Bang to rights

EATING OUT Bang Café is under new management. Can a Dragon bring it back to its glory days?

EATING OUTBang Café is under new management. Can a Dragon bring it back to its glory days?

DURING EPIC events we look for capsule stories to help us understand. They don’t come much pithier than the one that unfolded in a building across the street from the Department of Finance in Dublin. It’s a three-word cautionary tale: boom, bang, bust.

Once there were charming twins called Simon and Christian Stokes. They opened a restaurant and called it Bang after their mother, Pia. Success shone on them like warm sunshine. Then fortunes were reversed. The doors closed and it all ended in the killing fields of the commercial courts on a frozen January day. Reputations shredded, jobs lost, the taxman and suppliers left whistling in the cold.

Now, there’s a new chapter in the story of Bang Café. It’s a warm night on Merrion Row and the captains of industry are dressed in dickie bows and tuxedos, and strolling to the Ibec president’s dinner in the Mansion House. The city has its party shoes on. It’s a heady feeling to be in summer clothes and have fresh perfume on your wrists in Dublin at 8pm.


It's reason enough to go to where the shiny, happy people used to play. Bang Café is open again, with its old fake box and bay plants still in steel grey tubs outside. This, though, is the new Bang, headed up by coffee house owner and Dragon's Denguru Bobby Kerr and business partners Joe and Anne Barrett.

So what does a dragon do with a prime piece of tiger property? The brown and caramel exterior has been painted smart, serious black. Inside, the walls are now petrol blue or possibly Nama navy? Someone believes diners want to be wombed in a grand front room. Gone are the days when the clientele glittered against white walls, with just the warmth of their wallets to keep them cosy.

The linen tablecloths are covered with heavy paper squares – blotting paper for spills. It’s the first sign that accountants are on the case. I’m led politely past empty tables to the upper floor, despite an earlier telephone booking. In dragon terms, we are a sure thing. Empty tables downstairs are needed for the fickle passing trade.

The good stuff starts with the staff, who have the kind of friendly professionalism that deserves to make this place succeed again. Our waiter brings everything at exactly the right speed. It helps that I am with an old friend and fellow soldier escaping the trenches of motherhood. These days, we could enjoy ourselves in a queue at the motor-tax office. And she makes all the right menu choices, including the wine – a nettley Touraine Sauvignon, Domaine des Chezelle (€27), like summer in a bottle.

I'm on the €35 three-course set menu. She goes à la carte. My starter of grilled asparagus looks promising, but the spears are tasteless. Oddly, the chunkier spear I get with my main course is perfect. My friend's scallops and broad beans with cracker-crisp bacon (€14) are a hit, a perfect summer dish.

My main course is slow-cooked lamb shoulder, with a carrot purée. A chutney with strong mint and roasted tomato would have made this much better. “It’s a bit muttony. I’m not thinking frolicking lamb here, something more my own vintage,” is the verdict from across the table. Her halibut main course (€28) is great, with a crab lasagne and a fennel purée. It is restaurant food at its best, fresh, delicious ingredients, well cooked, heavy on the butter and beautifully presented.

My dessert, a lemon pot with raspberry and biscotti, lacks zest. The only raspberry seems to be a pink dribble midway down. Biscotti are pale and taste of baking powder, as if someone forgot to give them a second blast in the oven. My friend’s dessert, three balls of “house-made ice creams” in a tuille basket (€8), is good, retro and right.

It’s a new epoch. Assets are here to be sweated. Hotel guests on expense accounts will hopefully fill midweek tables. We see two lone shirt-and-tie clad men dine, one with a magazine, the other with his Blackberry for company. If the formula clicks, a chain might be born.

A few of the ghosts of old Bang are downstairs as we leave. A young man is nuzzling his companion’s wrist like she’s prime fillet. It looks like a lot more fun down here. Outside, it’s still warm and the plants are still plastic. Then a soft drizzle falls with that ozone smell of rain after a dry spell.

Dinner for two with wine comes to €112.

Bang Café,
11 Merrion Row, Dublin 2,

Wheelchair access:No.

Facilities:Grand, if you
like "the luxury" of
individual facecloths to
dry your hands, even
though there are paper
cloths on the tables.

Music:Bland pop takes
the bare feel off the place
on a quiet evening but
verges on annoying.

Catherine Cleary

Catherine Cleary

Catherine Cleary, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a founder of Pocket Forests