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Cather­ine Cleary vis­its Old Street, Malahide, Co Dublin

The Irish Times Magazine - - NEWS - CATHER­INE CLEARY

Malahide i s do­ing t he passeg­giata. That Ital­ian prac­tice of dolling up and sashay­ing down the street is in full swing by the time we leave Old Street. Even the windswept trees look less hunched as a calm sum­mer evening un­folds.

The dial is set to stroll and the beach dogs dash­ing full- pelt across the strand seem taken aback to find it dot­ted with hu­mans who are not wrapped in lay­ers of Gore- Tex.

Back at Old Street they’re gear­ing up for a busy night. The res­tau­rant is set be­hind Strand Street, on the site of two vil­lage houses.

You en­ter Old Street from the side street of the same name and walk into a dou­ble- height bar that is all soar­ing brick and oak, with a sec­ond floor, set back be­hind glass, up a float­ing con­crete flight of stairs.

We’re here early as it’s the only ta­ble I could get, but ev­ery­thing is bathed in sun­light; it feels like good tim­ing. Down­stairs, there’s a cav­ernous base­ment which is due to be­come a wine bar. This was one mas­sive build.

Leather and curved tim­ber chairs that are both com­fort­able and el­e­gant are tucked in around bare wooden ta­bles. Mono­grammed nap­kins come in a brown tweedy fin­ish matched by the brown aprons. It’s all res­tau­rant code for “we’re go­ing a bit Nordic- y” al­though there are lots of Ital­ian notes too.

Plates are glazed in the speck­led colours of soil and sand. Where once there was high- rise food in tow­ers, the trend now i s more ur­ban sprawl, with mouth­fuls dot­ted around plates like one- off houses in an out- of- town field.

So far, so very im­pres­sive. Even the loo is great, feel­ing more like a spa than a res­tau­rant toilet, the friend says. Old Street is a glossy rein­ven­tion of an unloved cor­ner at the heart of a vil­lage. And it’s hard to get a ta­ble – so the food must be fan­tas­tic? The good news is some of it def­i­nitely is.

Such as the scal­lop starter. It should be good, com­ing in at roughly a fiver a scal­lop ( there are three on the plate for ¤ 15), and they pull it off by team­ing the juicy warm scal­lops with a smoked an­chovy may­on­naise I could eat by the la­dle. There are pick­led an­chovies here too, with sliv­ers of sweetly pick­led cel­ery and ap­ple for crisp crunch. A chive puree greener than a kale field rounds off a bril­liant dish.

Across the ta­ble an “heir­loom toma- to” salad is, well, just a bit meek, partly by com­par­i­son with my scal­lop flavour bomb. Toma­toes cut into or­ange seg­ment- sized wedges are topped with shreds of bur­rata ( that creamy, curdy in­car­na­tion of moz­zarella) with blobs of av­o­cado.

There’s a romesco sauce to try to get more ve­he­mence on to the plate, but it over­shoots and ends up be­ing too shouty by com­par­i­son to the milder flavours. It’s all nicely dusted with a sooty sprin­kling of burnt onion, but this is a salad that needs heartier toma­toes to pull it off.

Then there’s a nearly pitch- per­fect plate of pork loin, two juicy logs of white meat topped with bagna càuda, the Ital­ian sludgy paste of an­chovies, gar­lic and olive oil ( some­one in the kitchen likes an­chovies). This brings a salt to the sweet­ness of the pork, which dings sev­eral plea­sure bells. There’s a cele­riac cream topped with a lovely mix of seeds, and a ba­nana shal­lot charred to slip­pery sweet­ness.

My herb gnoc­chi is a beau­ti­ful cir­cle of gold, pil­lowy gnoc­chi flecked with herbs sit­ting on top of lightly braised beans, with wash­boards of charred corn dot­ted in the spa­ces. Ev­ery­thing is lovely on the plate, apart from the gnoc­chi. They’re too large and have a wet, soupy tex­ture in­stead of the potato- ey bite that would work so well here. We get a side of roasted car­rots; they come to the ta­ble whole, look­ing like hot­dogs, with a line of harissa piped over them like ketchup.

Desserts at ¤ 8 apiece are large ( the friend sus­pects critic por­tions). A rhubarb plate has so many things go­ing on – poached rhubarb, a com­pote, a fi­nancier ( which seems to con­sist of crumb le d wedges o f s ponge ca k e ) , coin- sized bis­cuits, yo­ghurt cream and a sor­bet – it’s ex­haust­ing. And it’s a plate that would work bet­ter if all the el­e­ments weren’t so tooth- achingly sweet.

Like­wise my choco­late cus­tard, aer­ated choco­late, caramelised ba­nana with tof­fee and ba­nana ice cream is like a dessert de­signed by my 10- year- old, only he’d leave out the ba­nana. My ad­vice? Ask for dessert and two spoons un­less you’re sav­ing your­self for a sugar hit.

There’s a keenly priced early bird menu, which we could have taken out for a stroll. And the house sparkling wa­ter charged at ¤ 2 for a night’s sup­ply is a great touch. But wan­der away from those cheaper by­roads, tuck into the wine and you’re into a sub­stan­tial wedge for din­ner.

Old Street is a wow in many ways. The build­ing has style in spades. With a lit­tle more reach from the kitchen, sub­stance should fol­low.

Din­ner for two with house sparkling wa­ter and desserts came to ¤ 87.

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