Our new restaurant critic’s first review

This new restaurant serves flavour-packed food that leaves no doubt about the skill in the kitchen

   

Canteen

So, what did you do during lockdown? Do you even remember? I can tick all the populist boxes. Bought toilet roll, developed a Netflix addiction, planted radishes, mixed cocktails and made sourdough. Got the flour, made the bread, and can hold my own on hydration, levain, crumb . . . okay, I’ll stop now.

So when phase three kicked in I headed to a pub to get my socially-distanced hands on a pint of Guinness and a burger. And the following night I headed into Canteen, a newly opened restaurant in the Marlin Hotel, squeezed into a tidy wedge on Bow Lane in Dublin 2.

Covid precautions are taken seriously here and floor staff wear masks. While the dining room feels a bit hotel-y, this is partly because the tables are so widely spaced – way more than one metre. You could comfortably swing a string of cats above your black wooden table.

A mirrored wall adds to the sense of depth. It’s what interior designers would call “distressed”, so you’re not staring at yourself like you’re still in Zoom mode.

A red banquet wraps around one side of the room, taking in a large bonsai, and then there’s a run of tables along the other side, with one perched by the pass for diners who like to see the chef at work and don’t mind the glaring lights.

Heirloom tomatoes, burrata, dashi broth
Heirloom tomatoes, burrata, dashi broth
Tartare of mackerel, pickled kohlrabi, oyster emulsion
Tartare of mackerel, pickled kohlrabi, oyster emulsion

The shtick here is four courses for €58, with two choices on each course – starters, fish, meat and dessert – or you can opt for a vegetarian menu.

The wine list, which runs to a few pages, has none of the natural or low intervention stuff, but there’s a good choice of bottles under €40 and plenty by the glass. So, Domaine des Lauriers Picpoul de Pinet for us (€33), a nicely chilled, crisp white.

Classically trained

The arrival of two beautifully made amuse bouche leaves no doubt about the skill in the kitchen. James Sheridan, who started Canteen in Blackrock Market, before moving to Celbridge in Co Kildare and now to here, is classically trained, and worked in a slew of top-end places before striking out on his own.

My lockdown eyes start to mist over as I bite into a fragile onion tartlet, and a crisp artichoke shell filled with artichoke puree. This is food I could not dream of making at home – yes, I really am out in a restaurant.

Our starters are fresh, restrained and precise. A tartare of mackerel with an unobtrusive oyster emulsion and slick of dill-infused oil is given a tickle of acidity with an opaque disc of pickled kohlrabi.

The other starter, Toonsbridge burrata, comes with heritage tomatoes and a touch of basil oil in a low-key, savoury dashi. Plates are mopped clean with the help of warm sourdough bread.

For the fish course the lobster cannelloni is filled with a delicate mousse, and there’s a good chunk of lobster tail meat in a buttery lobster sauce. It is a beautiful dish, yet, surprisingly, upstaged by cod which has been roasted and is served with tiny new season peas, pea shoots, girolles and artichoke in a seaweed sauce that has become very well acquainted with the magical charms of butter.

The flavour hits full throttle with the dishes that follow. Lamb is served pink with a delicate breadcrumbed sweetbread, the boulangère potatoes are intensely savoury, the nicest spud you’ll ever eat, and pureed aubergine, broad beans and endive bring a freshness to the dish. Barbecued pork jowl, topped with beautiful crackling, packs a full punch of smoky flavours. A glass of Montepulciano ( €9), recommended by our charming, friendly server, pairs nicely.

Pastry skills

While desserts can often be a bit of a disappointment, not here. More excellent pastry skills are evident in the strawberry tart with a quenelle of yoghurt and elderflower ice cream. The chocolate crémeux with cherry sorbet and maraschino marinated cherries is intensely chocolatey, yet light with a beautiful crunch of praline.

Chocolate cremeux feuilletine, cherries
Chocolate cremeux feuilletine, cherries
New season strawberry tart, yoghurt, elderflower
New season strawberry tart, yoghurt, elderflower

Hotel restaurants, with a few notable exceptions, are normally a bit meh. Here, with Sheridan in the kitchen, managing everything from the savoury dishes to the pastry section, you are getting a serious level of cooking. The sauces, which are assiduously balanced and packed with flavour, are based on the classics and the result of painstakingly carefully made stocks. It amounts to a top-end tasting menu without all the fuss.

Dinner for two with a bottle of white and glass of red wine was €158.

Irish Times
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