It had taken steely restraint to stay away from Spitalfields in the couple of months since it opened. I liked every single thing I heard about the new restaurant from the husband-and-wife team behind The Pig’s Ear and Mr Fox, Stephen McAllister and Andrea Hussey.
To start with, I liked the location, in the Coombe. This part of Dublin 8 is edgy and increasingly fashionable, but it takes guts to open a proper restaurant (as opposed to a café) in a part of town that isn’t exactly coming down with footfall, especially at night. Passing by, I liked the exterior, with half curtains obscuring the lower part of the windows; the place looked stylish, without trying too hard.
When Declan Maxwell signed on as manager, it only made me more interested. At Chapter One he ran front-of-house with aplomb; later, he made visiting Luna a pleasure. I can only imagine how many suitors there were for his professional services when Luna closed abruptly earlier this year, so pledging his troth to Spitalfields was the restaurant business equivalent of a papal imprimatur.
And I liked what I saw and heard of the menu: dishes such as a Parker House Roll of oxtail and bone marrow and Cock-a-Leekie Pie sounded just my kind of thing. Spitalfields was clearly making an effort to be different.
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If that reads as a long introduction to a big ‘but’, then I suppose that it is.
Three of us book in for dinner on a Wednesday night. It is a miserable evening; it’s been raining all day and the temperature is Baltic. Inside, it should be toasty but isn’t, despite the heavy curtain hanging from a circular rail by the entrance – though the warmth of the welcome from Declan is undeniable.
On the ground floor there are a few tables to the front and a long bar up a couple of steps to the back. Until it became Spitalfields, this was a regular pub with a function room upstairs; it’s to the credit of the new owners that they’ve not alienated the customers whose local this has been for years.
The main dining room is upstairs and our table is next to a fireplace which appears to be set, but inexplicably there’s no fire lighting. The woman at the next table wears her coat throughout her meal.
We start with snacks of Loughshinny brown shrimp – plenty of them – with luscious aioli and Espelette pepper that are sweet and perfect, eaten shells and all, and a puffy grilled flatbread with anchovies and rosemary. The Parker House Roll that I have been looking forward to so much comes in a circular metal dish.
There are five little rolls baked together, with a bowl of gravy for dipping. The first disappointment is that there is no actual bone marrow (it’s in the gravy), and the second is that only three of the five rolls contain any oxtail (the ones that do are delicious). That’s inexcusably sloppy.
We are dithering about the Cock-a-Leekie Pie but I can’t persuade my guests; they are oblivious to the Instagram-worthy charms of its latticed crust; the lack of provenance information about the chicken is off-putting. (No one can tell us where it comes from.)
We go instead for the côte de boeuf, which is nicely cooked though the meat lacks flavour; the pickled walnuts that accompany it sound great but are barely discernible and the chips oversized and undercooked. A Barnsley lamb chop with tapenade and salsa verde is good, but the huge portion of grilled red peppers that accompanies it seems out of place. Grilled little gem with aioli is dull, as are the smoked Ballymakenny Violetta potatoes, which do not taste smoky.
We finish with a pistachio, pear and chocolate millefeuille that is as good as it looks; it’s supposed to serve two but would be plenty for four. We drink Rías Baixas Benito Santos 2018 (€34.95) and Domaine des Terres Dorées ‘Le Ronsay’ Beaujolais 2017 (€38.95), both pleasant, and the bill for the three of us with sparkling water comes to €227.85. More rigour in the kitchen and dialling up the heat would improve things at Spitalfields no end.
ON A BUDGET
The no-choice set lunch/early bird (eg gravadlax, black pudding with fried egg and mashed potato, ice cream) changes daily; €19.50/€22.50 for two/three courses.
ON A BLOWOUT
You could spend €150 on dinner for two before drinks.
THE HIGH POINT
Manager Declan Maxwell is Irish hospitality royalty.
THE LOW POINT
The restaurant was chilly.
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