It's been a long time since I had a meal quite as bad as the one I had recently at Market Square, the new restaurant occupying the premises formerly home to The Bistro on Castle Market.
Online, I had thought the menu looked interesting. There was evidence of creative thinking in the kitchen and the imaginative combinations of ingredients intrigued. There is a terrible same-ness about menus in this country these days – the ubiquity of certain dishes would be laughable if it wasn't so depressing. So I'm positively disposed towards establishments that are prepared to take a few risks and shake things up a bit.
Claire, on the other hand, had not been impressed. "It's as if every dish has at least one too many ingredients. It's all just too much."
The ambience is low-key, with bistro chairs and low lighting. Only the music was obtrusive – we had to ask for it to be turned down.
The wine list is short. The waitress didn't appear to know anything about the wines on it; she said she hadn't tried any of them. Her description of the Walnut Block 2008 Pinot Noir from New Zealand (at €41.50 the most expensive red on the list) was plain wrong. I had a glass (€10.50) while I waited for the others to arrive and was glad that I hadn't ordered a bottle. They were out of our second choice and so we moved on to Capucines 2009, a Syrah/ Grenache blend from Ollieux Romanis in the Languedoc (€26) which was excellent – and excellent value.
There was a €17 two-course early bird on offer but the choices were limited, it wasn't printed and we were reliant on an inadequate description of the dishes from the waitress, whose command of English wasn't up to the job. We opted instead for the à la carte.
Fin kicked off with Warm Goat's Cheese with Pistachio Crust, Roasted Pumpkin and Baby Beets (€9). The pumpkin was slimy, cold and unpleasant, the other elements unremarkable. Claire's Artichoke Hearts, Pickled Carrots and Cucumber, Feta Cheese, Rocket Salad, Roasted Hazelnuts (€9) – phew! – was another disappointment, the flavours muddy and random. Both salads were sloppily presented and served in bowls that made the cutting of the ingredients difficult.
I tried the Fried Calamari with Coconut and Harissa Sauce (€9). The calamari itself was decent, coated in Japanese panko breadcrumbs and nicely crisp. But the tomato sauce that accompanied it didn't so much as hint at either of the two advertised ingredients.
Things went downhill with the mains. Rotisserie Chicken on Sautéed Mushrooms, Barley and Leeks, Thin Crispy Pancetta (€15) was a massive portion but the chicken had no flavour and the dish was an ugly behemoth of a plate that didn't hang together. Poached Organic Salmon with Couscous, Grilled Asparagus and Lemon Tzatziki (€17) was another huge helping – so big as to be off-putting. The salmon tasted of nothing much and the asparagus was burnt. Again, the over-riding impression was bland, bland, bland.
Chargrilled Rib-Eye Steak, Carrot and Celeriac Purée, Thick Cut Chips, Horseradish Crème Fraîche, Bearnaise (€23) was the worst of the lot. I couldn't eat it and it was taken off the bill.
The side orders (all €4) looked interesting but again failed to deliver. Butternut Squash and Beetroot Coleslaw was horrid and the Seasonal Greens with Toasted Hazelnuts were over-cooked. Fingerling Potatoes and Sage were pretty good in comparison to everything else.
By this stage we were losing the will to live. We pulled ourselves together to share Chocolate Fudge Squares with Mocha Glaze, Vanilla and Mascarpone Cream (unexciting) and Cheeses with Quince Jelly and Savoury Biscuits (both €7). Camembert, Gruyère and Manchego made up the selection, all over-chilled and none of them packing any meaningful flavour. With so many excellent local cheeses around, there is no excuse for this.
With fizzy water, a coffee and an additional 500ml carafe of the red wine, our bill (minus the steak) came to €145.95 before service. Perhaps we happened upon Market Square on an off-night, but every review is by necessity a snapshot. For an experience as poor as ours, we thought the bill exorbitant. For that kind of money you would eat far better at the wonderful La Maison on the other side of the street.