Cliff Townhouse gets top marks for value for money

This restaurant in Dublin’s St Stephen’s Green is worth rediscovering for its value alone

   
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The Cliff Townhouse

  • 22 St Stephen's Green
  • (01) 638 3939
  • Irish

It’s hard not to feel like a cheapskate when the waiter takes your giant brass cornered menus away and you get back some notepaper a fraction of the size. But we are channelling our inner Vera Value out on the town on a school night. We even have tickets for a play, so we’re doubly determined to bag a pre-theatre menu in the Cliff Townhouse on Dublin’s Stephen’s Green.

It’s only available till 6.30pm, we’re told. “But she was here at 6.30pm,” insists the bolshiest one of us. The small tussle ends in victory for the Veras.

I’m delighted she’s winkled these teeny menus out of them because what’s written down here sounds great. It’s all the more surprising that this lovely room is nearly empty, filled only with the pink-tinged light of a spring evening and the sounds of buses and birds on the Green.

I last ate here at the start of last year’s summer heat wave. We sat in the high-sided booth table which looks like the best seat in the house, like a snug or a hot tub. In fact it’s hard not to feel like you’re missing something by not being able to see the rest of the room.

Not tonight though. It’s all open space and good white table cloths and we’re sitting in the front part which is by far the best bit of the place. After the departure of chef Richard Corrigan and his Bentley’s brand, the Cliff Townhouse has settled down under chef Sean Smith. It’s the townie sister of the Michelin-starred Cliff House hotel and restaurant in Waterford. I recently forgot about it when bemoaning the dearth of seafood restaurants in Dublin’s city centre and received a gentlemanly “ahem?” by email. So here I am back again to see what I’m forgetting.

If the three starters we get are anything to go by the answer is quite a lot. All bar none are terrific.

I’m not sure if kitchen smoke guns still pack the wow they once did. “There’s a touch of Pan’s People about the smoke,” Anne remarks. But gimmick or not, my beet cured salmon under a glass dome filled with eau-de-bonfire is perfect. There’s a whipped cream with horseradish too, and every mouthful of the purple-tinged fish is gorgeous. Anne’s McGrath’s spiced beef is sliced silkily thin carpaccio-style and topped with shavings of good cheddar, toasted hazelnuts and fresh spicy rocket. Yvonne gets a beautiful black plate dotted with Ardsallagh goat’s cheese, pear several ways, and lightly pickled golden beets and carrots. A puree with the earthy taste of homegrown beets prompts much hopeful talk of gardening plans, spring broad bean progress and general Good Life potting shed stuff among two of us. Our third soldier womanfully feigns interest.

We have a coeliac who doesn’t eat dairy among us, so the kitchen has produced a nutty gluten-free scone for the table, along with the great regular bread. We are undoubtedly noted back stage as their fussiest table tonight.

The mains ditch the delicate faffing and go all dinner on us. There’s a double-decker wodge of pork belly with mash and a hearty black pudding puree. A Warrenpoint cod dish has great fish but a too-salty oxtail reduction. The accompaniment of mussels in their shell and peeled new potatoes complete the plate well. I get the fish pie, a signature dish of this restaurant. It’s a huge portion of well cooked white fish with an occasional prawn dotted through it, cooked with threads of finely sliced leeks in a white wine sauce then blanketed with a duvet of piped mash and topped off (as if that wasn’t enough) with grated cheese that’s finished to a golden crisp on top.

Starters are always more impressive than mains. For a start you’re more hungry for those first mouthfuls. But there’s a definite shift in tone between courses here. Desserts are back to dazzling. The challenge of a dairy- and gluten-free dessert is met without any fuss by the now-busy wait staff with an apple and blackcurrant sorbet (charged at a classy €2 a scoop). I get a perfect apple crumble, chunky nuggets of not-too-sweet apple studded with plump sultanas topped with nutty crumb and a bread and butter ice cream melting over all its loveliness. Anne’s warm chocolate fondant is a true crowd-pleaser, a tower of chocolate-spilling sponge and a sensational white coffee ice cream. We have to tear ourselves away to have any chance of making curtain-up.

The place has filled up with diners, all on the big menus. And by the looks of most of the tables, the expense account is back. It strikes me that the Vera and Victor Values of Dublin are missing a trick. Teeny menus or not, the €28 three-course pre-theatre menu here is a show-stealer.

Dinner for three with a bottle of wine came to €113.