Camden Market

Eating Out: The bistro boom marches on, with the opening of another mid-range, French-ish Dublin restaurant

Eating Out:The bistro boom marches on, with the opening of another mid-range, French-ish Dublin restaurant

THE BEST OF times? The worst of times? We seem to be stuck somewhere in the middle. As the recession trundles on, many restaurateurs are battening down the hatches and putting a freeze on experimentation. You won’t be disappointed, but you won’t be bowled over, either.

Perhaps we need a new hero, a culinary Moses, to come down from Mount Cathal Brugha Street clutching a beautifully designed menu inscribed with new commandments for Irish chefs: Thou shalt not only provide risotto for herbivores. Thou shalt not do anything with goats’ cheese in a starter. Thou shalt not put gnocchi on a “French” menu – and so on. He, or she, will inspire Irish diners to down napkins and say “Non!” to the burgeoning bistro bubble.

One of Dublin’s newest bistros, Camden Kitchen, hits all the right notes in this regard, without pushing out any boats. It’s a handsome, neat restaurant, with head chef and proprietor Padraic Hayden at the helm – his last gig was at Still restaurant in the Dylan Hotel. At the Dylan, Hayden nipped, tucked and generally fussed about with Michelin-might-like dishes, which were usually pretty good, if often overpriced. At his new place, he has gone back to tried-and-tested basics, but his past experience in fancier gastro-noodling is apparent in his meticulous presentation, and that’s no bad thing.

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As for the front-of-house staff members, they are exotic and lovely. We noted French and Argentine accents, as well as a lot of genuine warmth.

We began our lunch with a glass each of non-vintage Gervais Gobillard Brut Rosé (€12), which served as a treat of an aperitif – light, elegant, and with a heady scent of violet and summer berries. The wine list has about 30 bottles – each available by the glass – and it is curated with care. The mark-up is not too exorbitant either.

The lunch menu is not divided into starters and mains, so we chose a selection of four dishes priced from €6.50 up to €12 – good value there. To start, my companion’s gazpacho with confit tomato and kalamata olive oil (€6.50) was thankfully not messed around with, and very good. For me, a confit duck with bacon, truffle aioli and quail’s egg (€9.50) was also enjoyable. We fared marginally less successfully on our second round: my risotto (€12) was technically a knockout, yet lacked punch in the flavour department. My companion’s goats’ cheese salad (groan . . . ) with walnut, medjool dates and dressed leaves was fine, but the dates were a little too sweet as a foil and it needed more dressing, which was easily addressed.

Desserts were good: some nice Madeleines (€5) for my friend, although she did grumble about them being “flavoured, when I just wanted plain, honest-to- goodness Madeleines”, and a comforting braised rhubarb in jelly with vanilla ice-cream for me (€6.50).

Dublin 2 and 8 seem to be to be awash with this type of restaurant. Here’s hoping there are enough diners to sustain the bistro-bubble and that anyone thinking of opening a mid-range, French-ish bistro in the capital will check out locations in a few other postcodes. Cheaper rents, after all, might allow for more experimentation on the menu.

Lunch for two with aperitifs and one coffee came to €72.30. ehiggins@irishtimes.com

CAMDEN KITCHEN 3A Camden Market, Grantham Street, Dublin 8, tel: 01-4760125

Coffee:A nutty Caffé Motta

Music:Introspective electronic noodling

Wheelchair access:No

Facilities:Swollen door in the ladies that wouldn't close

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