Allta describes itself on its site as “a wine bar with food” but despite the simple and to-the-point tag line, it’s easy to see a lot of thought has gone behind it. In fact, it’s the result of more than a year of researching, testing and coming up with a menu and a concept that showcase the quality and talent of a wide array of Irish producers.
The venue soft-launched last November and it’s run by owner-chef Niall Davidson who partnered up with chef Hugh Higgins, to bring into life a relaxed yet sophisticated “barstaurant” that highlights Irish ingredients from sustainable sources. Expect handmade pasta and charcuterie, artisan ice cream and “vintage hifi sounds.”
Being so highly anticipated, I was only able to find a booking on a Wednesday at 9pm. They do have some space for walk-ins (the large wooden table at the centre of the dining area), but after hearing such a positive buzz about it, I thought a table for two it was worth the wait.
My guest and I arrived, after a week building up our expectations. A warm greeting and a friendly welcome were a good place to start.
One of the first things we noticed was an eye-catching piece of wall art featuring an oyster catcher, which I later learned was painted by award-wining art collective Subset, based on Ed Schofield’s photographic work.
Before the first bite, it was clear to us that level of attention to detail was outstanding. They’ve gone a long way to include Irish talent in every inch of the place: Allta’s menu features colourful work by Irish artist and designer Ronan Dillon, the tableware comes from Kerry-based Fermoyle Pottery studio, whose beautifully crafted work has been commissioned by some of Ireland’s top restaurants, the steak knives were made by Co. Clare-based designer and maker Sam Gleeson, and the native Irish elm tables come from Armagh and were built by Noel in Downpatrick.
We took our time to decide whether we’d go for their table menu or just order an assortment of dishes and decided on the latter. The dishes on the menu are of a size designed for sharing; smaller than a full main but larger than a tapa, they invite to mix, match and taste several options.
The first to arrive were four Cromane oysters seasoned with rhubarb vinegar, neatly presented over ice. These come from Cromane Bay in Co. Kerry, where they benefit from a mix between the saline waters from the Atlantic Ocean and the fresh water from the Maine, Laune and Caragh rivers, achieving a delicate flavour, with a pleasant, subtle sweetness enhanced by the tart juiciness of the rhubarb vinegar.
Along with them, we tasted our first wines of the evening, both whites: from the “Interesting” section of their menu, my guest chose Adega Entre os Ríos Albarino “Komokabras” 2017, from Galicia, Spain (€11.5), while I went for Guy Allion Touraine AC “Haut-Perron” 2018, Loire Valley, France (€9.75), from the “Classic” part of the list. Her wine was full bodied and intense, with a subtle use of skin contact to lift it up; mine was leaner, sharp and zesty.
Curated by Adare Manor alumni and Head Sommelier Ian Fitzpatrick, Allta’s wine list is divided into two: the short list features a selection of 26 wines by the glass, two sakes, a handful of beers and a couple of cocktails, and the longer wine list includes almost one hundred bottles including an exciting diversity when it comes to both regions and styles.
Kudos for a user-friendly presentation that makes it easy to navigate the list for wine lovers with different levels of expertise. For example, under “The Classics” section, you’ll find both old and new world wines from the best known regions such as Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, German Riesling, Burgundy or Ribera del Duero. If you’re looking for something a bit more off-the beaten track, the “Interesting” section offers wines from Greece, Lebanon, and less famous parts of Italy and Spain.
As we said goodbye to the oysters, we said hello to the Ballymore bread with shiitake miso butter. Hello and wow, as the intensely flavoured artisan butter was a surprising stop at umami station. It was so good we ate it slowly, trying to make it last, wondering how to hack it at home.
Then came the Chicken scarpinocc, a type of stuffed pasta traditional from the town of Parre in the Italian province of Bergamo. These little pillows of flavour are an individually handfolded labour of love, topped with a crunchy sprinkle of crispy chicken and stuffed with a creamy, cheesy heart that melts as you devour them.
It was a tough act to follow, but the Grilled cuttlefish, gooseberry beurre blanc and hazelnut, which came highly recommended by our waitress, managed to become my guest’s favourite dish of the evening. Little did I know, my highlight was yet to come.
The cuttlefish was tender, and nicely complemented by the tangy stripe of kohlrabi (a cousin of the cabbage) and the roasted smokinness of the hazelnuts, all bound together by a generous layer of aromatic beurre blanc.
As one dish was gone, the next was being served, so we never had more than two dishes on the table at any given time. This not only helped optimise table space, it meant we enjoyed everything hot.
Since the last dish of our list was lamb, we decided to go red on the next wine. I was eyeing a Beaujolais on tap, but then decided to ask the staff for their suggestion to discover something new. This time around, my friend went again for the “Interesting” section, trying a vibrant and fruity glass of Chateau Musar Jeune Red 2016, from Beeka Valley, Lebanon (€10.5). I went for Domaine Sainte Mar e des Crozes “L’Outsider” 2018, from Corbieres, France (€9.5), from the “Classics.”
While I’m not really a Cab Franc drinker, I’ve to recognise it went really well with the BBQ lamb and seaweed pappardelle, cáis na tíre and wild marjoram, which proved to be my favourite dish of the whole evening. Perfectly cooked ribbons of handmade pasta accompanied the Irish lamb, which was surrounded by a creamy and delicate sauce made from cáis na tíre Irish sheep cheese with a pungent spark from the herbs.
To end on a sweet note, we decided to share a dessert. It was either cheese or “Nitro” milk, smoked honey, sea buckthorn and white chocolate ice cream and the ice cream won unanimously this time. The dessert was simple yet delicious, with a great texture and a subtle smokey note that balanced the sweetness.
Along with it, I had a glass of Heinfried Dexheimer Beerenauslese 2007, Rhenhessen, Germany (€7.5), from their “Sweet/Fortified” section. I have to say I was surprised to see a wine of this age and quality at this price, I hope they don’t run out of it before I’m back! My guest called it a day with a cup of peppermint tea.
We came to Allta with high hopes and it delivered and exceeded our expectations. The atmosphere was casual and the service was warm and knowledgeable, we never felt rushed and it only took eye contact and a smile to get somebody to look after our table. You could feel the love for Irish ingredients and the people behind them on every thing you touched, each bite of food you enjoyed and each enthusiastic description.
Allta opens Tuesday to Saturday from 5pm until late. The bill for two people came at €130.60 and it included five glasses of wine, four oysters, bread with miso butter, three shareable dishes, sparkling water, one dessert and a cup of tea.
For those looking to enjoy a curated experience, Allta offers a set table menu that features a taste of most of the dishes, priced at €48 per person with an optional add-on of wine pairing for €35.
30 Frederick St, Setanta Place, D2.
ARTICLE BY GABY GUEDEZ