I guess I’m a bit late with this one given everyone was reviewing here three months ago but it can be good to check a place out once the hype has died down and see if they’ve remained consistent. Anyway, for the very few who don’t already know Cleaver East is one of the growing number of restaurants in Dublin latching onto the small plates trend that’s been so popular in New York and London over the past couple of years (typically for Ireland, just as the inevitable backlash is beginning to mount).
I have to say I quite like the concept and when people bemoan the loss of the traditional sequentially served meal they seem to forget that it itself is quite an arbitrary construction and for hundreds of years previously a diner’s food was served all at once. Of course, there is a big problem with the latter approach since, as I’ve noted in my review of Fade Street Social, by the time you’re finished one dish, the others have gone cold. However, unlike Dylan McGrath’s brigade at least the kitchen seems to recognise this and sends the food out in waves – or as we’re rather haughtily informed ‘in the order the chef sees fit.’
The recommendation from our waitress is to order three to four plates each, so we go with three to leave room for dessert. Most impressively there’s not one that disappoints: lobster dumplings in a fragrant coconut broth leave me ruing the cold I’ve got because I know I can’t appreciate it fully and a poached duck egg with a clever hazelnut and ricotta mousse even survives the addition of some anaemic out of season asparagus. There are three fabulously cooked scallops, the exteriors completely brown all over, and I only mention the quality of the execution (I mean, surely that’s a given?) because I’ve no idea how they’ve managed to create such a great crust without rendering the inside a rubbery mess. These come with ‘potato bubbles’, which seem less foam and more puree to me. A chicken dish across the table is declared the best we’ve had in a restaurant, even allowing for the rarity of our ordering chicken: the white meat impossibly tender (I’m guessing there was a water bath involved but the poultry was clearly of exceptional quality too) and the dark meat shredded and smoked before being rolled into a round croquette.
Desserts are just as good, a deconstructed banoffee pie is a tangle of cream, caramelised bananas, edible flowers and the inspired addition of peanut brittle. My lemon cannelloni zings with acidity, the cannelloni tube actually just jelly set into a thin sheet and then rolled and stuffed with lemon mousse, all accompanied by a bracing raspberry sorbet. We finish up thoroughly sated and I find myself a bit surprised by the complaints I’ve read about portion sizes when if they were any bigger or carb laden you wouldn’t be able to eat more than two, which, you know, is the whole point.
So after all that positivity there is one minor niggle and it’s how the menu appears to be essentially unchanged since the restaurant opened: aside from some venison and an autumn/winter salad you would be hard pressed to guess what time of year it was. And while I do think seasonality is much too fetishised some ingredients like tomatoes or asparagus really are a waste of time at the tail end of November and it’s strange to see them featured by chefs of Michelin star pedigree.
One final remark is Cleaver East’s website makes much of the ‘massively reduced price[s]’ on offer for lunch: I initially read this with scepticism and while I still think they’re slightly overegging it, I also worked out our meal would have been 25 per cent more expensive – even including a supplement for the scallops – had we been eating dinner. I think that’s excellent value for what is an identical menu and now my cold’s gone I’m going to have to take advantage of it again.