There was some sad news in the restaurant world recently with the announcement that Luna was closing its doors.
I reviewed Luna here twice (the only restaurant I’ve done this for) and I raved about it both times so I am quite heartbroken for Declan, Vish, and all the wonderful staff and of course for restaurateur JohnFarrell.
This happened the same week another Farrell restaurant, the excellent 777, won best casual dining at the Restaurant Awards, so it was a bittersweet week for him.
But to better news and that is the opening of Little Mike’s, around four doors down from its big brother Michael’s in Mount Merrion. This is the second time I’m reviewing (the wonder that is) Gaz Smith’s cooking and you will see why as you read on.
Michael’s was always a solid neighbourhood (Italian-focused) restaurant but since Gaz took it on it has been transformed into a restaurant that would fare equally well in any city centre and is now more famous for its seafood. Little Mike’s is a little more casual with a larger focus on wine and on small plates and is designed to help take a little pressure from the main restaurant.
Little Mike’s has started by getting the basics right.
This is primarily a wine bar so its talented and curious sommelier, Talha Pasha, has assembled a solid list that I was pleased to see is a kind of greatest hits of the type of wines that I feature in the wine column in this newspaper.
There is perhaps a slight tentativeness in the choices at this stage (rightly so) but I’m hopeful we will see more dry sherries and unusual wines as more adventurous customers demand it (eg, myself).
Best of all is that Little Mike’s has taken the brave decision to buy a quantity of hand-blown Zalto glasses — the thinnest, lightest, and probably best glass I’ve ever used — everything tastes better from a Zalto glass.
Little Mike’s small plates are focused on whatever fish and shellfish the boats have landed along with some sharing platters of meat and cheese.
At the top of the menu on the day we visited was a whelks dish which seemed like a statement of intent given that I normally only get the chance to order whelks in Chinese restaurants with a largely Chinese clientele such as M&L and Oldtown.
Most whelks are exported to more appreciative markets but Gaz might help keep a few at home with this dish.
The whelks are gently poached, sliced, and mixed with ginger, garlic, and lemon butter, and served on a piece of crusty bread.
The whelk had retained some texture and allying it with some sweet tangy butter made for a little piece of heaven. If you remain unconvinced, the menu boldly states:
‘Not sure about Whelks? Try em, don’t like em, no charge!’ I’m told there has been no returns yet.
“Two hours ago everything was breathing,” we were told as our Dublin Bay prawn and scallop platter arrived.
The freshness of both was evident and once again butter and herbs had been judiciously used along with capers to enhance the flavours.
The scallops came with their succulent bright orange corals (as they always should, in my view) and disappeared quickly.
John dory was crisp-grilled, succulent, and just-cooked with good flavour enrichment from a salsa verde, while the prawn and smoked salmon fish cakes were crispy and rich and packed with sweet fish.
Interestingly our mussels and crab claws were just barely cooked through, ensuring they stayed as tender and flavourful as possible.
I don’t have space to describe everything but definitely order chips, don’t miss the fried Gruyere cheese goujons with honey (€9) or the crispy prawn fritti with wild garlic dressing and citrus aioli (€11).
We finished with two top quality desserts to share including a properly sticky ‘sticky toffee pudding’ with good ice cream and an intensely lemony ‘lemon tart’ — a perfect palate cleanser.
With cooking this good I’m not sure Little Mike’s is going to take any pressure off the main restaurant — I suspect it will be equally busy and Gaz may need to buy the whole street.