An omelette is the sort of skills test you are likely to see on MasterChef, not a starter on a restaurant menu. It is not a dish that will sit on the pass waiting for another starter to be ready. So it’s just as well that we’ve ordered the no-cooking-required crab salad (€16) as well as Peter’s omelette with Inis Escargot Bordelaise (€16) at one of Dublin’s newest restaurants, the Park Cafe in Ballsbridge, the former home of Dylan McGrath’s Shelbourne Social, now in the care of Richard Corrigan.
What arrives is perfection. It is gently folded, with creamy egg oozing from the centre. A glimmering Bordelaise sauce with nuggets of snails flanks each side of the Corleggy-dusted omelette. This is not a dish made for Instagram: it is made to be eaten. The snails are from Peter Monaghan in Cavan, just a few kilometres from Corrigan’s Virginia Park Lodge, not frozen escargots trucked over from France. They have been blanched twice, removed from their shells, then introduced to a Bordelaise that has enjoyed a long and hedonistic relationship with wine.
I am dining with a dear friend, Ernie Whalley, the former food critic for the Sunday Times in Ireland, who is encyclopedic when it comes to the classics. We had little doubt that the food was going to be good – Corrigan is in the kitchen with rolled-up sleeves and burnt arms – but we had not quite expected that nostalgic pull on the heart strings with some of the dishes.
The crab is tasty – sweet, with celeriac tossed in mustard; it is a fairly trim helping ,perhaps, but focaccia and exquisite Tuscan olive oil from Liberty Wines are on hand. If you’ve ever wondered what quality olive oil tastes like, this is your benchmark.
“La Jammet” kebab (€24) is one of those old classics that neither of us had tasted before. Based on kebab “a la Turque”, it’s a recipe Corrigan learned when he was studying in Cathal Brugha Street under PJ Dunne, the former head chef of the Dublin restaurant Jammet’s. Kidney, liver and marinated cubes of Old Castle Hill lamb are spiked on a grand skewer, sitting alongside two chops on spiced roasted vegetables, pumpkin dhal and raita. It’s enough to feed a small family, which means we can barely finish the roasted root vegetables (€5) and thin-cut fries (€6).
Our other main course is black-sole fillet (€29), cooked so precisely you could weep, but there’s buttermilk beurre blanc to be ladled on to the fillets of fish, which are sandwiched with a delicate duxelles of mushrooms.
A Didier Desvignes Fleurie (€56) is recommended, served slightly chilled, from a list that we are told will have a few more bottles at the more accessible end. Looking around the D4 room, however, there are plenty of folk likely to work their way through this pricey but beautiful list, which nudges the ubercool Ulysse Collin, La Stoppa and Jura producers up against the old-school classics.
Desserts are reasonably priced and accessible. Steamed pudding (€6) with custard, cream and a baptism of caramel tastes like the pudding of your childhood, although not with caramel back in the day.
The Park Cafe, or TPC as I’m sure it will be known, has opened in a year of unrelenting scrutiny. I’m not sure what’s brought it on. Maybe it’s Brexit, or maybe Dublin is the place every celebrity chef wants to be right now. But it’s not as simple as that. Getting it right here is one of those intangibles that is difficult to define. But I think it comes down to commitment as well as skill.
Corrigan has been in the kitchen, training the chefs, and dispatching the troops from London to ensure that what he launches here is something he can stand over. He’s not a franchise head, and I’m not sure that he needs the grief of a new outpost. Yet it looks like he’s making his way back home, and this is a very nice way to do it.
This is the sort of proper cooking that I love to see. My budget may not stretch to the Burgundies on that beautiful wine list, but I want to eat every single dish on this menu. It is not just good value but also money well spent. This is the restaurant that Dublin has been waiting for.
Dinner for two with a bottle of wine and an inclusive 10 per cent service charge was €173.
THE VERDICT: Proper cooking with no nonsense or bravado
Music: Background, Portishead and a mix
Food provenance: Virginia Park Lodge vegetables and pork, Kelly’s oysters, Frank Hederman salmon
Vegetarian options: Limited. Burrata and Virginia Park Lodge beets, leaves, and pickled walnuts; Jerusalem artichoke soup, Caesar salad; kale and potato gnocchi
Wheelchair access: Accessible, with accessible toilet