If you’ve ever thought to yourself that you’d like to sit down to a whole meal of starters, then get thee to Cleaver East, the latest venture from Michelin-star chef Oliver Dunne of Bon Appetit fame and Rory Carville, who was the head chef in Locks last year when it claimed its first star. If you’re not familiar with either, fear not as you soon will be: eyecatching and testosterone-fuelled images of the pair grasping meat cleavers and a pig’s head greet you as you ascend the restaurant steps. The former Tearooms of the Clarence Hotel are barely recognisable in their latest carnation. Even in the light of day, as it was the Saturday lunchtime we visited, the room is dark, broody and masculine. Yet no expense appears to have been spared when it comes to attention to detail, right down to the copper wiring that runs against the dark blue walls, the plush furnishings and the walnut tables. The butch cleavers are everywhere, striking a pose against the large windows.
The menu, which is the same for lunch and dinner at the moment, is quite short but tempting, the idea being to have ‘tasting plates’; not quite tapas-style but not far off either. The ‘twisted classics’, such as the beef curry (€13), paella (€12) and Scotch egg (€9), represented the chef’s interpretation of classic dishes and were a particular source of intrigue. But there was plenty more that beckoned so we settled on the beef curry. From the meat section, we gave the Carpaccio of Irish Dexter beef (€12) a whirl as well as the corn-fed chicken with vegetable spaghetti and smoked chicken lollipop (€10). The panfried scallops with crispy pancetta and potato ‘bubbles’ (€13) covered off the fish section, and we went for the soft poached organic duck egg with asparagus, ricotta and hazelnut mousse from the veggie section (€8). The drinks menu is sure to suit all budgets, with bottles of wine starting at €22. I ordered a glass of the very drinkable Spanish house white, Marques de Tezona 2011 (€6), while my companion went for a Copper Coast Beer (€6.25), one of the several Irish craft beers that featured on the list.
The duck egg dish was the first to arrive and we were taken aback by its appearance. In stark contrast to the macho setting, the dish was dainty, colourful and oh so pretty. The richness of the duck egg yolk, sitting proudly in the middle, contrasted excellently with the delicate asparagus spears and light hazelnut mousse, which imparted a lingering flavour long after the plate was wiped clean. A good end-of-summer dish. The scallops were just as picture perfect. Pairing these sweet and tender bites with salty, crisp pancetta is a classic match, and it was executed well here. The same light touch from the kitchen continued through to the beef Carpaccio. Regular readers will be familiar with Dexter beef: these indigenous cattle may be miniature in size but they’re robust in flavour. Here, the meat was allowed to shine with some excellent quality Parmesan and a rocket pesto that left an altogether delicious, salty and lemony zing. The beef curry ‘twist’ took the form of one piece of medium-cooked and flavourful meat surrounded by pickled vegetables and a light ‘curry’ sauce that had such a pleasant tang to it, the plate was practically licked clean. The chicken was succulent and the ‘lollipop’ full of flavour, served with a caramelised turnip purée. However, it was the vegetable spaghetti that stole the show. I could have eaten a whole bowl of it.
As each plate appeared and then shortly thereafter disappeared back into the kitchen devoid of all remnants of food, the general consensus was this was the most flawless meal we’d enjoyed in some time. Three dishes each seems to be the appropriate amount for an average-sized appetite, although a few interesting side dishes wouldn’t go amiss. Perhaps this menu is a work-in-progress given this is still a pup of a restaurant. Either way, there was enough room left for something sweet. The dessert menu continued the theme of modern takes on childhood favourites that has become all the rage now. Being the sucker that I am, the question mark proceeding the black forest gateaux (€6) on the menu sealed the deal for me, while my companion went for the ‘twisted banoffee’ (€6). Both were deconstructed versions and, while you couldn’t go too far wrong with the flavours of either, it was really the texture that won us over – the extra crumbly biscuit of the banoffee in particular elevating this dessert to new heights.
The nicest surprise, however, was still to come as the restaurant was offering 20 per cent off the food bill during the first month of opening while it finds its feet. This seemed to be down to some initial teething problems with staffing, which didn’t affect us on a quiet Saturday afternoon, rather than anything lacking in the calibre of food that was coming from the kitchen. These two chefs have stated that they are not aspiring to the Michelin-starred heights of their past ventures, but they are certainly setting the bar high.
We loved the décor, the presentation and pretty much everything we ate
We spent €81.70 on five dishes, two desserts, one portion of bread, one beer and wine, after the 20 per cent discount on food
East Essex Street,
Tel: +353 (0)1 5313500;