Bang Restaurant Merrion Row, Dublin 2.
11 Merrion Row, Dublin 2.
Bang was around for 10 years, always full and a Mecca for the bright young things of Celtic Tiger Ireland. A perfect storm of events sent it spiralling into receivership last year, but it has now re-opened by a consortium which includes brother and sister, Anne and Joe Barrett and businessman and Dragon's Den investor Bobby Kerr. Bang was always a very good restaurant, in addition to being a cool spot to hang, and the new team had a certain standard to live up to, so there was a certain expectation involved in returning.
The first thing I noticed was that there's a lot more room now between the tables. I always enjoyed the food in Bang under the old management, but I always felt crowded. It's under new management since the Stokes twins left, so I'd come to see how the change of ownership had affected one of the city centre's better-known estaminets.
A first glance at the menu showed me that they've pitched the prices in the upper mid-range. It's been a while since I've seen starters going over €10 and mains well into the upper €20 range. There are compensations: as I said, there's more room and the welcome and service is also well above average. All that was needed now was good food to back up the prices.
The wine list isn't very long -- about 50 wines are listed and, again, at first glance the prices seemed pitched slightly above normal. This time the pay-off was a good sommelier, who seemed to know the list well. Since I was only going to drink one glass of wine, I was limited to wines by the glass, but there were about a dozen of them. I settled on an Italian Ripasso from the Valpolicella by Zeni at €8. It was a fine, deep-coloured and dense red, with loads of dark fruit and a long finish -- perfect for my main-course choice.
For once, there was only one menu to look at -- no early bird, no set dinner, no table d'hôte, just the à la carte. It had some interesting-looking dishes on it: a stone crab lasagna; veal sweetbreads, and a real buffalo mozzarella salad among the starters, and hot-smoked venison loin was one of the main courses. I love veal sweetbreads and venison too, if it's well prepared, so I ordered those two dishes.
With no one to make conversation with, I had plenty of time to look around me. What surprised me was seeing a Dragon serving tables, running up and down stairs and generally being very busy. Not the fire-breathing variety, rather the Den variety in the shape of Bobby Kerr, proving that even investing Dragons can muck in with the rest of them. I learned later that he is one of the owners.
My starter arrived, and I have to say it looked very pretty on the plate. The presentation was almost art, but I felt that three bite-sized pieces of sweetbreads was just a little exiguous. No matter, the sweetbreads bites were cooked perfectly and were nicely flavoured. It took me just a few moments to finish them off and I was ready for the next course.
It's not often that I get very enthused about a particular dish, but the loin of venison placed before me was worthy of a great deal of enthusiasm. It was cooked medium-rare, it was superbly tender, but the flavours!
Ah, the flavours. Just a hint of juniper berry gave the loin all of those wintry tastes that, like a Proustian moment, brought memories flooding back. A cauliflower purée, and a tiny leek and onion completed the picture. Elegantly presented food, and brimming with flavour.
Along with this dish, the Ripasso from the Veneto made a fine accompaniment, the full flavours of the wine matching the autumnal flavours of the venison.
Normally, two cour-ses is when I call a halt, but I was aware that a review of just two dishes was a little light, so I decided on a dessert. I chose the mango mousse, which finished my meal off very nicely, the balance between sweetness and acidity was delicately judged. An espresso rounded off what had been a good meal, with excellent service in a pleasing dining room.