Over the past month I’ve discovered two of the pitfalls involved in blogging. The first is that if your internet breaks down then you’re altogether screwed. Well, unless you have the time or money to spend an extra seven hours in your local internet café or can cope with posting entirely via an iPhone, neither of which I’m able to! The second is that getting back into the flow of writing and regular posting, even after just a couple of weeks without it is a lot harder than I thought. Admittedly this isn’t how it works for everyone out there; a lot of the hardcore bloggers out there would probably think nothing of taking a three day break and immediately launching back in at the same pace but as for myself, let’s just say that a combination of being a lovely noob, a very slight lack of confidence, limited funds and the distraction of Red Dead Redemption ultimately served to grind me to a complete halt.
Luckily, I never forgot that this blog is just about the one thing I’m good at doing, so the potential waste of it all was a constant reminder as to exactly why I should be picking it back up! With that said, I’m very sorry for the lack of any updates since the Taste festival and if any of you wish for a more substantial apology, I’ll personally cook you dinner on request. Yes, it’s dangerous to put an offer like that out there on a food blog, but it feels like the correct way to make amends; beyond writing another review of course.
Speaking of which, let’s get to it! In the week leading up to Taste, I discovered (thanks in no small part to the outbreak of Facebook ‘like’ pages) a small, quayside restaurant called Herbstreet. Everything about it from the name, the kind of food they served and their environment conscious approach to running the place screamed good review material. How could I resist?
Tucked neatly into a line of shops and bars on the dockland waterscape of Hannover Quay, it took us only a miniature pilgrimage around half of the surrounding area to find it in the first place! In hindsight, I really ought to have known exactly how to get there since I’d only passed it several hundred times beforehand whilst bussing to UCD but on the flipside, I’d been living on a diet of canned tomato soup and bread at the time; Dublin’s eating scene was, understandably, very much on the back burner. We ultimately arrived with one pair of shredded feet due to extended high heel exposure (disclaimer: the feet were not mine, just in case any of you were thinking it!) and thirty minutes less eating time.
As it happens, it was lucky things weren’t held up any longer since it quickly turned out that Herbstreet is not your average evening restaurant. In fact, they’ve only just expanded their opening hours in the last few months to accommodate diners after six, no doubt seizing upon the opportunity presented by the opening of the Grand Canal Theatre some hundred metres adjacent. This safe but calculated approach defines how Siobhan Kennedy and Vinny Mullen - Herbstreet’s husband-and-wife cum head chef/general manager duo - have developed their restaurant with as much attention being given to the efficiency of light bulbs as it is to the food itself! Indeed, the first thing you notice as you find your seats will be the Mondrian-esque array of LED lights that snake up the wall and across the ceiling. It’s just one facet of the sustainable attitude you’ll find upon closer inspection of how Herbstreet ticks. The water is charcoal filtered on premises, none of the wine is transported from any further than Europe to save on travel cost and recycled materials are used wherever possible.
Of course, you can’t run a restaurant on a sustainable ethos without also applying it to the food and Herbstreet doesn’t let up for a second. All ingredients are sourced locally wherever possible, with a distinctly modern Irish feel running through their four separate menus. Breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner are all covered with each offering just enough of a different choice to stand out from the other. Everything from a full Irish fry up to French toast with peaches and eggs Florentine are available between breakfast and brunch, whilst the heavy hitters like quiche, a turkey club sandwich and the Herbstreet burger make appearances on the lunch and dinner menus. It’s a great selection that fills the day, and all excellent value with only five items (mainly steak dishes and platters for two) hitting over the fifteen euro mark. The best part of it all is that every page oozes a fresh and healthy feel with no dish coming across as overly contrived or complicated.
Had I done better research, I’d definitely have been gearing for a breakfast but the one thing that had caught my eye whilst skimming through their dinner menu was the real Dublin scampi. Unfortunately, the gods were against us and it was the only item unavailable at the time. Disappointing, but more than probably our own fault since we arrived very close to closing time! The rest of the menu had us covered regardless, so I ended up opting for the seafood platter for a shared starter with crab and asparagus risotto for the main. Rebecca, also having had an eye on the scampi, chose the Herbstreet burger and chips instead. Since they were available, we also ordered a side of sweet potato wedges with a chipotle dip.
The seafood platter turned out to be a delightful mixture of smoked salmon both cooked to flaky perfection and fresh, a crab salad served in a lettuce leaf and two kinds of bread, topped off with a salsa that was quite simply incredible. The salad itself was a simple affair of shredded crab meat, chives and a garlic dressing; uncomplicated but delicious.
Quickly following the empty plate came my risotto and Rebecca’s burger; not necessarily as healthy as the rest of what was on Herbstreet’s menu but healthy in portion size, make no mistake! The burger was thick, cooked well done and crowned with crispy onion strings. The accompanying fries unfortunately tasted as though they'd been cooked from frozen, but the sweet potato wedges were the perfect riposte; chunky, crisp and full of flavour.
My risotto meanwhile arrived as described; a creamy combination of finely shredded crab meat and soft asparagus. It has to be said that years of reading through restaurant reviews and food writing has led me to believe that a really, really good risotto was something of a rarity in and around Dublin’s dining scene, however I personally find the opposite to be true: a bad risotto has so far eluded me. Perhaps I’m just lucky, or perhaps the inherent criticism that seems to accompany a risotto dish with any kind of flaw in the slightest has scared it off the menu of any chef who doesn’t feel entirely comfortable cooking one. Regardless, the point is that Herbstreet did not drop the risotto ball; their own version is a wonderfully cooked dish.
While eating, it was impossible not to take in the fantastic view of the Docklands Herbsteet offers, especially if you manage a window seat. Only metres across was a barge filled with partygoers and that unmistakable wafting summer barbeque smell, whilst the docklands were bustling with theatregoers on their way to the evening show. There was something just so wonderfully suited about the location to the restaurant itself, almost as if there was no other place it could – or should – have been situated; an island of urban laziness and culture that you can’t but help enjoy.
That said, most of the fun we had was in strolling back home! Rebecca may or may not have a minor obsession with waterfront areas, so she was in her element by the end of it all. It’s safe to say that the food we’d just eaten played a big part therein; Herbstreet is definitely a restaurant that we can both look forward to dining in again at some stage in the near future. This in itself is a luxury when you consider how short the life-span of a catering business can be in the current economic environment, but the straightforward common sense behind how this little gem of a restaurant is run guarantees that it will have the longevity needed to satisfy us, and hopefully yourselves, time and time again.
Grand Canal Dock,