It doesn't happen very often, maybe a couple of times a year, that I get really excited about a new restaurant. But it happened to me this week when I went to review The Vintage Kitchen.
The Vintage Kitchen is Sean Drugan's new venture. I first came across Sean when he had Seagrass, a restaurant in Portobello that had amazed me with the quality of the food that he produced for little money. Knowing his pedigree, I had a suspicion I was going to eat well in The Vintage Kitchen.
It was one of those nights that no sane person would have ventured into, but I had arranged to meet Caitriona McBride there and we hadn't seen one another for a long time, so bitter winds or not we both made our way there for our rendez-vous.
The Vintage Kitchen is in Poolbeg Street, right alongside Mulligans, that well known haunt of the Evening Press journos. Apart from the pub and the restaurant, there really isn't very much in Poolbeg Street.
The interior is quite basic, but there are nice touches. All around the walls are shelves of bric a brac, which, should any of it take your fancy, you can buy. The displayed pieces are all retro, in tune with the 'vintage' part of the name.
The other vintage part of the restaurant is the music, which come only from vinyls. Even better, you can bring your cherished vinyls, and as long as they're not raucous heavy metal, they'll play them for you on the sound system. We found ourselves listening to and enjoying The Shirelles, The Ronettes and the Shangri-las.
Despite this vintage retro feel, there's nothing vintage about the menu. It's a thoroughly modern menu, with some really interesting dishes on it. It's priced at two courses for €25, but here's the really good bit – if you have the two-course dinner, then you can bring your own wine and pay no corkage at all. Now that's an amazing deal. I did know about this in advance, so on the way I stopped in an O'Brien's and got myself an Argentinian Malbec called Catena for under €20 and that's what we drank.
The other point I'd emphasise about this menu is this – we're all getting used to the sort of dishes that find their way onto early-bird and set menus. The same dishes keep re-appearing because there aren't a lot of dishes that can go onto an economy menu. In Vintage Kitchen, however, the menu is inventive and innovative.
We chose from five starters, five main courses and three desserts, any one of which we would have happily chosen. We could have started with Monaghan ham with early rhubarb, or squid with a chilli and coriander risotto, or even St Tola's goats' cheese with aubergine purée and slow-roasted beetroot, but instead Caitriona began with a tasting plate of tuna and I started with wild Wicklow duck liver crème.
For mains we didn't pick the rib-eye steak with onion butter, pastry and truffle mash, nor the organic salmon, nor the supreme of chicken. Instead Caitriona chose the Slaney River lamb shank and I chose the sauté wild mushrooms with Gorgonzola and Cashel Blue.
When the starters arrived I was struck by the difference between our surroundings and the presentation of the dishes. The tables and chairs and the table settings are fairly plain, but the dishes that came to the table were superbly presented. It was the sort of presentation you'd find in restaurants that cost a great deal more then The Vintage Kitchen.
Here's Caitriona's take on her tuna plate. 'The Tasting of Tuna was an utter delight. A perfect meaty tartare, a dainty and delicate tuna brûlée, and well dressed, crunchy and zingy green beans.' I was just as enthusiastic about my starter, which was like a very creamy paté, served with toasted sour dough bread.
That same level of skill was apparent with our main courses. Caitriona got a perfectly cooked lamb shank and I'll quote her again - 'The lamb shank with orzo was soft and melting, but just a little too big to finish. The orzo was perfectly al dente and a good companion to the earthy lamb.' My plate of wild mushrooms was just right for what I wanted, a dainty dish full of fungal flavour and accompanied by creamy spinach and Cashel Blue cheese.
We decided to share a dessert and we picked the baked limoncello cheesecake. Here's Caitriona's description of it - 'The little baked limoncello cheesecake was a sweet highlight, a fluffy and creamy, citrussy finish to the meal.'
There are plenty of places around the city where €25 will buy you two courses for dinner, but I can't think of any that will give you this quality of food for that price. And if that isn't a bargain enough for you, when you couple the good food with the chance to bring your own favourite wine at no extra cost, then you have a very special deal.
A couple of good espressos finished the meal and brought us a bill for €65.70. The Vintage Kitchen isn't long open, but I suggest that you get there soon, because as word gets out, it's going to get hard to get a booking here.