I've been so busy with work lately that I only realised my birthday was imminent a few days before the event itself. To celebrate my 33rd year, Himself booked dinner at Locks Brasserie, located in a little terrace on the banks of the Grand Canal. I was delighted with the choice as the restaurant always looks so captivatingly lovely at nighttime, with light spilling out over the canal and swans sailing serenely past. Memories of Patrick Kavanagh and "stilly, greeny" canal water come flooding back.
After arriving, we sat at a small table in the bar area to enjoy some aperitifs and read the menu. Perhaps it was due to the canalside location, but I thought there was a slight smell of damp in the air. We were going to order something fizzy, but then we saw the barman making martinis for some other customers. Shortly after, we found ourselves sipping on two excellent gin martinis with a twist. Martinis ooze adult sophistication and these babies definitely oozed gin. In 2002, Roger Agnell wrote a wonderful essay about Martinis for the New Yorker magazine - definitely worth reading if you have any interest in this wonderful cocktail.
After a few minutes, we sailed on a cloud of oily gin to our table. Our lovely waiter gave us plenty of time to make our selections, which in turn gave us time to look out from the warmth to the cold night outside. The downstairs dining is simply decorated in cream wood panelling, letting the charm of the old building shine through. It is, in short, a very comfortable and welcoming space.
My starter of a single large langoustine and lobster ravioli came served on spinach, with the waiter pouring a lobster bisque at the table. At €15.50 this was a pricy starter and it just didn't work for me. The ravioli was lovely with sweet meaty flavours but I just didn't like the bisque, which seemed to have a slightly burnt, over-carmelised tone. His chosen starter of celery veloute (€7.00) was deemed to be quite nice, with a sweet creamy flavour (I can't abide celery, which means that it's banned at home, so he grabbed the opportunity to enjoy).
The lobster bisque hadn't suited me and things didn't get any better with the arrival of our mains. He had chosen the wild mallard, served with pumpkin gnocchi, savoy cabbage and blackberry vinaigrette (€26.00), while I had opted for the dry-aged rib-eye steak, served with bone marrow, french fries and Bearnaise sauce (€28.50). The major fault with these dishes was the disparity in size - the steak was large enough to feed a caveman, while he received a few meagre slices of what must have been a rather skinny duck. It really amazes me that a chef saw these dishes at the pass and never paused to question the asymmetry.
When ordering, himself had inquired if he would need to order a side dish. Our server had been quick to assure him that the duck would be plenty large, so the resulting small size was doubly galling, and to add insult to injury, the duck was dry. We ordered an extra portion of fries to provide some bulk, but like the duck, the portion sizes were on the small side.
I should mention that my steak was cooked excellently, and I really did like the small piece of accompanying marrowbone. But there was no escaping from the fact that the size of my dish meant that I was eating long after he had cleared his plate. The imbalance was striking. On the flip side, desserts were excellent. I ordered an iced whiskey and honey parfait with wonderful homemade honeycomb and tiny little pearls of mulled pears (€10.00) and while he had crème brûlée made with free-range eggs (€6.00).
We did have a very nice time in Locks. Service was wonderful throughout and the dining room has a lovely atmosphere at night. But the disjointed food left us feeling disappointed with the meal and we just didn't feel that we got value for money. At this end of the money scale, a customer should expect all aspects of a meal to deliver. Lock's does offer a value menu, which features a limited range of courses from the a la carte menu, so I suspect that I might be back to try again, but at a better price.
Locks Brasserie, 1 Windsor Terrace, Portobello, Dublin 8.
Tel: +353 (0)1 420 0555