You have to admire the chutzpah of the welcome. As he’s leading the way up the stairs, the Scottish wine bar guy has asked whether it’s a first visit. It is. “You’re in for a treat,” he promises. My friend gets the same line in the same place when she arrives at Stanley’s in Dublin’s Andrew Street. Mmmm. There’s an old biddy bit of us that wants to say. “Well we’ll be the judge of that now, sonny Jim.”
Stanley’s is in a lovely small building in the heart of Dublin’s trendy restaurant district.
It opened in November as the new city centre venture of chef Stephen McArdle, who owns the Arch Bistro in leafier Churchtown, according to a press release. His brother Patrick runs the front of house. It’s a young, stylish venture. The ground floor is a wine bar and the dining room is upstairs in a tight space every inch of which has been given a makeover.
There are blue grey (the new greige) walls and kitschly framed fake oils of Bill Murray and David Bowie painted to look like British admirals. Huge candles flicker on the wide window seat at the front of the room. There's a mix of banquette seating and wooden curved-back chairs which look better than they feel for a long stretch.
The small room quickly fills and the volume goes up. The tables are closer than optimum for comfortable gossiping conditions. The menu is very now, full of the ingredients that are now etched on the tablets of stone recently issued by the restaurant gods for mid-range restaurants. It’s broken into three categories: start, follow and finish, a meat and fish heavy list, nothing much here for herbivores.
And is it a treat? Well, yes. Nearly. It’s a series of small treats (portions are skimpy for these prices). But there’s one clanger that shouldn’t have been let out of the kitchen.
The good stuff starts with plump scallops fried so they’ve crisped on the outside without losing their silken sweetness inside. They sit on a porridge of pearl barley with cauliflower, bacon and some golden raisins that have bloated into sweet mouth bombs.
A plate of roast wood pigeon has two slices and tastes gamier than that opening Scotsman’s promise. It has a swirl of butternut squash puree and some quarters of baby “heirloom” beets. There’s a nice wedge of pith-off orange folded into one of the slices of meat to cut through all the woodsy heft of it all, but curiously the two slices taste like they came from two different birds who led very different lives. One is melting, the other leathery. Both taste great but like Goldilocks I’d have preferred something in between.
The braised shin of beef is perfect, allowing me to accumulate a few more martyr points. I’ve already ceded the comfy seat and now she gets the good dinner. It’s a small plate of flavourful food, browned and softened beef scraped from its bone and turned into an elegant, small mound of satisfying meat. There’s a dollop of hot soupy black truffle polenta, sticky carrots and good kale. It’s great rustic cooking with a teeny sprinkling of luxury.
It makes my fish all the more tragic: a piece of overcooked halibut. This would be bad enough but it's also saltier than a Mrs Brown's Boys double bill. There's nothing else on the plate to turn to for help because the partner to the fish is a crubeen fritter that's in a face-off with the fish as to which is going to be the mouthful that leaves you most parched for a gulp of water or wine. A good third of it (at a painful €26 for the plate) goes back to the kitchen to be scraped into the bin.
Desserts claw us back onto good territory. I get a tall glass of lemon cream and Italian meringue with long delicate sticks of flaky pastry curls on the top that manage to remind me of lemon puffs out of the good biscuit selection. It’s a silky lemon cream topped with soft, just-blackened meringue. The only let down is a sprinkle of freezer berries on the top which don’t belong here. She who is doing better gets a gorgeous chocolate tart with pitch-perfect mango sorbet.
Stanleys is a treat, not an inexpensive one. The fish was so out of step with the rest of the meal it feels like it was a stroke of very bad luck that it happened to land up in front of me. But, and here’s the cruel relentlessness of running a good restaurant, consistency is everything. Good every time and every mouthful cuts the mustard.
Dinner for two with three glasses of alvarinho came to €113.75
The verdict: 7/10, a stylish young venture with plenty of good cooking
Stanley’s, 7 St Andrew’s Street, Dublin2, tel: 01 485 3273
Facilities: Chilly and upstairs
Food provenance: Iona Farm in Wicklow and the Whole Hog farm in Meath get mentions
Wheelchair access: No
Do you get the strange feeling on Grafton Street these days that someone's been watching you? Well, I have. The window of Domini and Peaches Kemp's Alchemy in BT2 is a prime people-watching spot where you can abandon the lonely relationship with your screen and watch real people scroll (I mean stroll) across your view instead.
The Alchemy €10 happy meal is just that, a kale salad with sweet golden raisins and nutty tahini dressing, a hot bowl of mushroom and miso soup and a bottle of “anti-everything” cold pressed juice.
Alchemy Juice Co, BT2, 28-29 Grafton Street, Dublin 2