FOOD AND WINE restaurant critic Aoife Carrigy headed to Bastible, one of the city's best-loved restaurants, to experience their great hospitality and tasty food.
Here’s the first thing you need to know about Bastible: this Sunday, November 24th, they’re forgoing their €45 set lunch menu and having a hot chicken party. Well, hot chicken burgers and Gut Oggau wine party (with hip Austrian producers of biodynamic wines that are big on personality). Plus ice-cream sandwiches, chefs on the decks, and walk-ins from 2pm onwards.
Bastible is currently serving some of the best cooking in town and could be forgiven for keeping things poe-faced. But luckily that’s not the kind of ship that co-proprietors Barry Fitzgerald and Claremarie Thomas run.
Barry has stepped back from the Bastible pass in recent months to focus on the day-to-day of two busy neighbourhood restaurants: they also own Clanbrassil House around the corner, where Grainne O'Keefe (F&W’s Best Under 30 recipient) is head chef. Cúán Greene has stepped into the breach as Bastible’s head chef, having returned from Copenhagen where he was head-hunted from the three-star Geranium by the Noma team, who took him to Mexico for their Tulum beach jaunt. Barry himself has serious form, having worked in St John’s, Arbutus and The Harwood Arms in London before returning to open Etto in Dublin. In the four years since he opened Bastible with Claremarie, they have taken one sure-footed step after another, but always leaving room for a little fun – like hot chicken DJ parties. I guess when you’ve grafted long and hard to open your own place, why the hell not?
A Midweek Dinner
Our recent midweek dinner in Bastible began with a complimentary snack of said hot chicken and morita chilli, and it was one of the boldest openers I have enjoyed in some time – so finger-lickin' good that I forgot my manners and dove in sans knife and fork. A generous portion of rolled and boned chicken thigh had been crisp-fried in a batter spiked with morita chilli (smoked red jalapeno) and topped with a juicy gherkin slice. The result was rich with chicken juices, piquant oil and sweet-smoky spice notes. So good. So so good.
Having been charmed, disarmed and thoroughly settled in by this simply brilliant snack, as well as wonderful doorstop wedges of springy sourdough with cultured butter and a shared glass of salty Callejuela manzanilla sherry (€7), we were off on our three-course romp. We had gone mid-week to avail of the three-course option for €48 (it’s tasting menu only on weekend nights, at €60 per head) but essentially sampled everything from the tasting menu to share between the two of us.
To start, some grilled baby leeks, sweet and tender, topped with a smoked mussel emulsion and flavour-bombed with an intense Coolea cheese sauce, savoury accents of lovage and starbursts of wild garlic ramsons (think tiny garlicky capers). If the chicken had disarmed, the leeks wooed us.
Our second starter was next-level stuff. Three tiny, precious Connemara brown shrimp were served raw and naked, their sweet flesh just dressed with the complex tartness of fermented carrot juice warmed by the subtle chilli and ginger heat. There were discs of squash and kohlrabi, caviar-style balls of sea buckthorn and some insanely tasty semi-dried cherry tomatoes dehydrated just enough to intensify their sweetness while still keeping them juicy. This is the kind of dish that hushes your soul as your palate receives the waves of flavour washing over it. And if that sounds like poetic justice, you go try it and tell me it ain’t.
Wines By The Glass And Simple Main Courses
I love that more and more restaurants are giving diners the option of enjoying great wines by the glass or carafe so that you can build your own wine pairing. A glass of spritely Tuscan Vernaccia (€9) and a 375ml carafe of svelte Mencia from Bierzo’s Raul Perez (€23) bridged things nicely from starters to mains.
Appetisers should pique the appetite but too often they peak the experience, with the main course thundering in all heavy-footed after the delicate dance of the starter. So how refreshing to have the main courses take a completely different tack and bring you somewhere different. Our menu choice of mains sounded very simple: glazed potato flatbread and condiments served with BBQ mackerel or braised lamb neck or smoked aubergine. We went fish and lamb, and by Jaysus did they sate.
The mackerel was butterflied and skin up, complete with its perky tail. The skin had been torched to crisp it and topped with an umami-tastic sauce of mushrooms, kelp and bonito vinegar, and then roasted until those four ridges of creamy-white flesh had just set. It was finished with a dusting of wild elderflower and lemon thyme and was hands-down the most delicious mackerel ever.
The braised lamb was a hug in a bowl: slow-cooked until you could eat it with a spoon, wrapped in nasturtium leaf for subtle pepperiness, grilled and served with a rich jus seasoned with some magic dust to make it the gravy of your dreams.
The real genius lay in the communal accompaniments that made it all feel like ‘hey this is just dinner at mine, no biggie, you relax there’ while simultaneously showering our synapses with pyrotechnic stimulation. There was a fermented gooseberry and blackcurrant leaf pickle for spooning over, smoked house yoghurt with sea lettuce powder for comfort and an inspired fermented potato flatbread cut into wedges for grabbing, topped with an organic cider vinegar glaze that was caramelised until sticky and black, tangy, powerful and utterly moreish.
The Final Course
Desserts raised the game even further. There was a pretty plate of a perfectly executed roast barley semifreddo scattered with shavings of beeswax, pollen and marigold, and served with a cute spiced tuile and succulent wedges of dehydrated apple for a hit of acidity. The effect was to time-travel us to high summer days of buzzing beehives and fragrant honey.
Just when we thought things couldn’t get any more delicious, a beautifully poised dessert of milk chocolate mousse dusted with punchy dried plum skins, filled with a roast yeast ice-cream (who knew?) and pooled in dark beer syrup that was savoury, complex and gorgeously malty. I can see that this would be a Marmite of a dessert – but then I love Marmite, and adored this for its originality as much as its technical skill and balance.
All that was left was for us to snaffle our petit four of juniper caramel with blackcurrant leather and Maldon sea salt and to start making plans for our next meal in this joyous home of some of the finest Irish food going.
Cúán Greene won’t stay here forever, something that Barry himself happily accepts. And that’s okay for everyone involved: the kitchen and front-of-house team here will have learned from his world-class experience, and Barry and Claremarie will have had a lot of fun with him along the way. For you, dear reader, it does mean that you should get your skates on and go sample his Bastible cooking while you can. And you could do worse than starting with a hot chicken Sunday afternoon party.
The Bottom Line: We spent: €138.50 before service for two people, with three courses each (€48pp) plus wine and sparkling water.
111 South Circular Road, Dublin 8
(01) 473 7409
Author: Aoife Carrigy
Aoife’s first proper work experience (if you don’t count a formative stint as the milkman’s assistant) was a TY placement as commis chef in The Wishbone in Glasthule, where she caught the restaurant bug. From her teens and through her 20s she worked front-of-house in restaurants around Dublin and beyond, before a freelance gig as restaurant columnist for the Dublin Event Guide and then Totally Dublin turned into a five-year full-time editorial stint in FOOD&WINE Magazine. She has been freelance since 2010 and keeps herself busy co-writing and editing cookbooks as well as writing on food, drinks and travel. Aoife is WSET-trained and is currently researching a Masters on ‘Cultural Representations of the Irish Pub’ at TU Dublin.
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