After a very slow start to my blogging year, I’ve been bashing my head against various walls [don't ask, I do it for fun] and planning my next posts. There are loads in the pipeline, but in advance of writing any of them and with a truly brilliant recent dining experience in my mind, I thought I’d do a little review first.
I’ve been working with the guys at The Exchequer since they opened the doors on this award-winning gastropub, shooting food and drinks on a seasonal basis. I’ve also been known to take regular refreshment at the bar, but apart from their brilliant Sunday roasts, I’ve rarely sat down to eat a lunch or dinner. As will become evident, this has nothing to do with the food, I blame the liquid refreshment…
The recently-launched Spring menu meant I needed to drop in and take a selection of photographs of the new dishes. These images are then used for promotional purposes on the website, Facebook and Twitter, as well as through traditional print media. The Sybarette had arranged to meet a mutual friend of ours at The Exchequer on the evening I was shooting food and the guys suggested that we sample the new menu after I’d taken the photos.
This worked out perfectly; there were three new starters and three mains on the shooting brief, so it would only be a case of arm-wrestling to see who got what. However, the staff at The Exchequer are not big fans of violence, so we decided that we’d just share the starters three ways, to avoid any need to call the emergency services.
First up came the potted smoked mackerel with horseradish, chive, crème fraiche and toast. Served on a board, it consists of a glass jar [pot] containing the mackerel with the toasted sourdough on the side. There were also some leaves, but I’m not big on leaves and consequently, will not be wasting time on their discussion. It was very good; smooth and mackerely to begin, with a lovely kick from the horseradish swooping in immediately afterward. So far, so good.
Next up was the plate of rock oysters, served two ways. I’m a big fan of unadulterated oysters [at a push, maybe with a squeeze of lemon], but these bad-boys took me competely by surprise. The raw oysters had a shallot, black pepper and cider dressing, lending a pleasant addition to the natural saltiness of the oysters and a subtle aftertaste. I didn’t actually get to sample the tempura oyster with pickled cucumber as all three mysteriously disappeared – most likely down the throats of my delightful dining companions. I did hear a series of ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ though, so I can draw a positive conclusion from this and therefore apply the stamp of approval.
Keeping the best until last, the third new starter family member was – to my mind – the star of the evening. A breaded, lightly fried patty of pigs head and trotter, served on a bed of lentils and with an apple purée. Words alone will not suffice to describe this dish, such was its brilliance. The Chef has taken two unusual cuts and transformed them into something very special indeed, but as I’ve said before, don’t take my word for it – get in there and order it.
And so to the main courses. Again, we made a call on which one we’d each prefer, then started the horse-trading to determine who got what.
The Sybarette opted for the braised beef short rib, which turned out to be an inspired choice. This comes with spinach, celeriac, a blue cheese croquette, fondant potato and the deepest, richest, most wonderful mest juices reduction ever. Sweet, sticky and very, very beefy, it was – for me – one of the highlights of the night. The croquette was an unusual but brilliant addition, a clever take on the classic steak with Roquefort.
The chicken dish looked to be the most simple, but contained a lovely surprise in the form of the accompanying pie. Slow-cooked chicken leg with leeks and wild mushrooms were housed in a perfect pastry case, and combined with the leek purée upon which the pie rests, brought the dish to life. The seared breast was almost a separate meal and came atop some of the best mash I’ve ever tasted. The jug of gravy sealed the deal nicely.
Last dish of the evening was the pork chop. To my mind, pork chops should be sweet and juicy, but all too often they end up as lifeless, dried-out boot soles which have no place on a dinner plate. I’m happy to say that this one was perfect. What I initially thought were parsnip chips turned out to be two perfectly roasted pieces of crackling – a clever touch – and the meat was accompanied by roasted salsify, king oyster mushrooms, an onion purée and some polenta, parmesan and rosemary chips. My initial thought was that there were going to be too many conflicting flavours, but this wasn’t the case – everything worked in unison to create a truly great tasting dish.
Lee, the Chef, is constantly experimenting and coming up with new combinations. It’s great to see that the so-called cheaper cuts of meat are once more at front and centre on this innovative menu, and long may this continue. As Dublin gastropubs go, The Exchequer is still leading the way.