Laura and I are both lovers of food. Not just eating it, but dining out, cooking, exploring local markets, meeting producers, attending cookery courses, and of course making our range of sauce. I also love writing. Until now my writing has been confined to business needs, rants on Facebook, and the occasional magazine article. I love the time spent organising words and ideas to produce visual images that are drawn in you - the reader’s - head. Writing relaxes me and helps me form thoughts and ideas that stay with me for a long time. It shapes who I am. I don’t want to influence anyone or make a name for myself; I just want to express myself. So, I have decided to combine our love of food with my love of writing and to do reviews for the Great Northern Larder blog. I will review anything I fancy that is food related, but more than likely it will be my experience of eating out that will make these pages.
I am not sure what makes anyone believe that they are entitled to have a comment on a meal. It’s a massive form of arrogance to walk into a busy restaurant and pompously declare that the ravioli smells like a nun’s knickers or whatever other insults you choose to come up with. I remember the late and very entertaining Paulo Tulio used to moan about every Irish-Italian restaurant as they never lived up to his memory of Italian food when he was growing up. He frequently marked restaurants down heavily for adding cream to a carbonara or some such outrage. Paulo must have known that Italian food came from the Middle East, French food came from Italian food, and most foods in Europe came from the French style. So, by that logic, if authenticity was the golden standard of a restaurant then we would all be eating Middle Eastern kebabs and baklava.
I don’t have the culinary knowledge to deride a chef for subtle changes to a 400-year-old Milanese recipe, and frankly I don’t think that even the supposed mortal sin of pineapple on a pizza is one that I can be bothered getting upset about. If it tastes good and it sells, then the chef is doing something right. I’m also not in any position to review Michelin starred restaurants. I have only dined in one twice or maybe three times. On each occasion I loved the theatre, the spectacle, the fun, and the pomp. I also loved the cheese on toast that I had afterwards because Michelin starred dining is not for the hungry.
This weekend Laura took me to see Rodrigo Y Gabriel at the Olympia in Dublin. In some ways they are the Michelin starred guitarists of the music worlds. They are intense, complex, precise, very skilled, and very talented. They do it all on two simple acoustic guitars and a load of pedals that I know nothing about. At one point in the show Rod (as his friends call him) informed us that the reason Gab (as her friends call her) and he loved performing live was that he hoped their shows would inspire all of us in everything we do. I am not sure what he meant by that. Did he mean that we should spend thousands of hours practising whatever it is we work at until we can create highly technical output from simple tools? It seemed like a generous, but also slightly large headed reason to perform. Let me make you better as a person by simply showing you what I do. I don’t know, but all I do know is that it was a great a gig and the next morning we work up hungry and looking for brunch.
We drove to Clontarf on one of the sunniest and warmest days of the year, and there we came across “The Pigeon House”. It was very busy, and we had to wait a few minutes for a table, but there was something nice about the room as soon as you entered. The customers were every age from 2 to 92 and they were all chatting away quietly with more than enough space between the tables to give them privacy and comfort. The décor is bare steel, exposed wood, those ubiquitous lights made from copper pipework, and lots of subway tiles on the walls. In the case of the Pigeon House the design really works. It feels strong and clean and solid, it’s not rustic or industrial, it’s just urban and cool.
The brunch menu (11 am to 4 pm on weekends) starts with a selection of drinks (Prosecco, Bloody Mary, or pink gin and tonic) and I noticed an extensive full drinks menu on the table as well. There is a page of gins and a nice selection of whiskies as well. I am not a wine connoisseur so I can’t comment on the wine list, but it looked well priced and varied.
The food choices included overnight oats with blood orange, grape, hazelnut, and maple syrup. There is Shakshuka (from the Middle East as it happens) which is basically a baked egg with yoghurt and veg. Creamed mushrooms on toast, Turkish eggs, and scrambled egg with Chorizo were other choices and then being brunch there were two burgers, beef or chicken, which both looked great. Again, I spotted a slight Middle Eastern vibe as the chicken burger had harissa paste, and the Turkish eggs obviously had an appropriate touch of the exotic in the form of tahini yoghurt, rose harissa feta, and mint.
Laura opted for buttermilk pancakes with bacon and maple syrup and I went for the full Irish, or the Pigeon House grill as the menu names it. The grill was one of the best I have eaten. The sausages were soft and peppery, the streaky bacon was crisp and sweet, and the black pudding was very rich and very creamy. Two poached eggs were beautifully cooked with the white done to perfection, but the yolk still soft and runny. Even the tomato was well seasoned and tasty. Laura’s pancakes came with the same crispy bacon and the slightly sour flavour from the buttermilk was the perfect foil to the sweetness of the syrup. As far as breakfast goes it was top quality.
My bugbear in restaurants is when they don’t bring water to the table. Not so in The Pigeon House, where a bottle and two glasses appeared from nowhere as we sat down. The service was attentive but not in your face. A nice touch was the traditional glass bottle of Heinz on the table. You may be surprised to hear that it is not our favourite ketchup (ahem), but if you are going to be served sauce it is nice to know it is not some generic sugary rubbish from a 5L catering tub.
I am not going to make these reviews formulaic by adding highs and lows, good points and bad points, scores out of ten etc. It’s enough to tell you that Pigeon House is a fantastic brunch experience, and the fry and the pancakes came in at €13 each, which I felt was very reasonable for what we ate.
The Pigeon House
Reviewed: 22nd April 2019