Fri 9 Nov 2012
It was a complete and pleasant surprise when I received an invitation to Parlour Games, a new pop-up restaurant in the Portobello area of town. The sender of the email invite was Ian Marconi, chef and founder of the Paella Guys, the mobile food truck serving up heaps of the beloved Spanish rice dish at various outdoor markets around Dublin.
Funnily enough I’d only tried the Paella Guys a week prior to receiving the invitation. It was a typically cold autumn day here and some co-workers and I trekked up to the Grand Canal Village Market for a lunch of comfort food. The steaming, hot plate of spicy rice mixed with chorizo, onions and peppers really hit the spot; after one bite, I understood why the line at this truck is always far longer than the others.
Ian’s new pop-up shows what this talented chef can do outside of paella. Shortly after arriving at the location, which we quickly learned was his own house, his lovely wife Lisa served us two kinds of crostini: one with slices of spiced, medium-rare lamb, the other with slices of tender pork. Both were exactly what you want in a canapé: the perfect bite, full of flavour with the right combination of textures. If these were an indication of what was to come, we were in for a treat.
Dinner, which for the kick-off of Parlour Games was for a small group of 10, started with the most simple yet inventive appetizer I’ve seen a long time: Three, hard-boiled quails eggs, which had been dipped in a mixture of cumin and salt served atop golf tees. The eggs were rich and creamy, with a nice kick from the cumin.
The eggs were followed by warm roasted pastel heirloom carrots topped with crispy jamon, toasted almonds and an ajo blanco sauce, which is a Spanish, more garlicky version of bread sauce. It was scrumptious, not an adjective I typically use to describe a salad of any sort. But then again, to call this dish a salad would be an insult to this complex creation.
Next up was a bright, Irish heirloom beetroot soup with candied pumpkin croutons and crispy lamb. Every ingredient here worked perfectly: the sweet, smooth beetroot puree against the salty, crispy lamb and the honeyed, melt-in-your-mouth pumpkin croutons. I think everyone at the table slurped up every last drop. The next course was my personal favourite of the evening, a beautifully roasted aubergine with spiced merguez sausage, garlic yoghurt and a smattering of pomegranate seeds. The glistening, crispy-chewy skin cradled the warm, tender flesh of the aubergine. Topped with the fiery sausage and cool yoghurt, the dish was a delicious study in the art of impeccable flavour/texture balance. Though I knew there were three more courses coming, I couldn’t help but finish every bit of it.
The fish course consisted of a perfectly-seared scallop with wild Irish hake atop a mixture of extra-large couscous and chickpeas. It was delicate in flavour, with just a hint of sweet tomato and herbs. It was a gentler, kinder dish than the previous, which prepared our palates for the final main course of chargrilled marinated beef brisket with sweet herb & yoghurt macaroni with caramelised red onion, slow roasted tomato and a spicy au jus. It was bold and absolutely bursting with flavour; the happy moans around the table let me know that everyone else shared my feeling for the dish. The brisket had a lovely smoky element to it and reminded me of something you’d get in a pulled-meat sandwich. However it worked brilliantly with the pasta and the thoughtful execution effectively transformed an outdoor BBQ mainstay into a refined, elegant main course dish.
Though I felt that I would burst after the last presentation, I couldn’t resist the dessert: A simple and graceful pot of vanilla cream with fresh blueberries. Though it looked almost like a panecotta the texture was more dense and rich, but the flavour was flowery and light. I was actually scraping the bottom of the jar it was served in, despite feeling like I was falling into a food coma!
After our incredible three-hour dinner the humble chef came in to say hello, but didn’t chat long and quickly hurried back into the kitchen. Lisa told us this was the first of at least a few Parlour Games to come, and that the next ones will be open to more people (she guessed they could host about 25 at a time).
The cost for the evening was €50 per person, with all proceeds going to benefit the Cystic Fibrosis Association of Ireland and the rule for drinks was BYOB. Mountaineering Man and I would have happily paid far more than we did, and both agreed it was one of the best meals we’ve had out all year.
Thank you Ian and Lisa for an outstanding evening.