Seagrass restaurant is in Portobello, just at the canal. It’s not that often that I get truly enthused about a new restaurant. We’re not talking haute cuisine here, we’re talking well-made food using good ingredients. It’s the kind of simplicity that’s so easy to get wrong and so hard to get right. Definitely one of the year’s high points.
In future affordable restaurants will probably have an easier time of it than expensive ones. At the start of this year I wrote this: ‘a growing trend that I like is the number of restaurants that are opening in the lower mid-range market. These restaurants have adopted an approach that’s entirely in keeping with the new thinking on food. They’re careful with their provenance, they try to be seasonal, and as far as possible are using locally sourced ingredients.’
This week I found a restaurant that fits that bill to perfection. It’s called ‘Seagrass’ and it’s on Richmond Street, up near Portobello Bridge. I was meeting Michael Lowsley for lunch there and we walked into a simply decorated room, seating perhaps thirty people upstairs and about the same downstairs.. Plain wooden tables and chairs, some pretty photographs on the walls with a grassy theme and a smell of good food in the air greeted us..
We were shown to a table and almost as soon as we sat down we were asked if we wanted water. I asked for and got sparkling water and a wooden plate of freshly made tomato bread came with a spicy salsa dip. A small sprig of thyme decorated the bread. It’s a simple thing, but getting bread and water right away makes you relax at once. You’ve got nibbles, you can take your time with the menu.
I really liked the look of the menus. We had a lunch menu and an à la carte to peruse and they both listed some interesting dishes. It’s refreshing when you read a menu not to find hoary culinary clichés. Some thought has gone into this menu and it shows. I wish I could say the same for the wine list. It’s short, rather highly priced and not very interesting. Michael was keen on a Sauvignon Blanc, a choice which could only be satisfied by a house white, a Chilean Sauvignon / Semillon blend at €22.50, which is what we ordered.
The set lunch menu is €15 for two courses, which really is remarkable. I ordered from that while Michael went à la carte. Michael started with a ham terrine and I had the speck with an aubergine purée. I really liked Michael’s terrine, it was well-flavoured, nicely textured and well presented. This was also true of my speck, the German cured ham, which came on a long, white, narrow dish and looked as though it would have quite been at home in an expensive restaurant. Between these excellent starters and the very attentive and professional service we began to feel we’d stumbled upon a real winner. ‘Hold tight, there,’ I said to Michael, ‘let’s reserve judgement until our main courses.’
I needn’t have been so cautious. Michael had ordered the lamb’s liver and had asked for it seared rather than cooked. That’s exactly how he got it, perfectly underdone, juicy and very good. It came on a bed of mash with crispy bacon, an onion jus and button mushrooms. I’d ordered the white wine and garlic sausages, which came on a bed of mustard mash. You don’t get much simpler than that, but it was so well executed and the sausages were so good, that the whole thing was elevated to being one of the better dishes I’ve been handed this year. Considering my two dishes had cost me €15, the value for money element was outstanding. Oh, and the chips. We’d ordered a side-order of chips and they were terrific. ‘Best chips I’ve ever eaten,’ said Michael. They were golden brown, crispy on the outside and soft and fluffy inside. Really, really good.
At this point I might have been happy to call an end to the meal, but we looked at the dessert menu and my eye fell on bread and butter pudding. It’s not one of Michael’s favourite desserts, but gallantly he agreed to share one with me. I can tell you that I don’t remember ever getting a bread and butter pudding as good as this in my life - it was sublime. Was anything going to go amiss with this lunch? I ordered an espresso and got a perfectly made one, complete with a thick crema and made with one of my favourite coffees, Lavazza.
It’s not that often that I get truly enthused about a new restaurant. In this price bracket I’ve got excited in the past couple of years about The Winding Stair and Alexis, and now I can add Seagrass to that list. We’re not talking haute cuisine here, we’re talking well-made food using good ingredients. It’s the kind of simplicity that’s so easy to get wrong and so hard to get right. Definitely one of the year’s high points. The bill came to €78.50 not including service.