I can only imagine the silent screams of the sous chef who unrolled his sharp, shiny knives in the compact kitchen of Kevin Burke's new Library St restaurant, in Dublin 2, only to discover that he had drawn the chicken-wing-deboning short straw.
Clearly there’s a knife-wielding ninja in that kitchen who, with the dexterity of a surgeon and the patience of a saint, fills the brined skins with a chanterelle-enriched chicken mousse before they are steamed, coated in panko breadcrumbs, and deep-fried, KFC style.
It’s a lot of work for a €6 dish. Cut into three artful pieces, and propped in a puddle of bright-green tarragon mayonnaise, it is no wonder that this snappy little number, which combines crunch with succulent flavour, all punched up with the floral and anise notes of the tarragon mayo, is popping up all over Instagram.
The only way to attack the langoustines is with your hands, licking the charred shells, sucking every morsel of the sweet flesh and mopping up the sauce with the bread, or indeed your fingers
Burke, the former head chef of the Michelin-starred The Ninth, in London, was part of the team, with Niall Davidson and Hugh Higgins, who brought us the excitement of Allta, the previous incumbent in this space. Left to his own devices, the food now is less about koji and more about the spark of vinegar.
Plates are intended for sharing and land on the table together, but in a manageable way, coming roughly in courses. A Dooncastle oyster (€3.50) is dressed with Bourgoin verjus and a curl of pickled chilli; a very crisp tube of choux is filled with horseradish creme fraiche and topped with Cantabrian anchovy and pickled radish (€4); marinated red peppers (€4) are resplendent with an earthy salsa verde; and for mopping-up duty there’s Tartine bread (€4).
The ninja may also have been called on to splice the Porcupine Bank langoustines in half – oddly, five halves for €16. They are marinated and then thrown on the grill so the shells char and the meat just barely warms through. The only way to attack these is with your hands, licking the charred shells, sucking every morsel of the sweet flesh and mopping up the sauce with the bread, or indeed your fingers.
And then you can move on to the relative calm of Delica pumpkin risotto (€12.50) until you discover, with a quiver of excitement, that this Goldilocks conundrum of a dish is perfect. A risotto should be neither too dry nor too wet, and the well-separated grains of Carnaroli rice should ripple across the plate like a wave, all’onda. In the crest of this wave I discover treasure after treasure – the pumpkin, which somehow doesn’t taste too sweet, crunchy pumpkin seeds, and cubes of pickled vegetables. It elicits groans as we clear the plate.
The chargrilled pork chop (€29) arrives sliced, released from its charred bone, which is there to gnaw on. It is sweet, with delicate fat and just enough chimichurri to dip into, although I’m not so keen on the dandelion, which has a bitter, metallic flavour. But then I have so much else to get through: crisp Lyonnaise potatoes (€7) and a huge side of romanesco with preserved cucumber and mint (€7.50).
There are just two desserts on the menu, and really you need to order both, because Audrey Cahatol, a young chef working on dishes that Burke has already developed, has clearly got talent. Segments of clementine, a zesty sorbet and an ethereal foam of sheep's milk dusted with dehydrated clementine zest (€10) are light and refreshing; and the buttery Paris-Brest filled with yuzu cream, is decadent, dotted with stout namelaka (a light ganache) and hazelnuts, with a beautifully restrained espresso ice cream on the side (€12).
This is my type of restaurant. It may not have the thrumming energy of a Davidson operation – the Toby Hatchett-designed speakers went with him – but it has the wine-bar vibe of Éan in Galway. You could eat here very affordably, working your way through a few of the smaller plates, and sticking to wines by the glass, on the good but slightly spenny wine list (although there are three reasonably priced wines on tap).
There is no minimum order but there is an inclusive 12.5 per cent service charge, which I have no problem with, but it does make me wonder if it may move in the direction of a fixed-price menu, as Allta did. They are, after all, the same investors. If it does, I would hope that the risotto, in various iterations, is there to stay. And that the ninja in the kitchen doesn't lose his patience.
Dinner for two, with a bottle of wine and 12.5 per cent service charge, was €176
- Verdict Delicious food that is true to its roots
- Facilities Smart and compact
- Food provenance Top tier: Glenmar fish, McNally's and Elmhurst Farm vegetables, Ivan Fitzpatrick's meat
- Music In the background. It's all about the chat in the room
- Vegetarian options Yes, extensive, and plenty for vegans too
- Wheelchair access Room is accessible and there is an accessible toilet