Clanbrassil House: Dynamic, charcoal cooking in Dublin 8
Lisa Cope - 15th March 2018
What’s the story?
The second, more-casual opening from Bastible chef-owner Barry Fitzgerald and his partner Claremarie Thomas, with rapidly rising chef Gráinne O’Keeffe in the kitchen. Part of a contingent of young restaurateurs behind some of the most dynamic food in Dublin right now, Bastible's been showing up on every ‘best places to eat in Dublin’ list since opening, and along with their contemporaries like Etto and Forest & Marcy, have injected a new streak of energy into the Dublin dining scene. Clanbrassil House opened in Autumn 2017 and was supposed to be a more casual wine and small plates type of place, but we reckon most people are coming here for a full, multi-course meal.
Where’s good for a drink beforehand?
We liked 57 The Headline which has a brilliant Gin & Tonic menu, huge beer selection and comfy seats. If you want a more traditional pub you’ve got Leonard’s Corner, and if you’re after wine you’d probably be best to go straight to Clanbrassil House and see if they can seat you early for an aperitif.
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What’s the room like?
Narrow and cosy. Very much ‘Parisian wine bar’, as opposed to ‘inner-city Dublin’. There are high tables and stools at the front, which is a lovely space with bare brick and deep blue walls, wine bottles lined up along one side and fairy lights in the window. It feels very grown up, and like you could be in any number of cool European cities. In the back are the normal tables where you can look into the kitchen, but we could see it from our high table too.
What's good to eat?
If you’re like us you’ll want it all, and the menu is small enough that if there were four of you (or two who were very hungry) you could just tell them to bring everything. They do a family style sharing menu for €40 a head where the chefs pick food from every section once the order goes in, and it works out as good value, but they’re not keen on telling you what’s going to come out in advance so it feels a bit like Russian roulette. We did tell our server there was one dish we weren’t keen on, and she managed to get it changed to the one we really wanted, but we would have liked full disclosure before deciding whether to go family style (which we did) or á la carte.
From the snacks, Verdial olives were exceptional - the type you find in most good bars in Spain but rarely here. Iberico ham croquettes were good, but the knockout dish was grilled sourdough and hot smoked trout. The flavours of smoke from the grill were vivid, and it's come up in conversations a lot since.
From the smaller plates, roast leeks, chopped egg and chicken skin was enjoyable whilst not particularly memorable (and maybe a touch under seasoned), but the chicken liver parfait with caramelised apple and brioche was rich, luxurious and perfect.
When it came to the charcoal grill (larger plates) our expectations were completely flipped on their heads. We’d been eager to try the Picana steak with roasted bone marrow, parmesan and anchovy, and while it looked great and the flavours were good, the meat was tough and sinewy, and we didn’t enjoy it.
The BBQ cauliflower however, with vadouvan butter, lentils and yoghurt (which we probably wouldn’t have picked) turned out to be one of the most memorable dishes of the night (and the year), culminating
in a tussle over the last few scrapes of the plate. The cauliflower was almost meat-like, and the flavours were an another level. It takes a skilful kitchen to make a relatively flavourless vegetable taste this good (although the fact it was swimming in butter helped).
The infamous hash brown fries were in fact just hash browns in the shape of chips (we're not sure what we were expecting after the mass hysteria on Instagram), and we couldn’t ascertain much pickled onion from the mayo, which it really could have done with to cut through the fat in the fries.
Desserts were chocolate mousse, honeycomb and marmalade ice-cream - all very nicely done - and blood orange doughnuts with buttermilk custard, which had a nice texture but only the teeniest splodge of blood orange. The buttermilk custard was beautiful and delicately flavoured.
What about the drinks?
The wine list is very short. One sparkling, five whites and five reds – three of each are available by the glass). Personally we don’t think this is enough, and although we did have some lovely wines, if you’re only going to have a list this short, every wine has to knock it out of the park.
The Mas Candi Cava is a a brilliant example of Spanish sparkling wine, and it’s refreshing to see something other than prosecco by the glass. For whites we had a Riesling from German producer Geil, which is perfectly good but not going to change your life, and the Spanish Louro from Rafael Palacios, which is stunning. For reds we had a natural Côtes du Rhône from Eric Texier, and an Austrian Blaufrankisch from Murh van der Niepoort. The Blaufrankisch had more to it. We had tasters of a few others but none were hitting the spot. If we were going for a single bottle it would have been Australian producer Jamsheed’s Syrah, which is a brilliant, vibrant example of new-wave natural wine.
And the service?
Lovely – informative and accommodating. There when you needed them and not there when you didn’t. Our only issue was the speed the food came out at the start (although this isn’t the fault of the front of house staff). We had two snacks and three starters on the table within 15 minutes of the order going in and had to ask them to slow down. If the courses had been more well-paced and we we were told what was on the family style menu (again probably coming from the kitchen) it would have been a perfect 10.
This is exciting, innovative cooking from a kitchen that’s not standing still, and whilst it might not have been 100% perfect we love what they’re doing. When they get it right, they really take the food to a different level, and we're planning a return soon. On the night we were there Darina Allen flew in for a few plates before an early morning flight to San Francisco. Clearly the woman has her priorities right.