Triple the Mexican taste at 777
The food is lip-smackingly gorgeous – no Tex-Mex staples of guacamole or refried beanshere, writes CATHERINE CLEARY
THE NEW MEXICAN restaurant from the people behind Dillingers and the Butcher Grill looks like it was designed in a desert on the hot bonnet of a Cadillac with a bottle of tequila in one hand and a dog-eared Hemingway in the other. There are the saucy etchings on the tiles (picture fantasy women drawn by teenage boys in biro on the back of their copy books). It’s tacky in a blokey hipster kind of way. Then there’s the liquor, lots of it, varieties of tequila lined up like sweetie jars on the shelves behind the bar.
None of this is visible from the outside. 777, or Treble Seven as they will say when you phone up to book, is on South Great George’s Street, and from the street it looks vaguely like an adult shop, a glossy black blank with frosted windows and the shadows of chairs inside. The only sign is a small 777 and a menu in a box with neon graphic sevens in garish colour behind the food and cocktail list.
Attention to detail and a concept packaged right down to the quirky vintage sink in the bathroom are all features of this stable’s restaurants. The vintage subway tiles have made their way from Ranelagh’s Butcher Grill to here, along with the slightly challenging seating system, more of which later.
The food is posh Mexican (no Tex-Mex staples of guacamole or refried beans). Yet the dish of the night goes to a €6 portion of street food, a barbecued corn-on-the-cob halved, skewered on a stick and rolled in a soft crumbly cheese, butter, salt and lime juice. It’s not pretty to look at or to eat but it’s lip-smackingly gorgeous.
There’s a long, complicated menu which takes a good three minutes of explanation from the friendly waitress. Although we’ve booked a table I’ve been put at the high stools at the bar when I arrive and the tables behind me remain resolutely empty.
They look like they will take four people, so the system seems to be to seat pairs of diners at the bar and save the tables for larger groups. This is annoying. It’s made up for by the fact that everyone who works here is extremely friendly, but the gravel in cement-mixer sound of a cocktail shaker every few minutes starts to grate after a while.
Liam starts with one of the expensive cocktails (these are already a hot topic of conversation on the restaurant’s Facebook page). His Pie Magico is made with gin, cucumber, a lime and ginger liqueur and a roll of pickled cucumber on a cocktail stick. It’s delicious, as it should be for €11.
I get six plump creamy oysters served with a lime. The “saltine crackers” they’re supposed to come with haven’t arrived yet, I’m told, and the salsa buffalo turns out to be a spicy brown sauce that’s in a bottle on the counter, which is a little underwhelming.
I have real plate envy for Liam’s taquitos. They’re a small portion of three steamed tortillas filled with a salty, gorgeous minced pork with shredded onion, plenty of fresh coriander and slices of radish on top. It’s a perfect mix of good flavours. His main course is a bit more meat-and-veg with spices, a rump steak fried medium rare and served with papas bravas – small spiced roasties – and a side of chimichurri, a kind of eating-and-drinking vinaigrette with fresh parsley, oregano and red pepper. I have the swordfish special, two firm white, almost heart-shaped pieces smeared with a caper, pepper, olive and spice sauce and sitting on top of a some garlicked spinach. There is a delicious pot of escabeche veracruz, or pickled vegetables – carrots, cucumber and onion – turned into mouth-puckering clean hits of flavour. And I get a few small soft tortillas to pack the various components into. The elotes, or fried corn cob, comes in a prison-style white tin bowl and is wonderful. Finally, some street food brilliantly executed in a Dublin restaurant.
Two nifty sorbets, a tamarind and a pepino (cucumber) come in separate stainless steel jelly bowls, making a clean finish to a tasty meal. Treble Seven stands out in a sea of bistro-ey clones and badly executed ethnic stodge. It’s good fun and good food.
Dinner for two with two beers, a cocktail and a glass of Celestia Sauvignon Blanc came to €105.10.
7 Castle House South Great Georges Street, Dublin 2, tel: 01-4254052
Music: Hipstery and syncopated with the sound of cocktail shaking
Facilities: You walk through the kitchen (embarrassingly) and use a communal sink that looks like it has several stories to tell
Food provenance: None
Wheelchair access: Yes
Calamari dreaming: El Toro Bravo
Take a tomato, slice it and sprinkle with some finely diced garlic, a few flakes of Maldon salt and parsley. Finish with a drizzle of good olive oil. Do this with a just-ripe and warm-from-the-vine tomato and serve it with ice-cold beer as the sun beats down outside and you have a small piece of heaven on a plate. Do it in a new tapas bar in Dublin, where the buses roar by outside and your tomato has travelled further than you, and it’s more of a stretch.
El Toro Bravo has opened its doors on South Richmond Street in Dublin, a strip that is slowly coming out of decades of dereliction, one small business at a time. Inside, it’s smart and brown in that masculine urban wine bar way. Best dish of the night was a bowl of clams in a green pepper sauce and a tasty paella with calamari that didn’t taste like knicker elastic. Desserts were a bit of a let down with a rubbery crepe and a dry slice of almond cake with a squirt of Chantilly, but service was friendly and very efficient. Dinner for two with two glasses of house Sauvignon Blanc, coffee and a mint tea (made with a Lidl brand tea bag) came to €67.65.
El Toro Bravo, 27 South Richmond Street, Dublin 2, tel: 01-4758460