This is the restaurant Dublin has been waiting for – The Irish Times
An omelet is the kind of skill test you’ll likely see on MasterChef, not an entree on a restaurant menu. This is not a dish that will sit on the pass waiting for another entree to be ready. So good that we ordered the no-cook crab salad (€16) as well as Peter’s omelette with Bordeaux snail from Inis (€16) in one of Dublin’s newest restaurants, the Park Cafe in Ballsbridge, the former home of Dylan McGrath’s Shelbourne Social, now in the care of Richard Corrigan.
What happens is perfection. It is delicately folded, with a creamy egg oozing from the center. A scintillating bordelaise sauce with snail nuggets flanks each side of the Corleggy-dusted omelet. It’s not a dish made for Instagram: it’s made to be eaten. The snails come from Peter Monaghan in Cavan, just a few miles from Corrigan’s Virginia Park Lodge, not frozen snails trucked in from France. They have been blanched twice, stripped of their shells, then introduced into a Bordeaux that has a long and hedonistic relationship with wine.
I dine with a dear friend, Ernie Whalley, the former Sunday Times food critic in Ireland, who is encyclopedic when it comes to classics. We had little doubt the food was going to be good – Corrigan is in the kitchen with his sleeves rolled up and his arms burnt – but we weren’t exactly expecting that nostalgic kick with certain dishes.
The crab is tasty – sweet, with celeriac mixed with mustard; it might be a neat enough helper, but Liberty Wines’ exquisite Tuscan olive oil and focaccia are at your fingertips. If you’ve ever wondered what a quality olive oil looks like, this is your go-to.
The “La Jammet” kebab (€24) is one of those old classics that none of us had tasted before. Based on the ‘Turkish-style’ kebab, it’s a recipe Corrigan learned while studying at Cathal Brugha Street with PJ Dunne, the former chef of Jammet’s restaurant in Dublin. Kidneys, liver and marinated cubes of Old Castle Hill lamb are tangy on a large skewer, sitting alongside two chops over spiced roasted vegetables, pumpkin dhal and raita. Enough to feed a small family, so you can barely finish the roasted root vegetables (€5) and fries (€6).
Our other main course is the fillet of black sole (€29), cooked with tearful precision, but there’s a buttermilk beurre blanc to drizzle over fish fillets, sandwiched with a delicate mushroom duxelle.
A Didier Desvignes Fleurie (€56) is recommended, served slightly chilled, in a list that we are told will have a few more bottles at the more accessible end. Looking around room D4, however, there are plenty of people likely to make their way through this pricey but beautiful roster, which pushes ubercool producers Ulysse Collin, La Stoppa and Jura against old-school classics.
The desserts are affordable and accessible. The steamed pudding (€6) with custard, cream and a baptism of caramel tastes like the pudding of your childhood, but not with caramel back then.
The Park Cafe, or TPC as I’m sure it will be known, opened its doors after a year of scrutiny. I don’t know what caused it. Maybe it’s Brexit, or maybe Dublin is where all the celebrity chefs want to be right now. But it’s not as simple as that. Getting it here is one of those hard-to-define intangibles. But I think it comes down to commitment as well as skill.
Corrigan has been in the kitchen, training chefs and sending troops from London to make sure what he throws out here is something he can handle. He’s not a franchise boss, and I’m not sure he needs the heartache of a new outpost. Still, it looks like he’s coming home, and it’s a really nice way to do it.
This is the kind of good food I like to see. My budget may not extend to the Burgundies on this fine wine list, but I want to eat all the dishes on this menu. It’s not only good value for money, but also money well spent. This is the restaurant Dublin has been waiting for.
Dinner for two with a bottle of wine and 10% included service charge was €173.
THE VERDICT: Good food without nonsense or bravado
Music: Background, Portishead and a mix
Source of food: Virginia Park Lodge vegetables and pork, Kelly oysters, Frank Hederman salmon
Vegetarian options: Limit. Pickled Beets, Leaves and Nuts Burrata and Virginia Park Lodge; Jerusalem artichoke soup, Caesar salad; kale and potato gnocchi
Wheelchair access: Accessible, with accessible washrooms