If you wanted a glimmer of light for restaurants right now, here’s one: it’s been heartening to see the way so many businesses have adapted and emerged offering something even more fascinating, more exciting. Right in the teeth of the gale they are re-energised, refocused. Take a look at the pared-back beauty of the new Asador 44 menu for evidence, the absolute confidence you can have in keeping things simple when your ingredients are that good. Mussels cooked over fire, with just olive oil and a spritz of Alabriño? Seared baby squid, all subtle salt and oaky smoke, or the tiny crisp shelled blue belly shrimp? All sublime.
Heaney’s is another case in point. First, Uisce reopened under canvas: and yes, the flavours were in tent(s). No, really, I’m here all week. Try the veal. I loved it, and it dropped big hints for the direction the main restaurant would take. Chiefly, a focus on meat, fish and shellfish. (Vegan and vegetarian menus are available by prior request, presumably to accommodate mixed parties, but it’s clear where this kitchen’s priorities lie. Whether you find that streamlining disappointing or refreshing is up to you, but that’s for another day.)
Restated priorities, then. Seafood, too: specifically oysters, never far from a Heaney menu and a lifelong passion for a chef with happy memories of his grandparents buying a County Louth cottage yards away from Carlingford oyster farm, close enough for a child to walk over and buy a dozen oysters straight from the source.
I shan’t trudge through every course in order like a schoolboy writing lines as punishment. Neither of us needs that. There are 14 of them, with something beguiling in each one, but let’s pick out highlights: tangily savoury slices of duck ham served with a fenugreek-scented broth, that consommé seemingly delicate yet meaty and aromatic, like being beaten up with a ballet shoe; or ox croquettes, just fatty enough, opulence in a crisp bite, an anchovy cream offsetting the richness.
Or how about tiny tarlets with sea trout, molten confections in a friable shell with the smoky essence of baked potato. Clever, delicate, impressive.
That marmite butter is back, by the way. The bad news for its fans is that it has got even better in its hiatus: glossier, creamier, yeastier, umami-er, which is only bad news if you have missed it and haven’t been back yet. This should be the time to remedy that.
Dill oil and granita dress an oyster (Carlingford, as if you’d have to ask) so plump, so fresh it’s positively winking at me. A little party trick with texture, taste, and temperature, this. You could strategically take someone who doesn’t like oysters, so you get a monopoly on snaffling rights: but why would you want to eat out with such people in the first place?
There’s more magic in a ponzu-scented broth, feather-light, with Isle Of Wight tomatoes and the bright, cold hit of a wasabi cream, all of it topping slivers of cured monkfish. Yes, we loved it: probably our dish of the evening. No, I didn’t take a photo. Because I’m a dolt. And greedy.
One course will divide opinion, with slivers of raw scallop in a lightly-set chawanmushi. The idea might alienate some, the texture of the lightly-set egg custard dotted with XO others. Others will be seduced. It’s all very delicate and subtle. It’s served with fat slices of scallop and more of that XO, which can only be a good thing as the similar ‘tent’ dish was one of the best things in the city, sumptuously sexy stuff.
Little subtlety in parts of another fish course, a gorgeously cooked piece of sea bass, the flesh as flaky as the skin is taut and crisp, arrives in a lobster bisque. There’s absolutely nothing dainty or muted about this stuff: it’s all eight legs in fourteen-hole Docs, a full-throated hymn to the sea, a densely flavoured rockpool so redolent of the sea you can almost hear the scuttle and rasp of claw and carapace on rock. Taxi for Pseud’s Corner.
It’s lavishly rosy, the lamb course; anyone familiar with Heaney’s cooking will recognise this from his ongoing love affair with lamb (please don’t take this literally if you’re from the RSPCA): you’ll recognise the glossy, viscous sauce from his crumpet, a dish as entitled as any locally to call itself iconic. A liquorice-black lozenge of garlic, fudgy and punchy, a yeasty cauliflower puree, or the gamier piece of belly lurking coyly under the chard, a scattering of blueberries: there’s a lot to appreciate on this plate.
The sharpness of a punchy Riesling granita is spooned over creamy ricotta topping roasted peaches; a dinky little play on the Magnum is dotted with miso and coffee as you hit the home straight. Later I’m told the automated booking system has let them down, resulting in a bottleneck of orders on their second service back, so we are there for a few hours, an issue since resolved. But if you had to linger over any menu, there are worse places to be: it’s that’s kind of evening.
It’s all rather suave, a resounding return for one of our most interesting and high-profile restaurants. There can be little argument that Heaney’s is at the sharp end of what’s most exciting and inspiring in this city in 2020, food which drags you into its tractor beam and refuses to let you go, one of that small but beautiful group of kitchens which are going to remarkable lengths to refine what they do. The skill and vision coming out of this kitchen is nothing short of seductive. Meet the new boss: same as the old boss.
6-10 Romilly Crescent
Open: Sunday | 12pm – 6pm
Monday-Tuesday | Closed
Wednesday – Saturday | 12.00pm – Midnight
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This blog is a very simple thing.
I won’t try to sell you any hand lotion, exercise programmes, coffee syrups or Patagonian nose flutes. You won’t find tips on dating, ‘wellness’ or yoga mats.
I write because I love it (and food, as indicated by my increasing girth). Greed happens to be my Deadly Sin of choice, but at least it is never shy of providing me with subject matter.
A simple thing, then: all you get is me wittering on semi-coherently about places I’ve eaten at; hence a ‘restaurant blog’ rather than a ‘food blog’, although there are a few recipes scattered throughout.
From mezze to Michelin ‘fine dining’ and all points in between.