Two new Michelin Men, both in Kilkennt
Maybe it was just luck, but the friends I made while a student in Trinity College have turned out to be friends for life. Although our life paths have diverged, we remain in touch and see each other quite often.
I mean, of course, the ones that live in Ireland. One dear friend went off to live in France and then England, so we don't get to see each other that often -- once every 10 years seems to be the average.
This week, Eddie Shorts and his wife Martina were holidaying in Ireland, so I got my 10-yearly fix of seeing him. Eddie is now a barrister and has written a book on human rights law in the UK, and Martina is a classical pianist.
I met them in Dublin on a Monday night and decided to take them to dinner. That turned out to be harder than I thought it would be -- lots of restaurants are closed on Mondays and a lot seem to be open only for lunch. I eventually got us a table in The Green Hen, which is in Exchequer Street.
The name had resonances for me, because when my father first arrived in Ireland he bought a restaurant on O'Connell Street called The Green Rooster. The Green Hen, being the female equivalent, brought me a touch of nostalgia.
Is it just coincidence, or is there a pattern? Three of the last few reviews that I've done are of restaurants that have 'hen' somewhere in the name.
The Green Hen occupies the space that Café Leon did, and the décor has been re-done with a lot of posters from the golden age of cinema. It's a welcoming room, not least because the waiting staff were very welcoming, providing good service and plenty of smiles -- something that's a great deal rarer than it should be.
The menu tends towards French cuisine, although there is an Irish twist to much of it. Eddie decided that he wanted two courses, but it would be a main course and a dessert. Martina and I decided on two each as well, but we chose starters and mains.
Starters are between €7 and €10 and main courses run from €15 to €24. Martina started with a ham-hock terrine and I had the poached mackerel. It turned out that bread isn't automatic; you need to order it. We decided that we'd be better off without it.
The wine list is one of those that starts at €20 but very quickly shoots up to €30 and above. I would have liked to have seen more wines listed in the lower Â¤20s, but in the end, I picked the ChÃ¢teau La Condamine from Corbières at €29, which is the most expensive that I've seen it listed.
A couple of bottles of mineral water and a gin and tonic completed the drinks order.
Our starters arrived and Martina and I ate while Eddie looked on. We both had decent dishes in front of us.
Martina's ham-hock terrine was well made and well presented, while my mackerel was very unusually presented.
Half of the poached fish was flat on the plate, but the tail end was placed in such a way as to make it look as if the fish had dived into the plate, the tail sticking up high.
Poaching mackerel is a good idea, as it removes some of the fish's excessive oiliness and makes it easier to eat.
For our main courses Martina had chosen the rib-eye steak, Eddie the duck confit and me the dish of the day, which was fish pie. Martina's steak was described as coming with escargot, but Martina doesn't like snails, so she ordered it without them.
What the steak had was a Café de Paris butter, which is a spicy butter. I thought this to be a little unbalanced, but Martina seemed to enjoy it and the steak was tender, leaving her a happy diner.
Meanwhile, Eddie was enjoying his duck confit. It came off the bone easily and the skin was crisp, making it a well-done dish.
I was not so lucky with my choice. Fish pie, in my view, is a dish that is at its best when there's a variety of fish and seafood under the potato topping. What I don't like finding is a fish pie made almost entirely from salmon. Apart from that, the interior was dry rather than creamy and I left almost all of it on my plate.
I remembered a story that I'd been told several times over the years. Apparently, somewhere in the articles of the apprentices in the Middle Ages, it was written that they were to be fed salmon no more than three times a week.
Back then, it seems salmon was the cheapest of proteins, and today it's still often the case.
At one point, Martina asked me if there was anything wrong with my dish. I replied there was more than one thing wrong with it.
It was now Eddie's turn to eat while we sat and watched. For him, the dessert is always the highlight of the meal and he was happy to tuck into a plate of roasted peaches.
All the desserts were priced at €6.25 and the roast peaches were good, because Eddie finished off his plate completely.
As ever, I finished up with an espresso and this time it was very well made, so good in fact that I ordered a second. With the exception of the fish pie this was a good enough meal, but the best part was without doubt the excellent service.
Taken all together it was a pleasant evening, but a little more care in the kitchen would go a long way to improving the dining experience.
The bill came to €129.75 without service.
The Green Hen
33 Exchequer Street,
Tel: 01 670 7238
VALUE FOR MONEY 7/10