Pepper Brasserie & Grill (above The Bram Stoker), 225 Clontarf Road Dublin 3. Tel: 01 853 2000
Chef: Peter Clifford
I must first put my cards on the table here: I know the owner of this restaurant since his childhood and I had many a meal in his family’s kitchen. I tend to avoid reviewing restaurants run by friends and family as the potential fall-out is catastrophic: readers question if I’ve pulled my punches, I possibly punch too hard to compensate and the owners usually want to punch me. However, the name of the chef made is an impossibility to avoid an official visit to Pepper.
Chef Peter Clifford is equally well known to me, he is the son of the late Michelin starred chef Michael Clifford, who headed up the fondly remembered Whites on the Green, amongst several other famous eateries. Peter himself has worked in Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, 15 by Jamie Oliver and Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud.
The welcome here is top notch and I noticed everyone got the same treatment. The space is relatively plain and modern except for two black and white photographs of Howth and Dublin Bay views which take up two walls like giant picture windows. The tables are unusually generously sized and a giant red pepper mill sits on each table.
The menu immediately inspires confidence. The flame grilled mackerel with pickled cucumber, avocado mousse and ponzu dressing (€8.95) was as pretty to look at as it was to eat. There were some remarks from my foodie companions that the skin should have been crispy but besides that the consensus was a firm thumbs up.
The pressed terrine with burnt onions, beetroot and brioche (€8.50) was a gathering of several interesting elements but the terrine was given centre stage and what a star it turned out to be with rich layers of texture and flavour.
I ordered the humble sounding mushrooms on toast (€8.50) which was far from ordinary. The mushrooms sat on a brioche toast (made fresh on the premises every day), a dainty mix of earthy and delicate flavours were cut through by tarragon and horseradish. Sublimely simple.
The baldly named beef croquette (€9.50) with crispy potato, onions and watercress seemed to be born of the venue and hit just the right balance of style and guts.
I had the beer soaked baby back ribs (full €22.50), with house red cabbage coleslaw. The ribs got fulsome praise but we were expecting a twist on the dish, following the style of the starters. Good ‘slaw too but very plain and it all sat quite incongruously with the rest of the menu.
The sweet corn risotto had all the potential of a tasty dish with wild mushrooms and whipped ricotta (€16.50) but it lacked the oomph, perhaps a stronger stock or a third element would lift this dish to the heights of other offerings.
The lobster burger (€26.50) was made of half an Anagassan Lobster. This was sheer, unadulterated joy, served on a toasted brioche bun with avocado and lobster mayonnaise it is probably the dish that marries the two styles of cooking we were beginning to perceive here. Is it a brasserie or is it a restaurant?
The desserts are of the very smart restaurant variety. There’s a certain amount of deconstruction but not to the point of annoyance. The chocolate mousse with doughnut and caramel popcorn (€8.50) will satisfy the traditionalists and the coconut and clove cheesecake (€7) with maple syrup and mascarpone ice cream may tempt them to be adventurous. We had the tart tatin with spiced ice cream (€7), this was declared just ok by an internationally renowned recipe tester, though I quite liked it. The caramel cake (€2) with seasonal poached pears and bitter chocolate sorbet was a whirlwind of texture and temperature.
There’s some really stunning food on offer here, even the more work-a-day dishes are created with care. However, a decision needs to be made as to what sort of eatery it wants to be. The ribs and steaks could easily be part of a gastro pub experience in the bar downstairs but Peter Clifford’s cooking deserves some white table clothes and a very long queue of customers.
This first appeared in The Sunday Business Post, November 2013.