Small, seasonal and perfectly formed
Lisa Cope - 2nd August 2018
What’s the story?
Ken Doherty and Gwen McGrath's tiny restaurant on Kevin Street in Dublin 8 is probably on the radar of most self-respecting Dublin foodies, but because they only open for lunch Tuesday - Friday we know just a handful of people who've managed to get there. The limited opening hours are to allow them to have a manageable family life and see their two children, but they do occasionally do pop-up dinners, like the one at Green Man Wines a few months ago which sold out almost as quickly as it was announced, and we hear you can book the space (and the chefs) for private parties in the evening.
Both Ken and Gwen had worked in places before where produce is king (Good Things Café, Café Paradiso, Dax), and it's the same in Assassination Custard. Vegetables come from McNally Family Farm, with Ken himself often cycling to collect them, and meat is locally sourced. Offal appears regularly. After very complimentary reviews this year in the Irish Times and the Irish Examiner (and from everyone we know who's been there) we thought it was time for a midweek pilgrimage.
What’s the room like?
Teeny, with a max of 12 covers we're told (if even). There's one long rectangular table that fits three, and another round table where you can expect to sit with strangers, which is all part of the fun. We would definitely advise getting here as close to opening as possible, unless you're not in a rush. By 12:30 they were full with four people outside baying for seats. Despite this there's no feeling that they're trying to turn tables at lightning speed and the whole things is very relaxed, like having been
invited into someone's kitchen who's going to make you the lunch of your life.
What's good to eat?
The hand-written menu changes daily depending on what produce they can get their hands on, but we'd be surprised to find a dud dish, and it always reflects what's in season. The panelle (pronounced pah-nell-eh) seem to be constant - savoury, salty slices of addictiveness made from chickpea flour before being deep-fried. It would be very easy to do a portion per person.
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From the other dishes on the menu that day we loved the fish pickle with homemade piccalilli, the oily tuna and anchovies lifted and balanced out by the vinegary pickle, which made for a perfect palate kickstarter, the juices mopped up with their chargrilled, homemade bread. We also loved the jalapeños with labneh, the thick, creamy yoghurt a perfect accompaniment to the charred, occasional fiery hot peppers (there's a bit of Russian roulette involved with the McNally jalapeños).
A steaming bowl of chickpeas with sobrasada was so simple and so comforting, particularly on a cold, wet day in July (the return of the Irish summer), and is the kind of basic but brilliant dish that makes you pledge to start making it at home. Pointed cabbage with tahini sauce, Sichuan peppercorns and a dusting of curry powder was a deliciously brilliant example of what can be done when vegetables are put centre stage.
The dessert option when we were there was flan covered in a thick caramel sauce, which tasted like the filling from the richest, densest cheesecake. They're famous for their "ugly but good" meringues with coriander and hazlenuts but they weren't on that day. If you see one, grab one. We ate most of the menu and the bill came to just over €40, which was really good value for food of this quality.
What about the drinks?
They only serve chilled tap water and coffee, but you can BYO for free.
And the service?
Wonderfully warm, almost like being entertained in someone's home. It's just Gwen and Ken, and they talk diners through the menu, making suggestions when asked and delivering the dishes to the table. There's a really intimate atmosphere because of the size and you get the feeling that nothing would be too much trouble.
A really special place for lunch that's well worth a midweek detour to Dublin 8. If you like eating with the seasons and food that comes from as close to the source as possible, you'll fall in love with Assassination Custard as soon as you walk through the door. If you can round up a gang of family and friends and take over the space for an evening, even better. That's something that's just gone to the top of our food-related wish list - although unsurprisingly we hear they're quite booked up for the next few months.