The table: Portobello

Well executed and imaginative takes on bistro classics brighten up canal bank landmark

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The Table Restaurant and Wine Bar

  • 1-2 Portobello Road, Dublin 8
  • (01) 4736727
  • Irish

There’s nothing to startle the swans about the table restaurant on Dublin’s Grand Canal. Even the name with its two lower case “t”s seems to strive to fade into the background. They’ve repainted the claret and black corner restaurant in don’t-look-at-me grey. The place was once home to a chef called Kevin Thornton who brought a Michelin star to the canal bank. Until recently it was Nonna Valentina, a cheerful Italian in the Dunne & Crescenzi group.

Now it’s the “big sister” of the nearby Lennox Café. Neighbourhood cafes don’t typically give birth to big sisters. Jumping the shark away from the brunch brigade is a big leap. Brunch joints are lovable cosy places, homes to eggy comfort, leisurely coffees, and a sprawl of newspapers on the table. Expectations are higher when the sun goes down and it’s dinner.

Inside, the table is a study in inoffensive greys, going from storm cloud to the felted underside of a banker’s lapel. Candles and flowers (fake if they’re all like the ones behind our table) provide some relief. There are bare filamented bulbs which glow golden like electric candlelight. These brighten and dim (a bit disconcertingly) all night. Without them the place is so grey you could be sitting inside an economic forecast. The personality deficit isn’t helped by the collection of signs dotted around the walls which look like they came from a clearance sale at the French Country Fridge-magnet School of Philosophy.

The promising things are the service, which is whip smart and friendly, and the menu, which has a scattering of ambitious elements alongside the bistro staples. The place fills up around us and the windows steam up nicely giving a cosy combination of condensation and candlelight. “It’s very dark,” a man at the next tdable says at one point. Download your torch apps.

Bursts of colour come on large hot white plates. My beef carpaccio is fine, tender, rosy, skin-thin slices of beef with fiery rocket and a lemon dressing. But it’s just a small bit lacking in flavour. Across the table there are fresh rings of baby squid crusted with a pumpkin seed pesto which are a texture delight with the toasty crunch of roughly-ground seeds clinging to the napkin-ring size circles of white squid.

My Mum used to make scampi with monkfish back in a day when monkfish was cheaper than chips. And monkfish scampi is back as part of my main course. It’s a fillet of freshly-fried monkfish balancing like a surfboard on a wave of “crushed” potatoes. These are a delightful mix of mash and chunks of skin-on new spuds. The scampi, or chunks of monkfish, have been breaded with a herb-flecked lemony crumb, a crunchy treat alongside the fresh fish.

The second main courses is a “prime beef burger” (as opposed to the subprime type presumably) with crispy onions and chips, which comes with a leathery rasher. The bucket in which the chips are served doesn’t quite fit the hole in the wooden board where it sits. But it’s the only misstep in this classic bistro meal. We’ve defied the endless winter weather and ordered a bottle of summery Camas rosé (€19.95) which sits happily in a cooler on the table alongside bottled tap water.

A shared dessert and an espresso round off a consistently good meal. Lemon posset comes in a Kilner jar with a rosemary and lemon shortbread biscuit. The milk posset is smooth and full of sweet, tangy lemon flavour. The biscuit is a great use of rosemary in a sweet setting, its spiky herb oil blending beautifully with the lemon and butter to great effect. It’s these little touches I like here.

What with the flickering lights and the storm that’s making choppy waves on the canal outside, it’s been a little bit like dining on a ship. A good ship. Our receipt has an all-caps legend printed at the bottom reminding you that the table Restaurant is “NOT JUST FOR SPECIAL OCCASIONS”. So presumably you can drop in wearing your jeans when your fridge is empty. Even so, I’d like to see them lose the fake flowers and splash out on a few fresh daffodils. Their menu is smart casual in food form, but it’s better than average and deserves to stand out rather than fade to grey. Dinner for two with wine and an espresso came to €85.15.

Neighbourhood joint serving good casual food

the table, 1-2 Portobello Road tel: 01-4736727
Facilities: The bon mots boards follow you in
Music: Middle of the road ballads
Food provenance: None, aside from “wild Artic (sic) seabass”
Wheelchair access: Yes