Clanbrassil House: A New Kitchen Team, Bistro Vibes And People-Watching in D8
Lisa Cope - 26th October 2021
What’s the story?
Clanbrassil House was opened in 2017 by Bastible owners Barry and Clare-Marie Fitzgerald, as a more laid back, neighborhood spot for small plates and wine. It rose up the Dublin restaurant charts rapidly with Gráinne O'Keefe (now head chef/owner of Mae in Ballsbridge) cooking with fire in the kitchen and earning a Michelin Bib Gourmand, and dishes like their hot smoked trout, rib-eye steaks and infamous hash brown fries were soon appearing on every social media feed you own.
Covid upended most restaurants in the city (and the rest), and when O'Keefe announced in May she was going solo with her own restaurant, we weren't sure what was going to happen with Clanbrassil House - would be business as usual or time for a switch up? We started to see glimpses of the new incarnation in July, and whilst initially subtle, there was obviously a more grown up feel starting to emerge from their feeds (and all traces of the old CH have been wiped from their Instagram page).
Soon after it was announced that the new head chef was James Dobson (formerly sous chef at Potager in Skerries, a restaurant we have a whole lot of love for), and that he'd been joined by David Bradshaw, a chef we've been watching closely since he returned from Lyle's in London during the pandemic - a restaurant we're borderline obsessed with. It sounded like the new Clanbrassil House was in very good hands, so we went to check it out.
Where should we sit?
The major change in the dining room has been the move from high tables to low, and with the sage walls, exposed brick, wooden floors and barely audible music, there's a neighbourhood Parisian bistro feel about it all. It brought back memories of the much worshipped Le Baratin - right down to the chalkboard menus on the wall.
If there are two of you, beg, borrow and steal to get the window seats, which is some of the best people-watching real estate in town. We felt a warm glow at hearing a newborn baby cry in the back - what a great place for exhausted parents in need of a treat to hide out and get a bit of headspace.
What's the food like?
It's a straightforward affair of snacks, starters, mains and desserts, with two courses for €38 and three for €48. There's also a six course option for €65 which is their choice so unfortunately you can't pick what you want, but might be good if you're feeling indecisive.
Of course we ordered all the snacks (always on brand), and a Connemara oyster with smoked poblano pepper, tomatillo and prawn shell oil was fresh, full of flavour and beautifully presented.
In the most exciting dough-based news since Scéal started Pastry Bae Thursdays, Bastible's fermented potato bread with cultured butter is now available at its sister restaurant. Genius move, genius bread. Don't leave without having ordered it or we'll be really mad at you.
You may not have come across salsify before (a delicate-tasting white root vegetable that's part of the dandelion family), so it was a welcome sight to see it here in a light, crispy tempura batter with a zippy burnt lemon and chilli dip. This was such an elegant, different opener to a meal, and it's made us wish more chefs were using it (although this example was particularly good).
Our first starter was a delicate, fragrant broth with roasted onion tortellini, girolles and tarragon. Less of a flavour slap in the face, more one of those dishes that develops and gets better with every bite. Grown up, restrained but a beauty of a dish, and felt very apt for an Autumnal night looking out at hat and scarf clad pedestrians on Clanbrassil Street.
Our other starter of carrots, hazelnuts, house curd and bitter leaves was another beautiful looking dish, but tasted like it was lacking something, and overall felt a bit flat on flavour. More creaminess in the curd and a smack of acid (not that kind) probably would transformed it.
A main of BBQ organic pointed cabbage with black garlic, lovage and potato crisp was probably the dish of the night, and would make us sidestep meat every single time. How anyone gets this much flavour into a plate of vegetables and vegetables alone is something that evades us in our own kitchens. The cabbage was swimming in a litany of sauces and swirls, each spoon tasting better than the last, and the crisps ended every bite with a satisfying crunch.
Our other main of Salter's pork belly with barley, Hokkaido pumpkin and Szechuan pepper was another slow burner. At the start we were slightly underwhelmed, but as it went on the subtle flavours seemed to open up and become more identifiable, with the barley giving a lovely chew, a deeply flavoured jus underneath, and just the merest hint of Szechuan pepper. A very grown up, sophisticated dish, but the cabbage won for memorability.
We're having a bit of a love affair with potatoes recently. The once boring, stomach filler sides seem to be becoming more interesting by the week, and the herby, buttery ones that arrived here were no different. It took all of our efforts to not finish the bowl so that we'd have room for dessert.
We'd seen their new dessert of baked cream with fennel and wild blackberries on Instagram and immediately thought of Lyle's in London, so no surprise to find out this was David Bradshaw's creation, and he even foraged the blackberries himself - this is the kind of commitment we reserve internal claps for. It's made with egg whites only so is airy and light, the blackberries have the flavour that you only get from the wild ones (and will probably trigger memories of Granny's jam, Mum's crumbles etc.), and it's topped with a blackberry granita and fennel pollen. We adored it, and it's hard to think of a more perfect Autumn dessert, and a more perfect way to end a meal here.
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What about the drinks?
The wine list here is right up our street, and for the first time in a long time we would have happily drank any bottle from the list. Prices are punchy though, with the cheapest bottle €38 (the lovely but simple Cantine Rallo Ciello Rosso), and margins are generally high. We drank the Fumey Chatelain Arbois Chardonnay (€50) which worked well with all of the dishes, but didn't have as much of the Jura character as we were hoping for.
And the service?
Very calm and collected, almost like they were performing a ballet. It would be difficult to imagine anyone front or back of house losing their cool in here, it looked like a very well-oiled ship (plus it would echo across the relatively quiet dining room). The head chef also brought a few dishes to the table, which we love because we get to fire a million questions at them about the dish in their hand.
And the damage?
Around €90 a head for three snacks, two starters, two mains, one dessert, a bottle of wine and two dessert wines. You could eat and drink here for cheaper, but we had a civic duty to take it for a proper spin.
There's a new Clanbrassil House in town. The lively, fire-filled restaurant has turned into a more grown up, bistro-style affair, with evident talent in the kitchen. Things feel a tiny cautious, albeit with flashes of originality, but often it's softly-softly when it comes to changing up a well-loved concept, and we're extremely interested to see how this one develops over the next few months. They've got the team, the room and judging by the amount of weekend tables already booked up between now and the end of 2021 they've got the clientele, so if you want in here for a pre-Christmas date/friend reunion/work night out, you need to get on it soon. Consider yourself warned.