Saturday, August 31, 2013

CLEAVER EAST REVIEW

A.A. Gill quotes a chef who dreads getting a Michelin star because his restaurant would fill up with “people with faces liked smacked bottoms” who complain about everything. I’m sure that’s true.

Personally, I find the tyre company’s food guide so inconsistent that I’m past caring about what they say but I’ll concede that Michelin doesn’t throw stars round like confetti. It’s highly significant, then, that there are two chefs in the kitchen at Cleaver East who have that recognition for work elsewhere.

Oliver Dunne has his star for Bon Appetit in Malahide and Rory Carville got his at Locks.

So, there’s serious talent at Cleaver East (which was given that name, by the way, because Oliver Dunne says he “just liked the sound of it”). The motif is picked up in the d├ęcor which involves a vast number of artistically arranged meat cleavers covering the walls and even the windows of what used to be The Tea Room at the Clarence Hotel.

Cleaver East is all about small plates for sharing, that come in the order in which they are ready. This is very much the coming thing and I applaud it. If you’re a meat and three veg person who likes quantity, you’ll hate every minute of it.

The current menu is quite short (no doubt it will expand a little in time) and there seems to be a slight tilt towards seafood. It is certainly eclectic, inventive and impossible to pigeonhole in terms of style.

For example, there was our dish of lobster dumplings (large, meaty, silken skinned) with a brilliantly sharp broth of lemongrass scented coconut milk, tiny Chinese mushrooms and baby pak choi leaves. It was an exercise in combining richness and lightness, a really successful exercise in plucking elements from oriental cooking.

From the short section called “twisted classics” we enjoyed the Scotch egg – a soft-cooked quail’s egg in a ball of naturally smoked haddock flesh, but didn’t finish the beef curry which was a mini-steak of rather flavourless beef marinated in very bland curry spices and served with tiny pickled vegetables. It’s not a bad idea but it seemed a bit timid and imperfectly thought through.

Then came the really inspired dish – lamb breast which had been clearly cooked very slowly to render most of the fat (this is a very fatty cut) and render the meat itself meltingly tender. The top involved a thin layer of perfect crispness, the interior a flavour of deep, rosemary scented intensity. It was fabulous. Lightly glazed in its own jus, it almost didn’t need the rosemary aioli (although we were glad to have it) and glazed infant turnips.

And you know what? As soon as we had finished it, we ordered another. It seemed like a good idea at the time, and so it proved.

Small as all of these dishes are (they are, if you insist on dimensions, somewhere just shy of the average starter) the lamb is very rich and so we decided to finish with something light, delicate and full of taste.  This was a carpaccio of Dexter beef with Parmesan shavings, capers and flecks of some kind of clear, savoury jelly. It was as good as it sounds. Wafer thin slices of meat, sharp little explosions from the capers, Parmesan that seemed as if the taste of a whole wheel of the stuff had been concentrated into a single flake.

We declined pud but were given one anyway by Oliver Dunne: a beautifully presented and correctly textured (i.e. very loose) pannacotta topped with blueberries and raspberries and (oh joy!) honeycomb (think of what’s inside a Crunchie).

With a bottle of mineral water and a bottle of house red, our bill came in under €80 (there being 20% off the food during the first month). Service was outstanding (friendly but not intrusive, helpful, efficient).

Cleaver East is an original in several respects. All restaurants know that they won’t fire consistently on all cylinders as they get on their feet (and I happily mix metaphors). But they all charge full whack all the same.

Cleaver East has broken the mould in this respect. They have discounted prices by 20% for the first month (you have a week left, by the way).

They deserve support for this gesture alone (a first, I think, in Ireland) but add the exceptional, refined cooking being applied to what is essentially informal, fun, food and you have something delightful. Cleaver East is going to be a sensation.

Cleaver East
East Essex Street
Temple Bar
Dublin 2
Phone: 01 531 3500

WINE CHOICE:
Apart from a range of cocktails, most of them at €8.95 and a collection of proper beers, there’s a virtually 100% European wine list. Our €22 Tempranillo was fine for the price and Rocca Antica Primitivo is worth €26. I can’t say the same of Ca’ di Ponti Nero d’Avola at €29 – it’s the house red in lots of places. There are some very serious and expensive wines here which may be rather out of kilter with the style of the restaurant.

THE SMART MONEY:
Two dishes, a glass of wine and an espresso would do me fine and weigh in around €30.

AND ANOTHER THING:

I gather that the number of “celebs” per square metre is quite high.

Published in the Irish Daily Mail, August 2013