Monday, February 17, 2020

Cafe culture

Uisce. Pronounced "ISH-ka". Even the name - the Irish word for "water" - has a deeply satisfying mouthfeel, something you can enjoy slurring regardless of how much of the wine list you've sampled. It calls itself a cafe, but don't be fooled into expecting fry-ups, formica table-tops and squeezable ketchup bottles - it might be the kid brother to its stylish next-door neighbour Heaneys, but (in the evening, at least) offers a comparably fine dining experience where everything is prepared and presented with care, attention, craft and imagination in surroundings that are simultaneously contemporary and cosy. We could have done without the lounge version of 'Blue Monday', mind.

Charcuterie is one of Uisce's specialities, so we start with a platter of Houghton pork loin - interesting flavoured and nice enough, though confirmation of the universal truth that you should never choose anything ahead of chorizo. Meanwhile, the frothy pink parfait beneath which rich, meaty duck rillette is buried functions primarily to create a lucky dip for the fork, and as ever I'm baffled by the trend for lacing perfectly serviceable dishes with pomegranate.

Other combinations, however - such as cauliflower and apple beurre - are a delight. A sensational steak and Guinness pudding, doused in gloopy lamb jus and crowned with a crunchy garnish, not only thoroughly deserves its place on the specials board but makes up for the disappointment of learning that the much-fabled lamb crumpet isn't on tonight's menu. Most remarkable, though, is the parsnip cream served with the cod, which easily wins over someone with an avowed aversion to the anaemic carrot and thereby pulls much the same trick as Heaneys does with its Marmite butter. It's alchemy, I tell you.

Some might lament the absence of a fresh, palate-cleansing dessert, but one bite of an impossibly light and airy churro liberally smeared in molten chocolate would make them change their tune. Likewise a single spoonful of the espresso panna cotta, topped with pieces of brownie - I hesitate to call them "chunks", as that suggests solidity rather than the gooey reality.

A flavourful temperanillo and a crisp Vinho Verde are among the cheapest options on the wine list, which begs the question: just how good must things be when you work your way further up? We'll just have to come back again to find out.

(An edited version of this review appeared in the February issue of Buzz.)

No comments: