Tom O’Connell. 135 Morehampton Road, Donnybrook. Ph: 01 2696116, email: firstname.lastname@example.org, web: www.oconnellsdonnybrook.com. Accepts credit cards. Open 10.30am-10.30pm Tues-Sat, 9am-7.30pm Sun
On first impressions walking into the new O’Connell’s on Morehampton Road, it looks as though Madigan’s pub (formerly on the site) has temporarily turned itself into a dining room: that dining room being the lovechild of Madigan’s and Bewley’s. You’re greeted by long-time restaurateur Tom O’Connell himself and treated to some of his old-school charm and dry wit while he shows you to your table, or in our case the bar, as our table wasn’t ready. Perched here, you get a grand view of the kitchen – and the plates coming out of it – and that’s when you start to get the feeling this isn’t going to be what you might have expected. We were left waiting a good 15 minutes for our table, which bothered me not a bit as I sipped one of the house whites – very decent Lurton Pinot Gris at €6.25 a glass – and perused what is one of the most interesting wine lists I’ve ever been offered in a restaurant. Interesting in its content, which is divided into House, Super House, and Very Special reds and whites, but especially interesting in its presentation, listing everything from each wine’s alcohol by volume to its wine merchant. Among its top drawer picks I spied Banfi Brunello di Montalcino at the fair price of €49.95 (which was the dearest price on the list) and a number of Rhône gems from Tyrrell & Co, including an elegant Condrieu (2008) from Domaine de Monteillet. All House wines are available by the glass, but not the rest despite what the list might say.
The menu, then, is also interesting. On the left is the à la carte and on the right the ‘Dinner Menu’ where all but one or two starter/dessert options are featured in a deal that lets you choose any starter and main for the price listed with the main, with the addition of dessert for just €4. Depending on what you choose this generally works out in a small saving, although some combinations end up costing more than their sum on the à la carte. The real saving comes from the dessert, which is really just a clever way of getting you to order three courses. On my visit I opted for a starter of Lobster Spring Rolls with Wilted Asian Greens and Vietnamese Dressing (€9.95), which wasn’t part of the Dinner Menu but they let me away with it anyway. It was delicious: crispy, not oily and generously sized filo cigars filled with juicy big pieces of lobster, sitting on perfectly cooked little pak choi leaves. The seasoning was just right, it was an all-round very pleasing dish. My friend’s Honey and Soya Roast Duck with Crispy Leek Salad and Cashew Nuts (€7.50) also went down a treat, combining complementary rich and delicate flavours and textures in another winner of a dish. It was hard to choose this course in fact, with other options such as Leek and Potato Soup with Smoked Haddock Sausage (€6.95), Glenbeigh Oysters with Shallot Vinegar & Lemon (€7.50 for a half dozen), and Black Pudding, Veal Sweetbreads, Foie Gras and Wild Mushroom Sausage with Celeriac Purée and Madeira Jus (€8.95) all looking so tempting.
Mains were equally hard to pick, although being somewhat dentally challenged at present I was limited to softer options, which narrowed down my choices. Sadly, no Loin of Venison with Poached Pears, Celeriac Truffle and Madeira Sauce (€24.50) for me! Instead I went for Seared Scallops with Rare Breed Irish Pork and Pumpkin Purée (€21.25), and my friend bagged the Roast Cod with Scampi, Artichoke Provençale and Herb Butter (€17.50), which I secretly really wanted. We were both justified in our hankering for the cod dish, as it was a beauty. Mine, alas, was not so successful. Strangely, the rare breed pork turned out to be small slivers of smoked bacon, which sat with perfectly seared scallops on mound of mashed potato, surrounded by a very unappetising moat of buttery-oily substance, and accompanied by puréed turnip. It wasn’t quite what I’d expected – or ordered – and it didn’t really work for me, but I do concede the scallops were good. By the end of our meal we couldn’t quite manage two desserts, so we shared a Cullahill Apple Tart with Gathabawn Vanilla Ice Cream (€5.95) which looked pretty in its dinky crinkled short pastry case, and was just the right note to round off our meal. We stuck with the Lurton Pinot Gris (€24.95 a bottle), which brought the whole thing including two glasses before dinner to €94.45. Service throughout was terrific and well polished, although not fussy, and they were generous with the bread, which appeared on the table as homemade brown (with room temperature butter) with the promise of sourdough if that’s what we’d prefer.
All in all, O’Connell’s promises to be a great addition to Donnybrook, marrying two very different kinds of restaurant in this very odd-looking but interesting format. My British friend remarked that she and fellow Brits are used to and very fond of enjoying a modern brasserie offering in a local pub setting, and that this is actually more appealing for a neighbourhood eatery. Being a Dub, I saw the merging of ex-Bang chef Lorcan Gribbin’s ‘Celtic Tiger’ food with old-school restaurateur Tom O’Connell’s style into something quite unique: something with universal appeal, and that brings the best of two Irelands now behind us into a hopeful future.