Putting his own Stampa on a classic

With ace service, tuneful tinkling and hearty fare, the Dining Room at La Stampa is back with a bang, writes CATHERINE CLEARY…

With ace service, tuneful tinkling and hearty fare, the Dining Room at La Stampa is back with a bang, writes CATHERINE CLEARY

I HAD A FRIEND who used to lament the spill of amateur drinkers into pubs around now. As a year-round professional, a bit like the dedicated runner who heads out in a squally hail shower, she took those seasonal drinkers personally. It was like an uninvited crowd in her cosy front room.

And so it is in the restaurant business at the moment. A restaurant booking is like a scarf and hat. Don’t leave home without one. Where the sound of emptiness whistled around some of the country’s dining rooms, now there are large groups of people sitting down together to celebrate surviving another year.

It’s wonderful to sit in a busy restaurant, particularly a big, busy restaurant. And tonight it’s a real test of a kitchen, especially one that has undergone the kind of massive changes that La Stampa on Dublin’s Dawson Street has.


The Dining Room at La Stampa puts the cheque in chequered past. A brief history reads: triumphant announcement of big-name chef followed by quiet parting, wiser heads and the next reinvention. Paul Flynn, Jean Christophe Novelli and most recently Conrad Gallagher have all walked across the oak floor of this glamorous beast of a room and imagined great things.

The one constant has been the room, which is still as close as you’ll get to a big Paris restaurant in Dublin. It has had a lump of replica statue, the winged but headless Greek goddess of victory Nike, put into the middle of the floor, where the giant flower arrangement used to sit.

And the latest set of shoulders to attempt to carry off the victory (or to “just do it” as the goddess of running shoes might advise) belong to Ronan Ryan, of Town Bar and Grill, who is front of house with a Town team in the kitchen and on the floor. The long-time head chef, Malcolm Starmer, is still in situ having returned from London four years ago to be the man behind the names.

“I’m going to choose something I couldn’t make better at home,” the friend remarks as she scans the menu. She’s a trained chef so I have an inkling that’s a big ask. We get good bread and one glass of the house white (€7.50) to start, before ordering a bottle of Valpolicella (€36) to go with the main courses.

In the corner banquette across the way, Eamon Dunphy is tucking into his dinner. We count 18 chairs at a table down the middle waiting for a huge group to arrive. A young woman is playing an upright piano at the entrance and waiters dressed in long white aprons and black waistcoats bring a whip-smart air of efficiency.

The starters arrive, mine a big soup tureen of lentil and chestnut soup. It’s hearty stuff. Some tasty pheasant rillette is rafting across it on two small toasts. It’s not entirely successful as both lentils and chestnuts have that mealy consistency that combines to thickness on a spoon. But it’s filling and rib-sticking on a winter’s night.

Margaret’s scallops are delicious, three of them given a wonderful caramel-crispness on the outside yet still bone white and perfectly cooked inside. They’re sprinkled with moreish toasted almonds and come with a gorgeous cauliflower puree, of which we both would have liked more.

The mains are also from the canon of hearty cooking, a venison shepherds’ pie that tastes like it was made with a very beefy-tasting stock, slightly over-reduced but very tasty. My duck leg confit is great, not too salty and served with a cheesy butternut squash risotto. The seasoning on both mains is perfect, although Margaret’s carrot, which sits on top of piped mash, could have done with a bit more cooking.

My dessert is a decadent vanilla pot with honeycomb, a raspberry and a strange-but-good pea shoot on top. I have a twinge of order envy for the lovely plum crumble with a gingerbread ice cream. The crumble has that gorgeous combination of hot and cold, spice and sweet, with a delicious nutty almond note in the crumble.

So La Stampa is back. Again. And there’s a feeling that it’s in very competent hands serving rich bistro classics to steady the ship for the future. I would love to see some lighter cooking as we head out of midwinter and into spring. After a long, very enjoyable evening, another musician has taken over at the piano as we leave. He’s playing some of my favourite songs, Fairytale of New York and Tom Waits’s Martha. It’s a song about a phonecall to a long-lost love to reminisce about days of roses. I can’t think of a better tune to echo around this great Dublin dining room.

Dinner for two with a glass and a bottle of wine came to €128.75.


Sugar and spice: at cinnamon

MICHAEL McDOWELL might want to trip along to Ranelagh village to check out Cinnamon, a new cafe, bar and deli that has opened in a former video and tanning shop. It’s an example of how his much-derided wine bar idea can work. I arranged to meet a friend who had already visited and was taken with the novelty of people at the table alongside her just having tea and cake, late at night.

It’s beautifully kitted out with armchairs, tall chairs, zinc stools and sturdy tables and staffed by a young and charmingly-new-to-the-job bunch. They serve platter-type dishes, including roasted vegetables, with toasted Bretzel bread and dips. We shared two of the plates, a chicken and foie gras terrine with a good chutney (€12.50) and the roasted vegetable platter (€9.50), which was good, but the cooked courgettes and aubergine were a little fridge-chilly. A bottle of Italian red Salice Salentino (€24) arrived at the table with its €11.95 sticker still on, but it was deftly removed before pouring. They sell wine and food here too, so you can sit at the table and remember that you need some risotto rice or type 00 flour. We finished with cake: a pecan tart and a summer flan, with two huge flowery pots of tea (€2.25 apiece), even though it was pushing midnight.

Cinnamon Cafe, 83-87 Main Street, Ranelagh, tel: 01-9013020

The dining room

La Stampa, Dawson Street, Dublin 2, 01-6127911, lastampa.ie

Facilities: Pretty and posh, downstairs past the coat check area

Music: Great live piano playing

Service: Very good

Food provenance: None

Wheelchair access: No