Catherine Cleary visits Old Street, Malahide, Co Dublin
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.