Michelin inspectors, check out this neighbourhood restaurant

A new chef elevates the offering at this popular restaurant with a bright future

   

Locks

If you head into Locks for Sunday lunch, you are likely to see a few high-profile faces. It’s a chefs’ favourite and has been an industry secret for quite some time.

I had a really enjoyable dinner there earlier in the summer with good friend and former Sunday Times restaurant critic Ernie Whalley, and was all set to review it, until I heard that, just one week later, a new head chef, Andy Roche had walked through the door. The bush telegraph – much beloved of chefs – fired up immediately.

Roche had worked as a chef de partie in Locks, followed by two years in the much acclaimed, and now shuttered, Wildebeest Restaurant in Vancouver. But the reason everyone has eyes on him now is because of what he did next. I last saw him, head down, tweezers in hand, working alongside Jordan Bailey, the head chef in Aimsir in Kildare. This, you will remember is the restaurant that shot spectacularly into the Michelin Guide, landing two stars just four months after opening. And, indeed, is the restaurant I believe most likely to be Ireland’s first three-Michelin-star restaurant.

The starter of Castletownbere lobster with burnt onion, baby turnip and fermented calçots immediately looks incredibly generous, with sizeable chunks of tender lobster

There are some stalwarts that are fixtures on the menu in Locks, and the bread with cultured butter and smoky notes of dillisk (€4), is always worth ordering. But it’s a newer snack, waffle with ox tongue (€7), that gets my attention. Pink slices of ox tongue are curled onto mini quadrants of crispy waffle, dotted with micro herbs and pickled girolles. It’s playful and delicious; a crunch, yielding to light softness, there’s a touch of sweetness from the pickles, while a discrete murmur of mayonnaise adds savoury notes.

In what would seem to be more than a passing nod to Roche’s time spent in Aimsir, the dry-aged beef tartare with smoked marrow (€13), has not just had the micro-herb tweezer treatment – very pretty on the wispy filaments of bright yellow cured egg yolk – but also has that build of brooding flavours that I associate with the food there.

Dry Aged Beef Tartar with smoked marrow cured yolk beef tendon at Locks. Photograph: Alan Betson
Dry Aged Beef Tartar with smoked marrow cured yolk beef tendon at Locks. Photograph: Alan Betson

More beautiful still is the starter of Castletownbere lobster with burnt onion, baby turnip and fermented calçots (€16), which immediately looks incredibly generous, with sizeable chunks of tender lobster. It’s bathed in beurre blanc, sweet with the essence of lobster shells, and pointed up with anise from green chervil oil.

For main course, the choices are perhaps a little limited. The Delmonico for two – which is extremely good – has been a mainstay on the menu here, but carnivores could find themselves otherwise a little short on choice, with chicken being the only other meat option. And for vegetarians, it’s gnocchi, which is not the most exciting.

So, it’s cod and chicken, and while not as spectacular as the starters, these are well-balanced dishes. The cod has been cooked precisely, finished to a light golden on top and served in a frothy sauce with summer cabbage, mussels and sea lettuce (€26). The Rings Farm chicken (€25), has the most wonderful roast flavours, and comes with a small pot of foamy smoked bacon espuma, with kernels of corn and barley. Sides are additional, so we add on charred sprouting broccoli with house peanut rayu – everything tastes better with peanut rayu – and Charlotte potatoes (both €5).

Locks Restaurant: For main course, the choices are perhaps a little limited. Photograph: Alan Betson
Locks Restaurant: For main course, the choices are perhaps a little limited. Photograph: Alan Betson

There are some interesting bottles on the wine list – the Roda Rioja is a perfect match for that Delmonico, and the Cullerot, €42, a white wine from Valencia, works well with our dishes – but despite a reasonable mark-up, there’s not much below €40.

Desserts are delicious, delicate and inventive, particularly the coconut ice cream (€8). A pane of coffee kombucha caramel sits on top of a skilfully restrained ice cream, chocolate truffle and savoury brown butter; while meadowsweet clotted cream features in our other dessert, topped with buttery shortbread, fermented strawberries, and lovage (€9).

This is the restaurant that shot spectacularly into the Michelin Guide. Photograph: Alan Betson
The restaurant appeared in the Michelin Guide in 2013. Photograph: Alan Betson

This meal is most definitely a notch up from the one I had earlier in the summer, and it would make you wonder if there’s a level of ambition here to get back that Michelin star the restaurant held for a year in 2013. It is hard to say, because the essence of Locks is first and foremost, to be a wonderful neighbourhood restaurant, which it does superbly.

Locks has always been good. It’s just got better. And I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if a random Michelin inspector pops up at a table over the coming months. Just to see how things evolve.

Dinner for two with a bottle of wine was €160

The Verdict: 8.5/10 Skilful cooking by a talented chef
Facilities: Boho with a large gilt mirror
Music: Popular mix, at the right level for chat
Food provenance: Good quality and seasonal
Vegetarian options: Vegetarian option, adapt for vegans
Wheelchair access: Room is accessible but no accessible toilet