Camden Kitchen is a new restaurant that has taken over what used to be the Havana tapas place on Grantham Street, just off Camden Street in Dublin city centre. The chef is Padraic Hayden, who had fans a-plenty when he was in charge at Still, the smart restaurant at the Dylan Hotel. A friend who lives nearby had spotted it when it opened a couple of weeks back and had promptly booked himself in for lunch. His report was enthusiastic, so a birthday in need of celebration (in a modest, Wednesday-lunch-with-all-three-of-us-driving-and-heading-back-to-work-afterwards kind of a way) presented an ideal opportunity to check it out for ourselves.
On the ground floor, there's an open kitchen and seating for about 30 people at simple wooden-topped tables with trendy bucket-seated chairs that look as if they were designed by someone whose name you should know. There's another room upstairs. The palette is petrol blue and gunmetal grey and the look sharp and chic in an understated way. There's a comfy banquette along one wall and our position here under a big and beautiful art piece of a horse's head gave us a fine view of the open kitchen, in which, it has to be said, everyone was going about their business in a calm and workmanlike way with a disappointing lack of chef-y histrionics.
For the day that was in it we ordered a bottle of Gervais Gobillard (€58) house champagne. Unfortunately it wasn't properly chilled to begin with so the first sip was a tad underwhelming. It improved as it got colder.
There's no set menu for either lunch or dinner and the offering changes on a daily basis according to what's on offer at the markets each morning. It's a seasonal approach that is becoming more common here and one that earns lots of brownie points from me and the wider foodie police.
The lunch menu is set out in such a way that there is no pressure to order more than one course, so it's perfectly possible to go in for a light salad if that's all that you want. In reviewing mode though, we opted for starters and mains each, with two puddings shared between three.
The Birthday Girl began with Beetroot Cured Salmon, Beet Crème Fraiche, Avocado Mousse (€7). Camden Kitchen cures the salmon (organic! hooray!) itself in salt, lemon and grated beet. Quite delicious. The BG's number one fan opted for Pork Croquettes, Celeriac, Dressed Leaves (€7) – deep-fried balls of melt-in-the-mouth confit of pork and sat very happily in a generous salad of interesting leaves mixed with classic celeriac remoulade. An über-trendy dish and none the worse for that. Terrific. My Vine Tomato Broth, Spring Vegetables and Orzo (€6.50) sounded like the dullest of the starters but proved a revelation, the broth intensely tomato-flavoured (how does he do that?) and an ideal backdrop for the carrots, broad beans and asparagus that lurked within. Super healthy and super seasonal.
BG tried the Mushroom and Broad Bean Risotto with Sprouting Broccoli (€12) for her main course. Of all the plates we tried, this was the least successful – bland and under-seasoned, the consistency falling short. Braised Ox-Cheek, Roasted New Potato, Root Vegetables (€14) proved to be a sticky, intense dish, rich and flavourful. Ocean Trout, White Bean, Chorizo & Mussels (€14) comprised a generous, crispy-skinned fillet of fish atop a casserole of the other ingredients. The beans were a little under-cooked but the combination of the other tastes worked well together. We tried a couple of side orders. Cauliflower and broccoli gratin was too restrained for its own good – if you're going to do this kind of thing you have to do it right and to hell with the fat grams. A blue cheese salad was under-dressed and nothing special.
For pud we shared a selection of Homemade Madeleines and Ice Cream and Chocolate Fondant with Vanilla Ice Cream (both €6.50). The madeleines – vanilla, brown butter and chocolate – were too dry and subtle for us. (We're people who like big flavours.) The fondant, on the other hand... two mini Eyjafjallajokuls topped with tonka bean froth, was sensational – the kind of chocolate experience you'd consider crawling over hot coals to repeat.
Our bill for three, with coffees, came to €142.90 before service or just under €30 per head without wine.
Despite a few minor wrinkles that will have been ironed out by the time you read this, we were all more than happy with our lunch and patted ourselves on the back for getting in ahead of the pack. We liked the Camden Kitchen's relaxed vibe and charming service. When the word gets out, bagging a table is going to be tough, tough, tough. I hope they'll remember my kind words.