It’s the sentence “hash brown chips with picked onion mayonnaise” that does it.
We’re in the final throes of our Dublin dash, and having necked tip-top tapas one night and endured an infuriating feed at a popular seafoody gaff on another, me and Google, over a tepid hotel bar beer, are trawling for a last supper somewhere. The brief: serious-but-not-too-serious.
We consider the city’s numerous Michelin-anointed posh-spots but they’re swiftly rejected due to reasons of, well, can’t-be-arsed-ness, really. All that delicate refinement’s too much like hard work sometimes. And, besides, when yer want chips, yer want chips.
Over the final dregs of that hotel beer I bring up Clanbrassil House, delve into their menu and read those sweet, sweet words that I’ve since considered having tattooed on my forehead. Hash brown chips with pickled onion mayonnaise.
And what chips. A couple of hours later, perched at a high table in a warmly unfussy room at the front of the restaurant, I’m too busy sticking the things in my mouth to try and work out how they’ve done it, but these thick fingers of potato and onion – tanned, nobbly, and with a Crunch Factor somehow dialled up 11 – are absolute spud nirvana.
But, possibly still in a deep-fried potato fug, I’m getting ahead of myself, for there have already been other good things.
First, a snacky brace of mahogany-hued Iberico ham croquettes, whose molten cheese filling reminds me happily of a souped-up Findus pancake. Then, a couple of what they call ‘small plates’ but old grandad here will steadfastly refer to as starters.
In a dish that is summer distilled we spoon up wedges of allotment-fresh heritage tomatoes – perfect temperature – piled with delicate but punchy crab and dotted with pickled gooseberries that deliver a shudder of sharpness. Beneath it all, juices meld together to create a pool of pure liquid greenhouse.
There’s a dab-hand in the dark arts of pasta prep at large here. Robust ravioli, loaded with subtle Coolea cheese, have been cooked just far enough, retaining both bite and bounce, while nubs of charred corn and courgette add a toothy balance. The lot is enlivened by a spiky salsa verde, which wouldn’t be out of place at the Moorcock Inn, the home of herb alchemy.
There will always be a place in my artery-clogged heart for a restaurant confident enough to simply stick a whole fish in a hot pan, douse it with a mound of butter and send it on its way. From the specials, a megrim sole has been handled impeccably, cooked until bronzed skin peels away from meaty flesh. Here, friends, is a lesson in minimal faffing for ultimate pay-off.
Just think, I could be in one of those Michelin-starred places instead, admiring a postage stamp’s worth of turbot for triple the dosh. No ta.
And then there’s sausage and mash. I mean, it’s not just sausage and mash, of course. The thick puck of meat, crafted in-house, is full of glistening fatty flavour from the bits of animal – the tastiest bits – that a TV person might refer to as the “less fashionable cuts”; and the puree, I reckon, is mainly a coming-together of butter and cream, with a dash of potato lobbed in to hold it all together. Amen to that.
Yep, it’s a poshed-up version of the classic worknight tea that’s been elevated to its best without becoming flouncy or losing any of the original’s appeal. I’m smitten.
And it’s this balancing act of knowing when to be a bit showy-offy and when to hold back, combined with no shortage of shit-hotness in the kitchen and a front of house team that is simultaneously laid-back while being completely on it, that makes eating at Clanbrassil House not just a stand-out meal for this trip, but somewhere that goes straight in as one of my favourite places to have rocked up at since I started waffling on about restaurants.
Yep, this place is that good, and not just because of those chips.