The Pig’s Ear
4 Nassau Street, Dublin 2
Chef: Stephen McAllister
Now, I know what you were all expecting: that this week’s review would be coming to you from some joyless temple of culinary austerity where you hand over a tenner for a mediocre salad, take it back to your desk, and ponder where your life has gone wrong.
Instead – and with apologies to those of you on a diet – I’m going to be talking about things like shepherd’s pie and Black Forest gâteau. January, I reckon, is grim enough without trying to get through it on a diet of leaves and steamed chicken. Besides, I know you’re all sensible people who approached the Christmas and New Year festivities with moderation. Mostly.
The location of my pie and gâteau-fest is the Pig’s Ear, a restaurant overlooking Trinity College in Dublin that has featured in the Michelin Guide’s bib gourmand section for eight years running.
It’s run by Stephen McAllister (a familiar face to viewers of the TV show The Restaurant) and Andrea Hussey, with Damien Derwin in the head chef position. McAllister has recently opened Mr Fox on Parnell Street, where I had a great meal a few weeks back, so I was keen to see how things were going back at his base.
We bagged a table in the first floor dining-room (the seats are laid out in three separate rooms), and spent quite a while poring over the menu, with its tempting-sounding dishes such as smoked cream cheese with truffle, toasted nuts, seeds and grains (€9.95), and beef cheek in stout with mash, carrots, bone marrow and chestnuts (€26.95).
In the end, we started with two very different options: the Sika deer tartare (€12.95) and the treacle-cured sea trout (€11.95). The latter came with thin discs of radish, some apple segments and a dill cream. It was a very nicely presented plate, but flavour-wise it was a little on the bland side, with barely a hint of the treacle cure coming through.
The tartare, on the other hand, was wonderful, with the meat hand-minced to order, then mixed with a spicy tartare dressing, shallots, capers gherkin and wholegrain mustard. A sprinkling of fresh redcurrants, a pine nut cream and some lovely slivers of fried Jerusalem artichokes completed what was a beautifully balanced, perfectly seasoned and supremely tasty plate.
I was tempted by the salt-baked beetroot with yogurt, burnt pear, pickled walnuts and toasted oats (€17.95) – kudos to the kitchen for showing a bit of imagination when it comes to their veggie dishes – but instead went for the cod with celeriac (€23.95).
Cod is one of those fish that, in the wrong hands, can be very bland indeed – but that wasn’t the case here. Lightly salted in advance to firm up the flesh, it arrived perfectly cooked and accompanied by a couple of gorgeously fatty chicken wings (I found out later they’d been confited in duck fat for an hour and a half before being served), some scorched onions and very lightly grilled brussels sprout leaves. A drizzle of chive oil and some chicken jus added freshness and depth respectively.
There was more depth – lots and lots of it – in our other main course, shepherd’s pie made with slow-cooked Lough Erne lamb (€21.95). There are few things to top a shepherd’s pie when it has been well made, and this one had been very well made indeed, with masses of dense, meaty flavour in that lovely lamb, and a mound of creamy, buttery mash on top of it.
On the side, duck fat potatoes (€3.95) were ever so slightly overcooked but tasty nonetheless, while the simple-sounding cabbage and crispy shallots (€3.95) was elevated by being chargrilled over coal and then topped with a great hollandaise – I’ll be nicking that idea for my next dinner party.
We had eaten so well and so plentifully that we managed only one dessert between us: a deconstructed Black Forest gâteau (€7.95) which was tasty enough, but could have done with another glug or two of kirsch to liven it up a bit.
With two glasses of wine, two glasses of Prosecco and a pot of tea, dinner came to €127.40. I’d remarked in my review of Mr Fox on what good value my meal there had been considering the quality of the food, and it was a similar story here.
At a time when restaurant prices in Dublin are inching noticeably upwards, often for pretty ordinary food, Stephen McAllister and his team are serving up really flavourful food at prices that won’t break the bank – a winning formula if ever there was one.
Menu quick peek
Breaking The Bank
Starter: crab with lobster mayonnaise, squash, Goatsbridge caviar and buttermilk, €12.95
Main course: haunch of Irish venison, pumpkin, chicory, juniper and chocolate, €27.95
Dessert: vanilla cheesecake with berry jam and Hobnob biscuits, €7.95
Wine: Torre d’Orti corvina/venorese, Amarone della Valpolicella 2010, €90
Dinner for two:€187.70
Watching the pennies
Starter: celeriac soup with burnt pear, ox tongue and sage oil, €6.95
Main course: shepherd’s pie of slow-cooked Lough Erne lamb, €21.95
Dessert: Cuinneog buttermilk and burnt orange custard with yellow man, clementine and rose, €7.95
Wine: Cuvée Bredif syrah-grenache, Languedoc 2015, €29.95
Dinner for two:€102.70
Tomás Clancy Rates The Wine List
The wine list here is ambitious and very thoughtfully assembled. It is heading towards 100, with 20 by-the-glass offerings, half a dozen rotating monthly wines from outside the main list, and some very fine wines at the top end, including the stunning Château Lynch-Bages 2008 (€350) and a world-class Rhône in the shape of Domaine JL Chave, AC Hermitage 2011 (€320).
You can also opt for lower-priced selections, of which there are many. Some 30 wines on the list are under €36, with prices starting at €22.95 for the Wild Pig Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 and Wild Pig Sauvignon Blanc 2015. By the-glass prices start at €7.95, and there is superb value in the Drusian Prosecco NV at €37.95 a bottle, while a glass of Prosecco is €9.95.
Our white wine pick is the piquant organic delight of Ciu Ciu Oris Falerio, Pecorino 2015 at €29.95, while our red of choice is the stylish, Quinta do Crasto, DO Douro 2014 at €36.95.