My husband hates me. Well, not me exactly. But here in a room painted bottle green, he hates what I (and others) am about to do to his dream restaurant. I am obliged to tell you all how bloody marvellous it is. So we’ll have a slim to none chance of squeezing in here again in the foreseeable future.
I’ve broken a cardinal rule booking a table in Bastible on its first night. My only food intolerance is to first night nerves or stuff made to impress an invited crowd. I don’t do opening nights and like to let a place find its bearings before booking as a punter.
But as soon as I read about Barry FitzGerald’s new restaurant, my dozing inner newshound sat up and tilted her head. Not least because it’s beside my local post office whose idiosyncratic opening hours regularly defeat me when I need to buy bin tags.
There are more glamorous corners in Dublin than Leonard’s Corner. It’s a traffic snarled crossroads where people dice with double deckers on a pedestrian-hostile junction. The food around here is halal and predominantly fast. Frying oil deliveries come by the barrel. Bastible is in a former cafe where one of us once had a spirit-crushingly terrible lasagne.
Gone is white-painted Stephanie’s. Although her old doors and windows are still in situ. It’s a seriously blokey revamp. The walls are serviceable parish hall green, circa 1956. The floor is polished concrete in linoleum form. The chairs look like the product of a one night stand between an office swivel and a school chair. There isn’t (praise be to Jehovah) a bare brick in sight.
FitzGerald is a truly-talented chef. He worked in the Michelin starred Harwood Arms in London before coming back to Dublin with a bang in the shape of head chef at Etto wine bar on Merrion Row.
Having left the Italian cooking of Etto behind, he’s been looking for a place to call his own. Bastible is it, named after a forgotten but really useful cast iron pot that could be used to cook everything from bread to potatoes over a fire.
Nothing is an afterthought here. And it starts with the butter, which is house made, glistening and yellow and sliding happily off the knife onto tangy, chewy sourdough bread. There’s the Nordic style “snack” on a stone black plate. But cliches this tasty are fine by me.
A yellow smudge of house crème fraiche (they do wonderful things with milk and cream here) is worth dipping a finger into before you’re blasted with the savoury sweetness and spice of the two devilled chicken skin pieces on the plate speckled with honey, thyme and salt.
A ham hock broth with milk curd dumplings is a farmyard in a bowl. There are thready pink shards of pig, two trembling barely set curd dumplings that collapse into the broth to form a sweetly lactic soup. Cauliflower florets are sliced thinner than microscopic dissections; x-ray vegetables. Scooped out onions charred at the rims add crunch and sweetness.
My baby beets have been roasted to sweetness, with candy beets sliced and pickled. There are bitter radicchio leaves and fronds of chervil offset with toasted hazelnuts. The most life-affirming element is smoked ricotta, which makes my heart sing, and it’s all finished off with a ring of apple balsamic sauce.
There are three rounds of chargrilled beef shoulder and a muddy patch of bone marrow which is eaten so quickly I barely get a taste.
My black sole is fried butter crisp on top and sits on kohlrabi chunks and pickled slices, with diagonally sliced razor clams like spring onions of the sea sprinkled through the dish.
Sides come on granny plates and consist of crisply fried potato stacks and a truffle crème fraiche on the side. There are only a few of these fabulous fries, so every one tastes like the first chip from the bag.
Carrots of various colours come cooked like sausages and stuck like tree trunks in a swamp of tarragon salsa verde, all sprinkled with fresh tarragon and pickled seaweed.
“Good on you,” the waiter says when Liam orders the floating island. It bobs like a car airbag in a lemon custard pool with bright pink rhubarb to slice through the sweetness with garden tang.
My ice-cream sandwich is the stuff of dessert dreams. Two rounds of soft walnut brittle sandwich the smoothest creamiest middle, with dots of roasted pear and more pear slices so thin they drape themselves onto the fork.
Three courses cost €36, dropping to €30, if you’re willing to eat before 6.45pm.
Wines are gorgeous and well-priced with lots by the glass. Reservations are through an online booking system. I’ve checked while writing this and those early tables are booking out already.
The chef’s dream of opening his own place isn’t always a perfect match to the diner’s dream. Here it is precisely that. Bastible is not another neighbourhood restaurant. It’s the best restaurant I’ve been to in Dublin this year.
People will make a special trip to this unglamorous corner of Dublin. And us locals are just going to have to take our place in the online queue. Sorry, Liam.
Dinner for two, with three glasses of wine, came to €94.60.