People-watching is a many splendid thing, and whether you are nosy by nature or not, settling in to a chic corner of The Restaurant by Johnnie Cooke on the third floor of iconic Brown Thomas on Grafton Street, it is rather hard to resist. Trapsing the homeware aisles, from De Longhi to Denby and back, are young couples in the throes of bickering.
Sipping on a perfectly chilled glass of Italian Fizz, this is a pastime my dining companion and I can’t help but indulge in as we settle in for a casual catch-up dinner in the stylish art deco-inspired space. If I’m honest, I knew of The Restaurant’s stellar reputation for casual daytime dining and enjoyed a tremendous Afternoon Tea here not so long ago, but it wasn’t somewhere I thought of as a dinner destination.
Late night shopping on a Thursday is the working girl’s bread and butter and with most of the stores dotted in and around Grafton Street staying open until 9pm, a good strategist knows there will be a need to refuel mid or post spree. As it is literally a hop on the escalator from Charlotte Tilbury and the gang, popping for dinner in The Restaurant makes perfect sense.
While it is difficult not to blow the budget passing the Louboutin concession on the way upstairs, the Supper Menu at The Restaurant is an extremely pocket friendly affair. With two courses for €21 or three for €25, you can indulge in classic dishes with a Californian meets Mediterranean vibe, inspired by Cooke’s years in the Sunshine State and New Mexico.
On a chilly October evening, there’s nothing better than bright and vibrant flavours, and an Heirloom Tomato Caprese Salad was a welcome distraction from the onset of Winter. Moody-looking black plum, golden pear, and rubanesque juicy beauties immediately signaled that produce is paramount to the classic dishes being served at The Restaurant.
Fragrant torn basil fills the air as soon as the plate hits the table and a light hand with buffalo mozzarella means this seemingly ample dish was the perfect starter size. A glug of peppery extra virgin olive oil and scattering of kalamata olives finished this simple but satisfying dish.
A retro throwback of Florida Shrimp Cocktail arrived before me, layered with plenty of perfectly ripe avocado, tobasco spiked Marie Rose and expertly poached sweet king prawns. Simplistic admittedly, there is something to be said for classics executed with high quality ingredients, and Aisling fought me to get a taste.
A short list of mains included a hearty sounding Restaurant Burger and tempting Italian nods with Chicken Milanese and Spinach and Ricotta Tortellini as well as enticing indulgences in a separately priced pizza and pasta section.
Sticking with the set Supper Menu, I personally can’t resist a well-executed Tuna Nicoise, and what arrived was a behemoth portion, a plump Tuna Steak and bulging bowl of crisp cos, blanched green beans and shaved cucumber.
Happily, this generously proportioned dish was light on slivers of potato, and tossed in a zingy lemon-spiked French vinaigrette which cut through the oil rich, perfectly rare within and smokey char-crusted tuna. Meaty anchovy fillets, or umami grenades as I think of them, ensured this was a far cry from your typical anemic ladies-who-lunch style salad.
Opting to indulge, Aisling couldn’t resist the luxurious sounding Lobster Pizza (€24) which I was mildly suspicious of – any pizza clocking in at over €20 has some explaining to do. I will admit when I’m wrong, and did so as soon as I spied the amount of sweet poached lobster sitting atop a pleasingly thin and crisp handcrafted base.
Easily the bones of half a nicely cooked lobster begged to be devoured (my wandering fork obliged) and played beautifully with plenty of avocado, fire roasted red pepper slivers and a dusting of espellete pepper, the Basque pimento chile which is popular in Californian cuisine.
Those who feel pizza isn’t pizza without lashings of cheese would probably be better off steering towards the tempting sounding Truffle Pizza, but Lobster Pizza was definitely a winner for a seafood lover. And as lobster is light and salad is salad, there’s no harm adding an order of Sweet Potato Fries with smokey chipotle mayo right? These were dangerously good – crisp and not a hint of greasy sogginess – there were no survivors.
At this point I should mention that we were bulging at the gills and both rather glad the store was soon closing, therefore ensuring neither of us would attempt to try on any clothes post-feast – disaster averted. With that and the fact that the stellar Frizzante we were enjoying was €2.50 a glass with every order from the supper or pizza menu in mind, we decided to prolongue the fun with another tipple and a shared dessert.
Having previously fallen for the authentic Pastel de Nata Portugese custard tarts served for Afternoon Tea in the Restaurant, sticking with another traditional Mediterranean dish seemed like a wise move. This time, a Spanish treat of Tarta di Santiago, that’s a fluffy almond sponge to you and me, was the order of the day, narrowly managing to pip a Belgian Chocolate Marquise to the post.
Naturally gluten-free owing to the use of ground almonds in the place of flour, this beauty somehow was light as a feather within, like a toasty and nutty angel food cake. Topped with boozy Pedro Ximinez soaked raisins and vanilla ice cream, this was a little slice of Spanish sunshine and the perfect end to a chilled out dinner.
Whether you’re heading to the Gaeity and fancy a pre-theatre bite or want a front row seat for the highly entertaining people-watching palaver (the couple in question left with nothing but animosity towards each other) The Restaurant is an excellent dinner choice from 5pm-8pm on Thursdays and Fridays.
I take comfort in the fact that seriously delicious dishes, Frizzante on tap and a shelter from the shopping storm are all on offer in the heart of Grafton Street, for far less than a spree would set you back – I know where I’ll be dining after my next one.
The bill, including two starters, two mains, a side, a shared dessert and 2 glasses of Prosecco each came to €68.
The Restaurant by Johnnie Cooke
88-95 Grafton Street
Growing up with the name Darina, I was constantly asked if I could cook like my namesake. I am the only person to have contested both Masterchef and the Great Irish Bake Off and am passionate about discovering and creating delicious things – I can sometimes be caught in the act on TV3’s Six O’Clock Show. Working with TheTaste allows me to satisfy this craving and marries my food fascination with my love of writing and ranting.