I'd arranged to go to dinner with Gemma Kenny, one of the bright young things of Dublin's PR world and I was keen to make our venue somewhere in the city. The final choice was to stay north of the Liffey and go to ‘The Winding Stair', a recently re-opened restaurant on Ormond Quay, near the Halfpenny Bridge.
We walked up a wooden, winding staircase (what did you expect?) and came to the dining room on the first floor. It still has a few bookcases around the walls as an homage to its previous incarnation, wooden tables and chairs and an air of casual comfort. A counter takes up one wall, the hatch to the kitchen makes up another, and a third has windows looking out over the river and quays. We were shown to table near the bar counter and behind the table were shelves stacked with wine. The first wine I saw as I took my seat was Meerlust ‘Rubicon', a great South African wine, which I thought boded well for the wine list.
The menu is terrific. There were nine starters and seven main courses listed and the first thing you notice is that sourcing and provenance are very much to the fore. Kerry prawns and crab, Mayo smoked salmon, Irish charcuterie, Irish cheeses and organic produce pepper the listings. This is a menu that's been put together by someone who cares about food. The same holds true for the wine list, which is really well put together. Many restaurants have lazy wine lists, by which I mean they pass over the whole list to one wholesaler, making ordering easier. But a well-chosen list selects the best from many wholesalers and the list in The Winding Stair does just that. It's well laid out, with wines ordered by styles and it includes the wines' origins, grape varieties and vintages. There's a fair mark-up and the list is extensive and filled with wines that really tempt the palate. With great restraint I ordered a new-style Muscadet, not thin and tart like those of old, but crisp and aromatic at a modest 24.
Gemma began with the chicken liver pâté, which was served with an organic leaf salad and a home-made green tomato chutney and I picked the Irish charcuterie plate, which comprised three different salamis, some salt-cured pork and salt-cured beef. Both starters came with excellent bread, were well presented and more importantly, were very good to eat.
When the main courses arrived I was completely won over by The Winding Stair. Gemma's steak was beautifully cooked and the organic chips were delicious. As to my boiled bacon, it was superb. A simple dish like this only works if all the elements are right and on the night, they were. A perfectly cooked slice of boiled collar of bacon lay atop some mashed potato and was accompanied by organic cabbage. The real treat was the parsley sauce, a sauce that has often reminded me of wallpaper paste in the past. This time it really added to the dish and I thought, given its history, it was both courageous and clever to bring it back to the table.
We couldn't leave this excellent meal without trying a dessert, most of which are priced at €5.50. Despite the possibilities of a bread and butter pudding or an apple crumble with cinnamon ice-cream, we decided on the Valrhona chocolate brownie with vanilla ice-cream and homemade lemon curd to share between us. The ice-cream tasted of real vanilla, the lemon curd brought me back to my childhood and the chocolate brownie was as lush and unctuous as you'd want.
All in in all this was an exceptional meal, not because it was haute cuisine, but because it was honest, genuine and carefully sourced. If The Winding Stair can keep up this level of cooking and keep the prices as they are, then this will be a restaurant to take very seriously. It's a showcase for the best of new Irish cooking, a happy mix of traditional and new, carefully sourced Irish ingredients and a great wine list. If want to impress foreign visitors, you couldn't do better than to bring them here. Our bill, including coffees and aperitifs came to €101.05 without service charge.