I’ve taken to studying restaurant wine lists in advance more assiduously than I used to. In part, it’s because wine prices have gone up so much (thanks to a combination of increased taxes and mark-ups across the board) that it’s more important than ever not to risk a costly mistake. There’s also the chance of spotting something interesting that might otherwise get overlooked in the flurry of greetings and menus and ordering (“you have that, and you have that and I’ll have that and then we’ll all swap” is the typical negotiation that precedes review meals).
So the afternoon before our dinner last month, I spent 10 minutes looking at The Old Spot’s list, which is more interesting and diverse than I remember it being when I last ate there back in January.
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(On that occasion we’d gone for Sunday lunch with a gang of friends for a birthday celebration that segued pleasantly into early evening without anyone putting us under any pressure to relinquish our table. Now that the weather has turned, I’ll be planning more of those long lunches.)
I’d decided before we left home what wine to order but, as we walked in, a bottle of the ‘Raisins Gaulois’, a pure gamay from M&C Lapierre in Beaujolais – you may recognise it as the one with the cheerful chap glugging just-squeezed grape juice on the label – winked at me from across the room. We discovered this in the excellent Green Man Wines in Terenure last year and took to it enthusiastically for home consumption until – quelle horreur – the supply ran dry. The natural and organic wine comes in at just 12.5pc ABV and is pure fun, so we ordered a bottle (€46) straight away, almost before we sat down.
“We only have two left,” said our server, “will I hold the second one for you?” Clearly, staff training under general manager Denise McBrien, winner of the RAI’s Dublin Restaurant Manager of the Year Award a few months back, is going to plan.
At seven o’clock on a Wednesday evening, The Old Spot is buzzing. With an early bird priced at €24 for two courses, it’s easy to understand why, but the restaurant is just as busy when we leave a couple of hours later, with a constant stream of new arrivals throughout the evening. We’re not keen on the first table that we’re offered – at the back by the loos – but a request to move is acceded to without fuss.
I learn the next day that we visited on the first night of Fiachra Kenny’s new menu, a real kitchen nightmare for any chef, but I’d never have guessed.
We start with gambas pil pil – three huge crustacean monsters – in a rich, piquant sauce demanding mopping, a simple but properly tasty dish of mushrooms on toast topped with a Parmesan fondue and a substantial croquette of ham hock and crubeen served with celeriac remoulade and a home-made brown sauce, any of which I’d be more than happy to eat again. The only starter to disappoint – and then only slightly – is the crispy hen’s egg with smoked haddock brandade, which is strangely bland.
By way of mains, there is impeccable roast Texel lamb – perfectly pink, pink, pink – accompanied by carrots coated in sesame, a tranche of compressed potato with olive and a Roscoff onion topped with a salsa verde that could have been punchier. A rib-eye comes with pepper sauce (a choice would have been good) and great hand-cut chips, while pork belly with silky mashed potato, cabbage, morteau sausage and all manner of savoury deliciousness (the literal translation of umami) has at least one of us in raptures. Nicely cooked monkfish with samphire is let down by a pea risotto that’s under-seasoned and underwhelming. The shoestring onion rings that we order as a (wholly unnecessary – portions are more than ample) side are excellent.
For pudding there’s a choux bun with praline, chocolate and salt caramel that is every bit as good as it sounds, and the bill for four, with water and two bottles of that very gluggable wine, comes to €273.10 before service. The Old Spot is a great spot altogether.
ON A BUDGET
The Old Spot has lunch options priced from €9, and its ‘neighbourhood’ menu – aka early bird – costs €24 for two courses.
ON A BLOW-OUT
Prawns, steaks, sides and desserts for two will cost €114 before drinks.
THE HIGH POINT
The Old Spot is a exactly what a gastro pub should be.
THE LOW POINT
A couple of under-seasoned dishes on what was the first night of a new menu.
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