Bastible, Dublin: ‘It’s clever, detailed and will make you thrillingly giddy’ – The Guardian

Restaurant News

Bastible, 111 South Circular Road, Dublin D08 RW2K (+353 1 473 7409). A la carte, two courses €42; three courses €50; tasting menus €45 to €65. Wines from €36

At Bastible in Dublin, each dish comes with a commentary. Somehow, it manages to improve the experience, rather than make you squeeze the edge of your seat until your knuckles are white. Early on chef Cúán Greene delivers a small, rough-hewn ceramic dish to the table. There’s a pillow of dried lemon verbena leaves overlaid with greaseproof paper upon which perch four curving, layered pieces of pearly kohlrabi, interleaved with sorrel leaves. The kohlrabi, we are told, has been marinated in quince vinegar. “It’s a kind of chilled salad in finger-food form,” Greene says, cheerfully. He’s not wrong: it’s crisp and boldly refreshing. It’s also clever without being irritatingly, look-at-me distracting. Most importantly it tastes nice. Important, that.

I was directed to Bastible, the name of a traditional Irish cooking pot, by Lisa Cope, who writes for the Irish Times and edits All the Food, a website covering the joys of eating and drinking in the Irish capital. This is the first time I’ve reviewed in Dublin and she gave me the impression that now is the time to get there. Ireland, she said, is currently seeing the upside of the exodus of talent that occurred around the recession a decade or so ago. Chefs like Greene are flocking back, their pockets stuffed with experience, their heads full of new ideas.

Kohlrabi, sorrel, lemon verbena.

In Greene’s case, elsewhere was Noma in Copenhagen, where chef René Redzepi pursues a devoutly regionalist agenda: it’s vinegar instead of lemon juice, butter rather than olive oil, because it’s a northern European restaurant not a southern Mediterranean one. Some people, those who like ideology more than lunch, got the wrong end of the Norway spruce stick over all this. They saw Noma as somehow defining the correct agenda for all restaurants. In a globalised world, that’s absurd. We can find such notions interesting in Dublin or Copenhagen, while still craving the flavours of Provence or Malaysia and being grateful they are available nearby.

Grilled, compressed ox tongue.

In truth, the agenda is utterly pointless unless, like Redzepi, you’re also an exceptionally gifted chef. The same applies to Greene. The man is bursting with good taste and technique. Bastible was opened four years ago in Portobello to the south of Dublin’s city centre by Barry Fitzgerald and Claire-Marie Thomas. Greene arrived last spring and is now throwing everything on to the table. Usually, the prospect of a tasting menu makes my left eye twitch, but here on a Sunday lunchtime it becomes a joyful dance. Those of us who arrive early – lunch trails on until darkness falls – get to watch those a few courses behind, jealously, knowing the joys they have to come.

It starts, as ever, with an addictive, hard-crusted sourdough, with a crunch like crackling, and whorls of whipped, salty cultured butter that demand to be finished. That’s followed by a cube of thinly sliced and then compressed ox tongue. It arrives pierced on the still-smoking twig on which it was grilled. It has been cured with juniper. It is seasoned with dried, powdered mushrooms and the seaside briskness of dried kelp. It has the soft meatiness of the very best pastrami.

Swede cooked in ginger, with pumpkin seeds and kelp.

Next, there’s a rough-chopped tartare of Dexter beef under the forest floor earthiness of an artichoke cream, thickly dusted with more dried, powdered ceps and layered with a few green leaves. It’s a rugged dish in all ways. Against it, the kohlrabi acts as a palate cleanser and sets us up for the arrival of sweet and sticky Connemara prawns served raw, with thin slices of broccoli stem and leaves of marigold perched on top of each piece so that, arranged in a curve, they look like a Roman senator’s garland. It sits in a pool of a deep green broth made with the juices from the kohlrabi, fig leaf oil and the punch of horseradish. These are the ingredients that are available now, shown as good a time as possible.

Cooking to thrill: chef Cúán Greene.

As is the next dish. It’s a “celebration of the humble swede” as Greene puts it. (There are waiters working the simple square box of a dining room, but he does serve some of the dishes himself straight from the open kitchen to the tables.) The semi-circular discs of swede have been cooked slowly in ginger oil to a gentle piquancy. Alongside, is what he calls a pumpkin seed mole, a deep savoury sauce glowing with jewel-like dots of more oil. Tiny square pieces of slightly jellied kelp form a pattern across the swede along with hyper savoury pumpkin seeds roasted in yeast. Gosh. And, oh.

I ask Greene about the ginger, which seems to break the regional frame. He agrees it does, but says he’s not doctrinaire. For the most part, though, lunch comes from hereabouts and right now. We are presented with a slab of cured sea trout to share. It’s a deep, appealing shade of dirty orange. It’s been brushed repeatedly with a quince glaze and is warm so that the oils are just running. We are told to treat it like smoked salmon; to pull it away from the skin below. There’s a farl of bread made with new potatoes, its undulating surface rendered dark and sticky courtesy of a cider-vinegar glaze. To mitigate the sweetness of the fish, we have a boisterously sour gooseberry compote, plus a bowl of yogurt dusted with powdered dried herbs. How you put these together is up to you. It has become the best kind of buffet.

To finish we have a sweetened and set sheep’s milk yogurt with a sauce of fermented plum. Better still, is an intense milk chocolate mousse hiding a scoop of yeast ice-cream, sprinkled with dried plum skins and blackcurrant, in a sweet, nutty syrup made from beer. Oh, and would you like a chewy caramel wrapped in blackcurrant leather and dusted with salt? Yes please.

Milk chocolate mousse

This has been my most detailed account of the food I was served in a long while, but Bastible warrants it. Even so I know I have left out details. It’s that kind of place. Given this menu is just €45 (£39), I would argue it warrants a weekend in Dublin. Just be aware that, courtesy of some the most savage duties in Europe, the wine list is a nightmare, with nothing below €36 (£31). Don’t worry. Cúán Greene’s cooking will make you thrillingly giddy and euphoric all by itself.

News bites

The night before my lunch at Bastible in Dublin, I ate at Hadskis, a favourite haunt when I’m in Belfast. The menu at chef Niall McKenna’s clamorous urban brasserie, sister restaurant to James St, boasts some great non-meat cookery. But inevitably the action lies with the steaks, sourced from Hannan Meats because it’s the law in these parts. A 1.2kg sharing tomahawk for £68, including two sides, comes seared and pink in all the right places and leaves a serving dish full of juices perfectly designed for mopping.

I’ve reported a lot of closures in this column recently, so let’s have some cheer from… Greggs. The high street bakery company has reported an exceptional year to the end of 2019. Another 138 shops have opened, sales are up 13.5% to over £1.1 billion and pre-tax profits have surged by 27.2% to £114 million. Vegan sausage rolls all round.

New product news: Simon Hulstone, chef-proprietor of The Elephant in Torquay, has worked with the Original Chicken Crackling company to launch a new range of crisped chicken skin snacks. They come in sea salt, habanero and Sunday roast flavours.

Email Jay at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @jayrayner1

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