THERE’S a question I get asked a lot — which is more important to you, food or wine?
I struggle to answer as I get so much satisfaction from both and consider them integral.
However, the decision on which restaurant to visit is always influenced by the food on offer — I simply cannot afford to drink the very best wines in a restaurant.
This week however I wanted decent wine and thanks to a recent trend that is now possible.
Baggot Street Wines is the current holder of National Off-Licence of the Year and features regularly in this newspaper’s wine column.
In summer 2015 they opened a wine bar in their basement.
The model is simple — sell wine during the day and in the evening offer some light food and allow customers to choose a bottle from the fridge or the shelves for a small corkage charge.
Green Man Wines in Terenure, 64 Wines in Glasthule, Fallon & Byrne on Georges St, and Sheridans in Galway have all found success with this model and it is the perfect way to add value to a wine shop, especially given the low mark-ups on wine of 20-30%.
All independent wine shops with a basement or a room at the back should consider this but very few will have as much space as the Cavern.
Entering a door in the centre of the shop leads to some steps and a large indoor room and an even larger outdoor space covered with a canopy and containing comfortable couches, blankets, and lots (and lots) of electric heaters.
Given that this was to be a wine-focused evening, we began with two glasses of Gosset non-vintage Champagne at €14 each.
A fresh bottle was expertly opened in front of us (with barely a whisper rather than a pop) and I was particularly pleased to find that Champagne orders include a complementary gigas oyster — a great start.
Snacks of marinated anchovies, warmed salted almonds and fruity-bitter olives also added to the cheer as we watched what seemed like 30 young women file past, each carrying their preferred bottle of wine towards a long table at the back to the best behaved hen-party I’ve ever seen.
The room was easily large enough to accommodate them along with smaller groups such as ourselves, and the rising voices mostly disappeared into the skies above.
The first of our warm dishes to arrive was also fairly loud — pan fried scallops with a rather harsh mango, lime, coriander and red onion dressing.
The scallops were perfectly fine but €9.50 seemed a little high for two medium sized scallops and I found the raw onion and lime far too much of a contrast with the sweet flesh of the fish.
Some potted crab with dill and decent sourdough bread fared better.
The wine list is neatly laid out by theme with sections such as “light, easy and citrus” and “mineral, zesty and dry” with many available by the glass but I headed back to the shop to choose from the shelf.
My Nebbiolo de Langhe from Piedmont producer: GD Vajra would normally have cost €60 with standard restaurant mark-up but in the Cavern cost me just €32.50 thanks to a corkage of just €5.
Nebbiolo is the great grape of Piedmont and I will always remember the time I drank a bottle of Barbaresco in the village of Barbaresco with a plate of fresh pasta topped with 10g of white truffle.
Sadly, the wild mushroom and truffle risotto in the Cavern is made with truffle oil, I was told, so I avoided it.
Foie gras terrine was, however, a good choice with the wine and had a fine creamy delicacy and enough foie flavour to add character.
Mussels in a white wine and cream sauce were also good and our dessert of sticky toffee pudding had an excellent caramel sauce which compensated for the rather light and spongy cake.
Despite a few quibbles on the food, this was an enjoyable evening.
Let’s hope that independent off-licences around the country catch on to the idea.
Given the rise of the supermarkets, it just might be a lifeline.
Dinner for two including two glasses of Champagne, one bottle of very decent wine, three snacks, three small plates, one larger plate and one dessert — €132 (excluding tip)
Tuesday-Saturday – 5pm to Late
In a Sentence: Charming wine bar with great prices thanks to the shop overhead serving mostly decent food — just watch out for all the truffle oil.
Cavern Wine Bar, 17 Upper Baggot Street, Dublin 4
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