When Mr and Mrs H came to visit in Dublin a few months ago, I knew that there was only one place I could take them. Just a few days earlier, a critic's review in the Sunday papers followed by a chef's response had sparked off a media storm. If nothing else, it definitely served to raise the already impressive profile of Cleaver East. With two Michelin-starred chefs involved, the venue was always going to be held to high standards, but we needed to verify for ourselves. I suppose you could consider it a form of gastronomic rubbernecking.
Somewhat disappointingly, all the famous cleavers were firmly attached to their frames, rather than sitting quivering and embedded in the table of a naughty diner (or even food critic). I found the cleavers in the exterior windows to be dour, but I quite liked the orange backlit arrangement on the rear wall.
|The eponymous cleavers|
|Cocktail special - a clever take on a mojito|
Mr and Mrs H had arrived early (the luxury of being retired) but it took a few more minutes for Himself and myself to arrive from our respective workplaces. Despite being at the table for quite a while, we had to request menus from a member of staff, even though the dining room was reasonably empty. Cleaver East is all about small plates, designed to share around the table. With 4 of us dining, this challenge was accepted with gusto. We ended up ordering a plethora of plates, which eventually arrived in two rounds from the kitchen.
First up was the Cleaver East twisted take on a Scotch egg (€9), a sublimely excellent St Tola goat's cheese parfait (€8), a fresh and cool heirloom tomato salad with salty black olive crumb (€6) and a spiced Dublin Bay clam chowder, served in an organic glass bowl worthy of being part of a Philip Treacy hat (€13). Each plate was exquisitely pretty, adorned with fashionably required pea shoots, crumbs and dollops. Apart from the somewhat dull Scotch egg, the other plates were excellent examples of the craft.
We had been warned about the tasting plates concept (well it is 2013 and it's a bad state of affairs if you haven't been told at this stage), but even so we found ourselves waiting quite a while for the second wave of plates. Roast cod was delicious with wild artichoke (€9) while royal monkfish was partnered well with sweet piquillo peppers and Iberico crumb (€14). We had looked forward to the two meaty dishes of crispy lamb breast with rosemary aioli and glazed baby turnip (€10) and BBQ rare breed pork belly with apple and ginger (€9). The pork belly lived up to all expectations, but despite the excellent quality of the lamb, I felt that the rosemary aioli just didn't cut through the richness.
|St Tola goat's cheese parfait with heirloom beets and walnut praline|
|The twisted Cleaver East Scotch egg|
|Heirloom tomato salad with pickled onion shells and black olive crumb|
|Pan-fried scallops with crispy pancetta and potato bubbles|
|Spiced Dublin Bay clam chowder|
|Roast cod, wild artichoke cream and brown shrimp vinaigrette|
And then we waited again for desserts. I'm sure that you can see the trend developing here. The Black Forest gateau? (yes, there is a question mark) invited many questions of our server, and it was duly ordered along with a Cleaver twisted version of banoffee and a strawberry pannacotta for myself, all extremely well-priced at €6 each. The tasting plates might be smaller-sized but the desserts are judged perfectly for one jealous diner. I quite liked the firm pannacotta base (how wobbly you prefer your pannacotta seems to be matter of personal opinions) but the honeycomb shards tasted too much of sodium bicarbonate, leaving an unwelcome chemical tang.
|Strawberry pannacotta with honeycomb|
Slow wait times aside, the service was genuinely warm and friendly. Don't let the surly, macho interior misguide you, as the food is a true reflection of what it takes to achieve a Michelin star. Rory Carville and Oliver Dunne have created a place where fine dining and tasting menus are combined at affordable prices in a social, casual venue. In short, it's a perfect restaurant for modern Dublin.
Cleaver East, Temple Bar, Dublin 2
Tel: +353 (0)1 531 3500