Hen a penny

There’s a sense of familiarity about Dublin’s newest bistro, writes EOIN HIGGINS

There's a sense of familiarity about Dublin's newest bistro, writes EOIN HIGGINS

A DECENT, CONSISTENT, mid-priced bistro used to be the holy grail for Dublin diners. Nowadays, we have a glut of them, all offering a similar experience. I blame l’Gueuleton, which opened in 2005, for prompting every other restaurateur who saw its success to think, “I can do that too”, and now the city is awash with bistros all trying to out-pork belly each other. The Green Hen is the latest.

Part-owner Paul Rooney – the other proprietor is silent – has an interesting provenance. He began by running club nights at the Gaiety, and moved into the restaurant business when he opened Velour in premises previously occupied by Conrad Gallagher’s Peacock Alley. Gallagher and Rooney still seem to have some connection; the bold Conrad was in the Green Hen on one of my recent visits.

After Velour, Rooney went back into the bar business and ran the Modern Green Bar on Camden Street in the mid-1990s. He has a long-standing business relationship with Frank Gleeson and, in the Green Hen, Rooney is aided front-of-house by Omar Box, who counts Ely, The Wild Goose and Town Bar and Grill as previous employers.

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We made our way to the Green Hen on a Friday evening, and found a clean, nicely designed room full of smartly-dressed, pretty-young-things sipping cocktails at the zinc bar. As we hovered waiting to be seated, we watched as the barflies sized one another up while the rest of the clientele, scattered around undressed tables, focused on the menus.

The menu takes a bit of figuring out: it features a daily plat du jour, which is nice to see, and a two- and three-course table d’hôte offer, but only on certain nights, at certain times. The menu looks very similar to that of the famous New York City bistro Balthazar, a London outpost of which is rumoured to be coming to Covent Garden.

To start, we tried the oysters two ways, hot and cold. First up, the warm choice: three oysters gently baked and topped with a dollop of hollandaise and a slice of chorizo (€6). They were very good – the unexpected tingle on the tongue from paprika in the chorizo added to the fresh marine oyster finish – a strange, yet enjoyable combo. Then we tried the chilled option – three oysters finished with Limoncello (€6). As good as the first version was, this was awful; the syrupy sweetness of the Limoncello destroyed the subtlety of the shellfish and left an aftertaste. “Do not want,” was my companion’s conclusion. “Ever again,” came my reply. We also tried the goats’ cheese and roast beetroot salad, with glazed walnuts, figs, and white balsamic (€8). The goats’ cheese was fluffy and young, the figs slightly unripe but overall, a good dish and nicely presented.

The wine list includes about 30, mostly Old World bottles priced from €22 up to €66. We had a glass of the house red, a 2009 Fox Mountain from Languedoc (€5.50), which was okay. The much richer and meatier La Roca Côte de Roussillon (€6.50) is definitely worth the extra yoyo if you are drinking by the glass.

The plat du jour was ox-cheek pie (€15), a good basic bistro filler and keenly priced. My guest had the lamb and black pudding sausages with white bean cassoulet and smoked tomato (€16). This was well-received, if a little wintry for this time of year. I really enjoyed the sausages, but I eat sausages about once a year and tend to over-egg my excitement when I do. My guest calmly described them as “good”.

For desserts, we had a zingy Key lime pie (€5.50), nicely tart on a base of crushed ginger biscuit, and a technically perfect chocolate fondant (€5.50) that only suffered very slightly for its inferior chocolate. Both were accompanied by decent coffees.

I went back the following day for lunch to try the daytime offering. They have an appealing daily beer and a burger offer for €15 that is good enough but the burger could do with less salt.

The owners of the Green Hen have hit upon a formula that will attract twentysomethings in their droves. It’s reasonably priced, the scene is kind of hip, it opens late, and there is a full bar. The food is unchallenging, and I would love to see a bit more courage and creativity on the menu. That said, it will probably be packed to the rafters night after night, so who am I to argue with the people’s choice?

Dinner for two with two glasses of wine and coffees came to €79.50, excluding tip.

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