Isaacs restaurant has been around for a goodly spell — there are now young adult men and women walking the city streets who were mere twinkles in their parents’ eyes when the MacCurtain St doors were first opened almost twenty years ago.
Back then, Isaacs was rather to the vanguard of a movement promoting excellent local produce cooked simply and very well. Fashions change but proprietors Michael and Catherine Ryan and Canice Sharkey, never much concerned with fashion anyway, have remained true to their philosophy – Sharkey, who also oversaw a long-running and much-missed stall at Mahon Point Farmer’s Market, retailing Isaac’s produce, can still be seen regularly at markets sniffing out the newest producers, seeking out the finest produce.
It wasn’t just the menus that stirred local reaction to such a fervour when Isaacs first opened – it was the room. Actually, to call it a room does it some injustice – the restored former 18th century warehouse must still rank as one of the finest dining venues in the country. With the Everyman Palace Theatre just across the street, the evening theatre rush has a vibrancy all of its own. This reviewer has passed many a fine night there with a large party and once even enjoyed a meal with a new girlfriend’s constantly fueding parents, the latter occasion surely a testament to something special about the restaurant’s attractions.
So what actually turns up on the plates in Isaacs? Once upon a time, their prawn tempura would have been a bit of a novelty but just because every restaurant in the land appears to have followed suit is no reason to give up on a good thing. Some regulars order it as something to mull over before actually ordering dinner proper – well, at least I used to! Anyway, there was always a lightness of touch to Sharkey’s cooking that owed much to an Asian influence and that is still in evidence. This time out, I order it almost before seeing the menu.
Not to say they can’t manage hearty fare either. Unexpectedly armed with small childers, succulent chicken pieces were rustled up, most probably fried in garlic butter, with some rustic potato chips, to satisfy youthful palates. So moreish were they, adult palates intervened to an alarming degree, ensuring the next growing spurt will be radically underfuelled. The adults also found time to consume a nice piece of fresh turbot, cooked very simply and very well. A steak was a decent cut served exactly as ordered while your reviewer enjoyed some nice pan-fried scallops with a squeeze of lemon and a simple fresh green salad.
Though some restraint was exercised when it rolled around to dessert (keeping in mind the children’s food also consumed!), a tiramisiu and a sticky toffee pudding still ended up on our table. Very simply, to enter Isaac’s and not consume at least one mouthful of their legendary Sticky Toffee Pudding is foolishness of the highest order – rich, dense, full of dates, dripping with sweet, syrupy caramel which is, naturally, very sticky.
The wine list isn’t the most extensive but obviously suits a varied clientele and a bottle of Santa Rita Chardonnay 2010 had plenty of character, good fruit, a nice silky finish and did the job. Service, always a high point, was as ever, friendly, pleasantly informal but pleasingly efficient.
If I am ever to be incarcerated in an institution, please ensure it is Isaacs.