Like buses, new restaurants always seem to arrive in multiples, and, this being the case, the first of my New Year reviewing missions required choosing between two city centre newbies.
o doubt I’ll visit both, but what was the tipping point for choosing my first call? It’s a question I’m often asked, and it’s quite simple — ease of booking and an a la carte menu.
Over the past year, a number of restaurants have opened with, or switched to, tasting menus only. For some, it’s simply a case of being a bit up themselves. Frankly, unless it’s a special event showcasing local food, or wine pairings, or marking a special occasion, I don’t particularly like being locked into what the chef wants me to eat. These tasting menus generally involve a hefty minimum spend as well.
Another thing I’ve noticed in some circles is the notion that everything has to be ‘Michelin worthy’ or else it’s somehow seen as second rate, with some foodie commentators referring ad nauseum to their two- or three-star experiences in Outer Mongolia. We have wonderful restaurants all over Ireland operating without pretension, turning out delicious, popular dishes that bring their customers back on a regular basis. What’s wrong with that?
Anyway, with the runner-up in my dilemma having only a pricey tasting menu, and availability on their booking platform appearing as though on a two-sitting basis, either too early or too late to suit me, I chose Gekko at the new Hyde on Lemon Street in Dublin 2.
Set in a four-storey, club-like hospitality venue – without the excruciating annual membership fee of former club-like venues here — Hyde is open to all, seven days a week, serving contemporary Asian food for both lunch and dinner. On my visit, the fourth floor had yet to open with Tanuki, a Japanese restaurant and an open terrace.
Greeted by a young lady at a lectern, we were swept up to the second floor, passing Suki Cocktail Bar, to a large, spacious room with another bar facing large wall-to-wall velvet booths. You can people-watch to your heart’s content, as the restaurants turn into late-night bars, with music and DJs, open until 2.30am.
With Jamie Belton having departed The Ivy to take up the role of operations director, and executive chef Karl Whelan, formerly of Hang Dai and Saltwater Grocery — which is sadly now closed — I expected the food would at least be interesting.
My Tick of the Clock cocktail (€13) — a combo of Absolut Pears vodka, Grand Marnier, orgeat syrup, lime, apple, egg white and peach bitters — reminded me of the old 1990s Harvey Wallbanger. After that, I stuck to water, although there’s an extensive wine list for the low and high rollers.
Loving the variety offered by small plates, of which there were eight (€8-€16), plus four mains (€19-€23) and four larger sharing dishes (€55-€75), we kicked off with a trio. Hamachi crudo with lime, togarashi, and burnt kombu, with squid ink poured tableside (€15.50) was the lightest and worked well.
This was followed by the contrasting texture of long, fine, cigarillo-style prawn spring rolls, kimchi hollandaise and an Asian slaw (€14). We saved the most intense flavour for last — sublime squid, braised in its own ink, topped with an Instagram-friendly squid-ink black bun (€10) — and, oh boy, was it good.
Miriam followed with Iberico pork, ginger and fig glaze, shisho and puffed rice (€23), while I had another small plate — a trio of perfectly seared scallops with scallion, black rice vinegar syrup and a sesame crisp (€16).
With these, we shared sides of smashed cucumber, shredded cabbage, rice vinegar and chilli oil (€5) and fabulous swatches of cooked and raw celeriac with wakami and puffed rice (€7.50).
We finished sharing a bowl of matcha custard with nashi pear and white chocolate crumble (€9.50). The food was on point, smart and sassy, while our lovely young waiter couldn’t have been more helpful and attentive.
Our bill, with two coffees (€7.60) and service, came to €135.75.
Gekko at Hyde, 9 Lemon Street, Dublin 2. Tel: (01) 572-5950, hyde-dublin.com