It’s so nice to be in Paris. Almost. Now if we could just silence the gulls squawking overhead and dial down the roar of the Number 16 bus. Let’s pack the place with people, beautiful ones front and centre, rubes at the back. And finally, can we change the lovely waitress into a haughty, frostbitten one? Right. Places please everyone. Take one for pavement cafe scene in chic Paris neighbourhood.
Actually we’re sitting on the footpath outside Camden Kitchen in Dublin’s Grantham Street. I’ve passed by this restaurant almost more often than I’ve had hot dinners, but tonight is my first hot dinner here. At teatime it’s quiet around this handsome navy-painted place, with wooden tables and storm lamps outside.
The crowds of office workers that fill local lunch venues by day have gone. We're grabbing a bite before we stroll down to the Olympia to watch Dawn French take us through her family album in her brilliant one-woman show.
We are the earliest of early birds so the whip-smart kitchen sends out my starter of “heirloom” tomatoes and whipped Bluebell Falls goat’s cheese lickety split.
There’s a rainbow of tomatoes on the black plate, with an s-shaped snake of piped cheese, which is more cheese-spread consistency than mousse. Leaves from Gold River Farm have been used as sparingly as if they’re made of actual gold but the frilly mustard sprigs have so much punchy, peppery flavour it feels well-judged rather than stingy.
Each tomato tastes different, an olive coloured one with a thick greeny purple skin has the most flavour. There’s a slice of yellow beef tomato which is the sweetest. The lime green is one the hardest to love. There are slices of lightly pickled beet to add a tang and some balsamic to balance the cheese.
It’s a plate of here and now on this summer evening and a generous enough starter to share with my mother, who is saving her appetite for dessert.
That is put to the test by her main course, a “rare breed” pork belly chunk which comes with a serving of mashed potato so buttery it is the colour of butter. The pork is spot on, with layers of sweet dark and white meat and a caramel-coloured sugar-crisp piece of fried fat on the top.
To finish it off, there’s chorizo jam which adds a barbecue smokiness to things. Pork belly is sprinkled across menus as liberally as the words “seasonal” and “local” these days. But when it’s done this well, it’s a forgivable and delicious cliche. My wild hake is balanced like an island on a sea of lobster bisque, which is also a soupy risotto. It’s a note-perfect dish.
Hake island is inhabited by gnarly tasty brown shrimp and sweetly-braised halved scallions, the most delicious rendition of onion I’ve had in a long time. The pink sea of lobster risotto has a halo of butter (they use it generously here) and a tiny boozy under note from a deglazing of the pan in a whoosh of alcohol fumes.
We get a side of green beans, actually half green and half yellow, another interesting variety in the range of great vegetables they use here. They’re finished in (you guessed it) butter and wholegrain mustard so their crunchy lengths are pebbledashed with mustard seeds.
A crumble with ruby red stalks of champagne rhubarb is perfect and my pannacotta with passion fruit seeds and passion fruit sorbet reinforces Dawn French's curtain closing joke later: Kate Moss is wrong when she says nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.
Camden Kitchen is a well-known lunch spot but its real charm is at night when it feels like a local secret. With food this good, who needs Paris?
Dinner for two with two glasses of wine came to €70.49.
THE VERDICT: 8/10 A gem of a neighbourhood restaurant
Camden Kitchen, 3 Camden Market, Grantham St, Dublin 8 tel: 01-476 0125
Facilities: Basic and upstairs
Music: Light pop inside. Seagulls and buses outside
Food provenance: Fair. Gold River Farm salad leaves and Bluebell Falls goats' cheese
Wheelchair access: Yes, but no wheelchair bathroom
Vegetarian options: Good