In his cookbook Salt is Essential chef Shaun Hill has written one of the best explanations of how restaurants do what home cooks don't. Serving food fast without making it taste like fast food is a culinary sleight of hand. Hours are spent on the sideshows that give depth to the flashier main event. So while your fish is fried to order, the stock used in the sauce started simmering before you booked a table.
It explains why meat is still king in this firmly French school of cooking stuff down to its essence and then spooning, squirting or dabbing it over a centre piece. Steak is the crowd-pleaser that keeps on pleasing no matter how many slabs of cauliflower with aspirations towards steakdom sashay on to menus.
In Featherblade, the steak is back like a rock band that doesn’t care that it fell down an unhip gap for a spell. The Dawson Street steakhouse is named after the cut of meat that comes from the shoulder blade of the animal. There are only two of these cuts per animal which might explain the binary feel to the choices. I like a short menu but this is extreme brevity, so curt it’s more of a blurt than a list of options. At each turn you choose between two things. Two people will eat everything they have to offer.
It is appropriately short as we have just “an hour” on our table on a Sunday evening to blaze a trail through it. We’ve wandered in without a booking and so we grab our seats and set to it. Featherblade smells of truffle oil and is a blokey place. There is an ocean of blackboard paint and manly blues played live on slide guitar, a nice touch, in a place that has several. The seats are wooden slatted benches on to which someone has put chunky black cushions that feel like an afterthought for comfort. The cushion puts you slightly off kilter with the person sitting in the chair, like the child at the dinner table with the biscuit tin under them.
It takes longer to order our food than it does to read the menu as the waiter struggles with his technology, a small screen held in a Star Trek-style blaster. It seems a slightly over-engineered approach given the choice count. But we are in an age in love with gadgets.
So there are good ham hock croquettes, balls of pink threads in crisp breadcrumbs on puddles of apple and fennel sauce with a neat tower of remoulade topped with an apple crisp. My starter, the lone vegetarian option on the menu, feels like a slap on the wrist for not going all-in on the meat. Ricotta gnocchi are served on a soupy squash puree with “wild” mushrooms. The gnocchi take blandness to a new level, crying out for salt and the sage butter that’s in the menu listing but doesn’t seem to have made it to the plate. It’s not terrible but it’s a dish that could have been dialed up several notches with seasoning and flavour.
Mouthfuls of meat
But then our steak, the 16oz “Petite Tender” for two is great. Juicy pink mouthfuls of meat, with a smoky char on the outside and seasoned with the necessary blizzard of salt that restaurant chefs know makes high-heat steak cooking taste so much better than at home. There’s a good béarnaise sauce, all vinegar and butter and threads of fresh tarragon and a herby chermoula-style dip. Fat sweet potato chips charred nearly to a crisp on the outside. But the salad leaves are insipid and longstem broccoli come with a weird aftertaste of latex, that grows stronger as they cool.
The “lemon meringue éclair” has to be tried, if only for its kitsch throw-everything-into-the-mixness. But it’s nothing special. The choux pastry is leathery and the splodge of blowtorched meringue smothers the lemon filling. A raspberry panna cotta is better but again they’ve wedged everything in here, mousse, brownies and pannacotta like a full dessert menu simmered down to one over-busy bowl.
If you’re going to call your restaurant after a cut of meat then you’d better make the meat great. And they have. Now if they could just get the other dishes to the same level I’d be in a very happy place. I like the simplicity of what’s going on here and the price. Organic grass-fed Irish beef is a hero food worth putting front and centre stage. But it deserves terrific jazz hands companions to keep up the dazzle of the show.
Dinner for two with sparkling water came to €67
The steak is great. Other elements need work.
Facilities: Genteel. Desert Island Discs piped in on the sound system.
Food provenance: Meat is supplied by FXB’s and McLoughlin’s.
Music: Live the night we visited.
Wheelchair access: No.
Vegetarian options: Verging on zero
TRAVEL & CAKE , 189 CARRER DEL ROSELLÓ, BARCELONA, SPAIN
There is nothing particularly Spanish about Cup and Cake, a small chain of bakeries in Barcelona. I wandered into their Travel and Cake shop on Carrer del Roselló in search of breakfast on a recent trip to the city. It was a lovely mix of lavish cakes and healthier staples. I got a fruit-laden fluffy rye pancake with ricotta cheese, sprinkled with edible flowers for €6.90. Excellent coffee was €1.50. Combining healthy eating and no-holds-barred cake under one roof was a new one on me but a nice one.