The Canteen: Can-do in Blackrock

Chef James Sheridan is having fun at his market restaurant, and so are his customersers

Sat, Jul 26, 2014, 01:00


Canteen at the Market


Facilities: Outside the restaurant and bedsit style
Music: Pop that’s inaudible over chat
Food provenance: None
Wheelchair access: Yes
Vegetarian options: On request when booking

There’s an empty building at the top of Blackrock village in south Dublin. It’s a boxy room fronting on to the main street and backing on to a spirit-soothing seascape. In an ideal world, this is where the restaurant we’re heading to tonight would be located. Instead, we burrow down an alleyway leading to the Blackrock market.

The Canteen is in a small corner of this higgledy-piggledy place, built up against an ancient white-washed wall that leaves its floury paw on my husband’s jeans. There are no windows. There is no view. There are only 18 of us sitting here at small tables covered in brown paper torn off a country draper’s roll. Tonight’s menu is written in marker on a long strip that hangs down from the brown paper roll on the wall. But it’s the happiest bunch of restaurant-goers I’ve seen in one place for a long time.

The reason is what’s coming out of a tiny kitchen, where space is so limited they’re blow-torching the plates to heat them. At one point a breadroll lands at my feet. I’m tempted to lunge, shout “five-second rule”, and snatch it off the floor to use it to mop up the next bowl.

James Sheridan is at the helm in the kitchen. He’s worked in starry places, with two years as sous chef to Michael Caines at his two-star Devon restaurant, Gidleigh Park. He’s also worked in Kevin Thornton’s kitchen, in Sheen Falls Lodge, in Melbourne and in a three-star restaurant in Germany.

He met his partner, Soizic Humbert, working at Restaurant 41 and they’ve followed their dream of opening their own place. “We chose the location based completely on what we could afford to do,” he says in an email that’s as straight and to the point as his cooking skills.

Six days a week they serve lunch for market-goers, and on Friday and Saturday nights they get to play like a big restaurant, serving up a €42 four-course menu. All the money is where it should be. On the plates. The decor is home-spun. A black-painted wall has a row of tarnished silver spoons that grow in size from teaspoon to serving spoon and back to teaspoon.

First up is the bread, in a bucket and still warm – one hanky-shaped loaf and a small scone with speckles of wholemeal flour each. Is it good? So much that I hiss across the table at one point: “Eat that last piece and I will kill you.”

The great thing about everyone being on the same menu is the rolling waves of smells. It’s lobster and butter when we arrive at eight. This dish comes in a bowl with tail meat curled like a protective arm around a generous raviolo. Inside the pasta lies pink lobster mousse and claw meat. It is utterly lovely because it has a fleeting set of ingredients: sprinkled with samphire, just-picked peas and carroty carrots, it’s summer on a plate. The half cherry tomatoes that ring the next course – a crisply fried, perfect piece of cod – have been roasted with slivers of garlic inside. There’s a thyme- heavy tomato “ketchup” with it, so you get the flavours of net, field and vine.

Then the room fills with a meat and fruit smell. There’s a large plate of beautifully cooked duck breasts surrounded by macerated cherries on beetroot discs.

The strawberries and elderflower dessert is served in a glass with a milky vanilla base topped with broken beige meringue and chopped strawberries, and with elderflower syrup laced through it like a tendril from a hedgerow.

Sometimes when chefs are having fun it can be exhausting for the grown-ups. Not here. Sheridan has kept his focus where it should be and is serving up delightful bowls of food. If posh rooms and breathtaking views are your thing, close your eyes and eat here anyway. Maybe a grander setting would spoil the magic. Because what’s happening here is the very definition of a little gem.

Dinner for two with four glasses of wine came to €108.45