THE Electric experience begins on the phone.
A reservation is almost an afterthought on a cold midweek Champions League night in February, but Raymond on the dedicated booking line would prefer something a little more concrete than my “Errah, I suppose we’ll mosey in between half eight and nine”. “8.45 so sir, thank you very much, sir.” Minutes later I receive a confirmation text with time, date and unique reference number, should I wish to cancel.
Some may hanker after a more casual, personalised approach but über-efficiency will trump a double or lost booking any day of the week. It is also an early indicator of the Electric’s highly professional modus operandi.
Housed in a beautifully renovated art deco building, the downstairs bar is pleasant if unexceptional but the upstairs restaurant is one of the most striking dining rooms in the city. Gorgeous floor-to-ceiling windows overlook a small park on one side; the bustling South Mall on another. To the rear, there is a beautiful terrace overlooking the River Lee, a splendid slice of St Finbarre’s Cathedral on the skyline.
And booking was a near necessity. Tumbleweed may blow through the empty streets, but certainly not here. All in all, it has the judges brandishing top marks for the As: atmosphere, appearance, and ambience.
It’s a nice surprise to see a Portuguese wine on the menu, Pegos Claros Palmela 2008. Better still, it’s also very good: fruity, floral, a little warm spice, not too tannic and a commendable €20.
Comrade-in-arms JB plumps for wild garlic, Alexander herb and smoked Gubeen risotto with rocket and basil. Alexander is a new one on me but turns out I know it as Black Lovage. It gently perks up the smooth, creamy dish but JB is soon casting envious eyes at my crispy fried tripe with chorizo, chickpeas and kale, a splendid take on a traditional Spanish dish, Callos.
But while Callos is a class of stew, this tripe was battered and fried, a little less al dente than the calamari it resembles, with rounds of very spicy chorizo adding muscle. Add a spoon or two of nicely nutty chickpeas, some young, perfectly-cooked kale, a small ladle of broth and it all makes for a really fine dish — nothing superfluous, ingredients perfectly integrated.
My stuffed guinea fowl with foie gras, wild mushrooms, bacon rosti, endive and Port Jus reads like something for a fine medieval dining hall with lashings of mead, but the supporting cast all merges into one; rosti and endives asleep in the Jus. Fine but not the lively counterpoint the fowl demanded.
JB’s 10oz Angus ribeye with sauté mushrooms, mash, homemade chips and fresh horseradish crème fraiche is a very nice piece of meat, cooked exactly as ordered. He is justly happy.
Sated but professional to the core, we order dessert: Chocolate and orange terrine with passion fruit sauce for JB; iced cherry, rose and yoghurt parfait with crackling praline for me. We wouldn’t have quibbled with portions half the size and a less heavy hand plating up. A little delicacy and finesse in this department is always welcome at the end of a substantial meal when taste is paramount, further volume a burden.
JB’s is made from good dark chocolate, dense and sumptuous, but he’d have preferred a little more action on the orange front; a scoop of chocolate ice cream is excessive. Likewise, my cherries, but the parfait is a sweet yet subtle pleasure, the ‘spacedust’ praline, fizzing on the tongue, a tireless novelty.
The crowd is as healthily mixed as I’ve seen in a decent restaurant in some time but makes for a certain caution about the menu, designed for a very wide audience. A little more adventure and originality along the lines of my starter would be welcome. Still, a busy restaurant in these straitened times is a substantial riposte to that notion.
Service was excellent: friendly, informative and efficient, not remotely overbearing or obtrusive. The Electric is a very enjoyable experience but give this chef his head and decent food could evolve into something very special.
* Joe McNamee is now a Contributing Editor with the Bridgestone Guide and also blogs at www.josephdmcnamee.com