Staying slim in this business of restaurant reviewing is a challenge but I’m thinking perhaps I should move to Ranelagh. This well-appointed suburban village has probably the highest concentration of good restaurants outside Dublin city centre and a fine collection of gyms, body clinics, health shops and plastic surgery ‘Aesthetic Institutes’.
I could happily get fat here and then employ a personal trainer, and once that inevitably failed I could get some secret liposuction and bonus botox.
The clientele (and staff) in Host on the Wednesday we visited, however, were mostly far too young and good-looking to need such help. The menu is short but well chosen and includes small dishes around a tenner, pasta dishes which could be had as starters or mains (€12/€17), four main courses including a 400g Rib-Eye from Peter Hannon (€38) along with fish and chicken options and a couple of sides. There is also the option of the Chef’s Menu for 2 which will save you a few euro.
Complimentary focaccia bread arrived first — fluffy and light and topped with sweet tomatoes and onions plus a good quality olive oil for dipping — a propitious start. The first of our starters ‘Salami, Morcilla and Artichoke’ should, I think, be renamed ‘Morcilla, Artichoke and Salami’ in order of excellence — the salami was actually reasonably good although closer to a Saucisson in texture, but the warm rich Morcilla was truly excellent and the preserved artichokes were firm and flavourful.
Burrata with marinated Aubergines was a generous portion of creamy cheese and sweet aubergines and generously topped Crab Bruschetta beat out the Anchovy Bruschetta but both were good. Duck Ragu Pappardelle had silky fresh pasta with a textured meaty sauce but the better of the two pastas, and arguably the dish of the evening, was the Pumpkin stuffed Cappellacci with walnuts. Cappellacci di Zucca is the signature dish of Ferrara just to the north of Bologna in Emilia-Romagna and this version would have pleased most Nonna from the region (although they might object to the walnuts).
The earthy sweet and creamy flavours from the pumpkin filling worked beautifully with the lithe pasta and were aided and abetted by sweet burnt flavours from a brown butter sauce. For bonus texture and a hint of bitterness walnuts had been added and, while not traditional, they were in fact a bonus.
Piri Piri Chicken and Burnt Lemon was again nicely cooked with tender chicken (if low on the piri-piri heat scale) and a well dressed salad on the side. Cod was grilled crisp on the outside but remained translucent underneath and some stewed capers and tomatoes lifted the flavours nicely.
‘Fried Potatoes’ (€5) was a large bowl of expertly made chunky chips — crisp without, and fluffy and light within. The accompanying Aioli dip would really be better described as a light garlic mayonnaise (no, they are not the same thing), and while serviceable would have needed three times as much garlic to justify the name.
The wine list is a decent size with around 36 wines, almost all of which are en vogue from Mencía and Teroldego to Franciacorta to Grüner Veltliner and includes a good selection of top quality low-intervention wines including ‘Emilien’ from Château le Puy and Jean Foillard’s Côte de Puy. I chose the Coroa D’ouro — a Douro red wine made by the Poças Port house for the very reasonable price of €27 — solid, fruity and perfect for a mid-week casual meal.
From the choice of three desserts we chose a Chocolate Pot (€7) and an Affogato with hazelnut ice-cream (€7.50) and this is where the meal dipped — both were disappointing and not at the same level as the rest of the meal. The chocolate pot was bland and rather sweet rather than deep and chocolaty as I’d hoped while the hazelnut ice-cream also lacked any intensity although a shot of Amaretto did help.
Host is perfectly suited to Ranelagh but in fact would work in any neighbourhood on the planet — tasty, well thought out dishes served in a convivial atmosphere. The desserts dropped them almost a full mark in this review but are easily fixed and hopefully I was just unlucky on the the day I visited.