Eoin Higgins revisits Locks, Portobello
Although she may sound like an exotic bellydancer, Eulalia Viridis is not, in fact, the kind of company you’d want slinking about your lunch table of a Saturday afternoon. Also known as the Green-leaf worm, this wriggly rascal sometimes hangs out on shellfish but it is essentially harmless, and gorgeous as it may be, from a marine naturalist’s perspective, is not really my kind of crowd for lunch. So we sent the plate back to the kitchen after we’d found one writhing among our otherwise beautifully-briny oysters.
We had eaten three, oysters that is, hopefully not worms, and our waitress, with exceptional good grace, took the remaining two away for us, apologising profusely as she did, which was not all that necessary since half our party work in kitchens or restaurants and understand that fresh food sometimes hosts the odd uninvited guest – no biggie. If anything, a sure sign of freshness.
Talented chef, Troy Maguire, once had a share in this restaurant, but the business was hit hard by the recession and that iteration of Locks was forced to wind down. A damn shame. Next up, the folks behind Pearl Brasserie had a, and made a, good go of Locks. They even won a Michelin star, but subsequently lost it, relatively soon after.
We joined one of Dublin’s longest-running dining room services on a Saturday afternoon. The historic Dublin restaurant is currently helmed, and owned by, chef Connor O’Dowd, who lashes his not inconsiderable talent onto elegant plates by day and by night.
The room is still as attractive as ever – the art wasn’t my cup of tea, but hey, you can pleases some people sometime – and there are echoes of Locks’ previous incarnations here and there in the details. The music, always a hobby horse of mine, was at that perfect volume where it can be heard but doesn’t intrude, a nice selection of tunes too.
To begin, some “snacks”: the aforementioned oysters and a complimentary homemade smoked trout and dillisk butter (€3) that we slathered – like savages (it was that good!) – onto neat slices of fresh sourdough, accompanied by some gorgeously buttery, Kermit-green nocellara olives (also complimentary). Among our number the starter highlight was a gorgeous whipped chicken livers with celery, apple and salted grapes dish. It was very, very good. O’Dowd has a serious handle on plating and flavour.
For mains, an almost unfeasibly heavy suet and venison pudding, which was lovely but rich beyond finishing. There was also a pitch-perfectly cooked cod dish that triumphed on a bed of mussels, and an excellent pork belly, cavola nero and bean number, which reminded me of the time the dearly departed and infamous restaurant critic, Michael Winner, turned up at Locks some years ago and DEMANDED crackling with his pork belly and then complained that it wasn’t up to scratch … but I digress, and besides, this belly was a winner of a dinner.
And so to the bill. We had a cracking bottle of Chateau Mas Neuf Rhone Paradox, a nicely-finessed blend at a reasonable €39, and a rather lovely – but a little pricey – Prosecco that shone with bright green apple notes for €46. The rest of the meal was very fairly priced and certainly worth the caliber of cooking we’d enjoyed on the day. With three coffees and a couple of sides the bill came to a decent €208.50 for four people. A definite thumbs up from me and the rest of the party and a pleasure to enjoy great food in that lovely room once again. We’ll be back …