Pepper Brasserie & Grill at The Bram Stoker Hotel,
225 Clontarf Rd, Dublin 3;
SITED in The Bram Stoker Hotel, an attractive old Georgian pile perched on Dublin Bay, the omens bode well for the newly opened Pepper Brasserie & Grill. The bar downstairs is bright and welcoming with a healthy scattering of locals despite the wet and miserable Sunday night but, on a mission, we are directed back out to the tiny lobby and the stairway leading up to restaurant. Technically, this may qualify as a second rather than first impression but it rather undoes the good work of the former; narrow, steep stairwell, bare walls sorely in need of fresh paint, scruffy carpet and a malodorous stale honk you could slice with a half-decent knife, a combination of fumes from rain-shy smokers lingering in the lobby and other random odours insufficiently vented.
Conversely, the dining room itself is perfectly pleasant, clean and simple with some nice views of the bay when nightfall and meteorological apocalypse are not ensuing. Rectifying that offending stairwell would cost a mere pittance and needs to be done pronto.
Truth be told, curiosity would have dragged us here tonight through mustard gas to sample the cooking of Pepper’s head chef. At 22, Peter Clifford may be unfeasibly young but as son of the late Michael Clifford, he comes from exceptional stock and was just 12 years old when he first began pottering in his father’s kitchen.
Michelin-starred Clifford senior was one of the finest chefs this country ever turned out, his 1990’s Cork-based Clifford’s Bistro a keystone in the evolution of contemporary Irish cuisine and in the weeks following our visit, reviews of Pepper will appear in two of the Irish Sunday broadsheets. Clifford Junior’s arrival hasn’t gone unnoticed.
An old favourite of his father’s was a Quenelle of Chicken with Milleens Cheese, back when mousselines were all the rage. Peter Clifford’s update is an homage but with not quite the same rigorous simplicity. It wavers a little, accompanying apple puree, julienne of fresh apple and mushrooms not entirely sure of their lines and it is only when I spread some — not at all part of the script — on to some of the splendid nutty brown bread served on our arrival that the sublime essence of the original is recalled.
Another starter features three little pearly-white scallops, sweet, briny and perfectly caramelised, served with brioche croutons, silken piopinno mushrooms and what most Gaels would have recognised back in Clifford Senior’s heyday as a fried egg. Whether it’s fried or sauteed, the deep, rich yoke renders a beurre blanc sauce almost but not quite redundant, a viscous, velvet coating for the magical molluscs. The grace note, however, is a raisin puree, an impudently incongruous mouthful of sundried Mediterranean, the joker that stirs up an otherwise serene pack. All in all, one of the finest dishes I have eaten this year.
Lobster Burger is a real crowd-pleaser, sweet brioche bun the perfect foil for succulent lobster with crunchy lettuce and a creamy avocado and lobster mayonnaise while the 10oz Rib Eye with Café du Paris butter is perfectly cooked piece of decent meat, the onion strings on top a guilty pleasure purloined by all and sundry. Then there is a side of Bone Marrow Mash. A golden slick of butter pooling like a mountain lake on a big hillock of creamy mash is always a good thing but the incorporated roasted marrow adds a profound, beefy umami heft that qualifies as a spiritual experience.
Desserts include a fine Caramel Cake and an equally presentable Chocolate Tart but other than a lush, spiced ice cream, overly fussy additions, including cinnamon popcorn, poached pears and mini-doughnuts, could well be trimmed back.
This relatively new restaurant deserves patience but there appears to be a certain confusion around its possible direction: hale and hearty gastro-pub or something more upmarket again.
Ideally, they’ll meet somewhere in the middle and locals will have a top-class restaurant but, either way, Peter Clifford is much more than a chip off the old block and very definitely one to watch.
THE TAB: Total incl tip — €112.50 plus tip
Wine list: 6/10
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved