‘Commemorateme where there is water’ wrote Patrick Kavanagh in ‘Lines Written on a Seat on the Grand Canal’, and they did — you can now sit beside his statue at Baggot Street Bridge.
Kavanagh liked the Canal ‘so stilly, Greeny at the heart of summer’ and I know exactly what he means — I too prefer canals to rivers and lakes to the sea — life seems calmer, easier, more digestible beside still water.
Now add in the extra civilising atmosphere of a restaurant at the top of its game beside that still water serving beautifully cooked food and you have reached very heaven. A good friends accompanied me on this meal, Nick Drake and George Harrison played wistfully on the speakers and I think we attained a kind of Nirvana that warm Friday evening.
Locks has been a fixture in its spot on the Grand Canal near Harold's Cross Bridge for a couple of generations by now and the tranquillity of its setting I think ensures that there will probably always be a restaurant in this spot. In the 80s and 90s, it was originally known for its long boozy lunches, but stepped up a gear during the boom, winning (and losing) a Michelin Star and in recent years it settled down into a fine chef-led neighbourhood restaurant.
I reviewed Locks here two years ago and while I mostly liked what I ate, I did feel they weren’t quite pushing themselves hard enough or perhaps needed a tighter focus. News of the arrival of new head chef Chris Maguire earlier this year put Locks back on my list — Maguire previously worked in such fine places such as TheLedbury in London.
Leaving it perilously late to book, we accepted a 5.30pmsitting, but this meant we could order from the Market Menu served between 5.30pm and 6.30pm. The downstairs room is rather long so you don’t always get a view of the canal — but thankfully we were seated in the small room upstairs with a perfect view over the still waters and languorous swans and ducks.
The Market Menu offers two courses for €25 and three for €30 but we added some homemade bread served with pungent smoked trout and dulse butter to whet our appetites along with some crisp lamb shoulder croquettes.
The matchbox-sized croquettes were encased in crisp golden crumbs that added welcome texture to the sweet slow cooked lamb.
The smoked trout and dulse butter was quite intense (my guest thought it was almost crude in flavour) but given its main function as an appetite enhancer at the start of the meal, I think it worked — especially with the warm doughy crusted bread.
Mackerel Tartare was arranged in a hockey-puck shape mixed with onion and topped with cucumber brunoise and crisp Rye bread — the textures and flavours in lovely harmony and enlivened by dill and judicious saucing.
Crisp and pungent new season Asparagus sang out loud and clear but also allowed its backing band of Smoked Lardo, Black Garlic sauce, girolles and grated cured egg their moments to shine.
I opted for the veggie main course of Grilled Potato served with Soft Eggs, Beech Mushrooms and Gorgonzola and loved the mix of flavours — as happy as a raft of newborn ducklings chatting and bouncing off each other. My guest’s Cod had perfect translucence, flaked beautifully and worked well with textured smoked bacon, wilted Baby Gem lettuce and Buttermilk sauce.
Piped Chocolate Ganache was rounded out with banana milk ice cream, crisp roasted Hazelnut Praline crumbs, plus a bonus slice of caramelised banana while my Strawberry Fool came topped with a crisp strawberry granita atop a fluffy creamy mousse with pleasingly textured preserved strawberries at the base.
Locks has put proper thought into their wine list which is packed with gems. There were 10excellent Portuguese whites to choose from and I opted for the stunningly good Herdade doSobroso Antão Vaz (€42) imported by Grace Campbell wines from the Alentejo — peach and tropical fruit aromas with beautiful textured citrus crispness.
We rather floated out after our meal, high on the pleasures of fine food and wine consumed in a place in harmony with its self and its surroundings.