When the waiter’s opening line is: “Do you understand the concept of this restaurant?” you know it’s going to be an interesting experience. We were in Oliver Dunne’s Cleaver East for a mid-week dinner. The room is unrecognisable as the former Tea Rooms at The Clarence. The majestic windows are highlighted with rows of cleavers, the walls are painted a dramatic, muddy navy/grey and the towering feature-bar in the centre of the room is surrounded by dining on three levels.
The concept is ‘tasting plates’, like tapas but more substantial. The menu is simple and reads well. We ordered a selection of six plates between us – two soups, two twisted classics, a salad and a meat plate. Three of these plates arrived at our table within five minutes.
The promoter had Lobster Dumplings with Oriental Mushrooms and Lemongrass Broth. “It’s perfumed,” he exclaimed. “You mean it’s fragrant,” I said. “No, it’s perfumed”, he repeated. “Fragrant,” says I. “No, it tastes like perfume!” And indeed it did. The lemongrass was totally overpowering.
My Organic Carrot and Ginger Soup with Coconut Milk was better, but just tasted of carrot, with no discernible twangs of ginger. The Heirloom Tomato Salad with Pickled Onion Shells and Black Olive Crumb was served together with the soups. We let it sit until the other plates arrived and the soups had departed. The tomatoes were soft and juicy, but it was basically just a plate of tomatoes for seven yo yo’s. The waiters in customised t-shirts with corny foodie quotes like, “I’m in a relationship with food – sorry!” and, “You can’t buy happiness but you can buy wine which is the same thing,” were eagerly trying to clear plates that hadn’t been finished.
The Paella with a twist had an overcooked arancini plonked in the middle of some average fishy broth. The Scotch Egg with a twist was stuffed with haddock and was overpowered by citrus in the stuffing.
The BBQ Rare Breed Pork Belly with Apple and Ginger had a few flavours going on but the crispy pork skin on the side looked and tasted as if it had come from a pack of store-bought pork scratchings.
The tasting plates over promised and under delivered. We expected an explosion of flavors but were lucky to get a distinctive one per dish – and in the case of the lemongrass broth and the Scotch egg they were overpowering and almost inedible.
Still hungry and looking for something positive to write about, we ordered cheese, deserts and tea and coffee. The teas arrived quickly but we were still waiting for deserts 35 minutes after they were ordered.
I’m glad to report after all the criticism that the deserts were divine. The Twisted Banoffee and the Black Forrest Gateaux were rich, sweet and decadent.
The promoter was impressed with the individual cheese plates – who wants a full cheese board? He ordered the Ardrahan semi-soft cheese, which was served with a mild relish, berries and crackers and was great value at just €3, which made up for the over priced Espresso (€3.50), which was served without a spoon or sugar.
The bill arrived with a 20% discount applied – did they pick up on our disappointment? Were they being nice because we waited over half an hour for desert? No, it was an offer for August.
The total came to €77 after the discount which included a glass of Prosecco and a bottle of beer. We’ll be leaving the fancy tasting plates “concept” for the tourists of Temple Bar, we think.
Cleaver East, Essex Street East, Temple Bar, Dublin 2, (01) 531 3500, www.cleavereast.ie
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