritage tomato salad has its magic in the dots of jelly that come on the plate, a Cabernet Sauvignon vinaigrette gel which deftly hits a pleasure-spot. A bowl of “paella” comes as a pea, chorizo and mussel broth which is all those meat-fish-saffron notes of paella, without the stodge. It’s topped with a snooker-ball-sized fried ball of rice, which is too much ball and not enough garnish. We’d both happily eat a larger bowl of the gorgeous rice-less paella soup. A stick of lamb breast has that fatty layer that takes from the sweetness of the meat but comes with lovely glazed baby turnips. There are luscious scallops with cracker-crisp bacon and two kinds of potato, which is one kind too many.

Desserts are spectacular: a crème brûlée that’s the nicest I’ve had, a thin layer of smooth crème in a large rectangular dish so you get a glassy mouthful of brûlée with every spoon. There’s a strawberry and cream panna cotta which looks and tastes gorgeous.

Later, chef Oliver Dunne comes to say hello. His build took just six weeks, he says, thanks to Northern Irish builders who wanted to hit their builders’ holidays on time. And those bar stools – his design – are a disaster. The arms are too high and the legs too unstable so he’s having them re-done. It’s a lesson to stick to the cooking, he says, and leave furniture design to the experts.

Cleaver East is clever and exciting and already buzzing with happy eaters. The last pleasant surprise is that they take a cleaver to your bill. There’s 20 per cent discount on the food for everyone in the first month as things are ironed out. It’s a classy touch in what already feels like a great new Dublin restaurant. Dinner for two with three glasses of wine and mint tea for two came to €87.60 (without the discount it would have been €100).

THE VERDICT: 8/10. Small plates of deliciousness
Cleaver East, East Essex St, Temple Bar, Dublin 2 , tel: 01-5313500
Music: Funk (and it gets louder at weekends, apparently)
Facilities: Unchanged from the old days of The Tearooms
Food provenance: Good
Vegetarian options: Three good tasty options
Wheelchair access: Yes