Usually, when I arrive at a restaurant to be greeted by fun, enthusiastic staff, I assume this will be a sign of good things to come.
By that token, I expected my dinner this week at The Vintage Kitchen on Poolbeg St. to be great. A bread plate was waiting for us before we ordered our meals, and, when I asked what the hummus-esque spread was accompanying the dish, our waitress not only told me – fennel butter – but rattled off the whole ingredient list with suggestions for how I could make it at home. I was floored by this service and super impressed by the inventiveness of the simple bread dish. The fennel butter was a complex little spread that, paired with just enough bread to keep you busy but not fill you up before your first course, got our meal off to a great start.
The trend of awesome service and tasty food only continued with our first course. I ordered the Donegal smoked haddock chowder with chorizo and samphire. It was delicious - the rich, buttery broth and smooth bites of haddock balanced perfectly with the crunch of the samphire and spice of the chorizo.
The chowder’s only flaw was that it came in a portion big enough to feed a family of four. This would have been a fantastic main course for a lunch or light dinner, but should probably have been pared down a bit for an appetizer.
My friend’s first course would also have been a satisfying main. He ordered the hake, which came wrapped in Parma ham, and served with a fish cake on the side in a caper sauce.
Like mine, this dish was delicious but far too big, and this seemed to be the case with nearly every starter on the menu. The woman next to us ordered a chili and pancetta risotto to start, and it looked divine, but big enough to easily qualify as a main course.
Unfortunately, when our actual mains arrived, my friend and I found ourselves wishing we had stopped after the starter.
I ordered the chicken dish from the menu, a poussin served up with crispy rice, a savoury crème, and a saucisse of bacon and sweet potato.
I was impressed by the enormous complexity of all three of the sides served with this dish. The ball of rice was inventive, the saucisse multi-layered and interesting, and the crème practically otherworldly in its combination of savoury flavours, whipped texture, and baby pink colouring.
While I appreciated the effort it must have taken to come up with and to prepare these items, ultimately they were too complex. Instead of complementing each other they merely acted as distractions, making every bite a little bit confusing. The poussin had the same problems as the sides: its inventiveness as an ingredient trumped its actual taste.
My friend ordered the beef for his main and, despite a much simpler list of ingredients, also ran into problems..
His dish was essentially just a striploin of beef, potatoes, and green beans, but the menu’s trademark, problematic inventiveness had snuck in in the preparation of the meat. The steak was “twice cooked” and, as a result, heavily charred and very tough around the edges.
The meat grew increasingly tender in the center but also became decreasingly well done. My friend had ordered medium rare, and this was easily rare in the center – a trait neither he nor I minded, but that could certainly be a problem for anyone who likes their meat well done.
At the end of the day, despite the problems, there was a lot to like about The Vintage Kitchen. The atmosphere is very enjoyable, as the place is cosy and filled to the brim with eclectic decorations. They have a generous BYOW policy and even a BYO Vinyl policy - they’ll play any vinyl record you bring along and want to listen to.
It’s a cool place, and the service is, without a doubt, the best I’ve had all year. Even the relatively steep prices - €28 for two courses, €34 for three – make sense when you consider the number of seats in the restaurant, relative to the carefully selected list of inventive ingredients and dishes.
The Vintage Kitchen is a place where I’d love to hang out – I just might not go back for dinner.