The Sorrento Lounge
Paolo Tullio's Review
Although I've lived in Ireland now for most of my life, there's a national habit that I've never really adopted. I'm not a pub man. That very Irish custom of using the pub as a meeting point, as a place to escape from the home or as a place for entertainment, never became one of my habits. That's not to say I avoid them, I don't, but when I think about it the pubs I go to all have comfortable chairs, tables and food, so they're more like restaurants.
When I go to the Roundwood Inn or the Purty Kitchen I go for a snack, not for a drink. If I want to drink these days, I drink at home where I run no risk of getting breathalysed and I can smoke a cigarette. It's been great for me that over the past couple of decades that pubs are increasingly becoming places where you can eat - and in some of them you can eat very well.
It was that in-between week that runs between Christmas and New Year that we used to call the taint' because it taint Christmas and it taint New Year. It's a week when energy levels are low after the excesses of Christmas and we try to build up the energy for New Year's Eve. There's almost an obligation on you to be bouncily enthusiastic on New Year's Eve and even more so at the stroke of midnight for the countdown and Auld Lang Syne, so for me it conservation of energy week.
Despite that, I arranged to have lunch in Dalkey with two of its residents: Mary Finnegan and Marian Kenny. It's one of cases of nominative determinism that Mary Finnegan's local pub is called Finnegan's, so naturally she feels at home there. It also happens to be Marian's favourite pub and both of them eat there frequently, which is why we were there.
If I had a produce a list of what you can find in Dalkey it might go like this: large four-wheel drives, lots of Mercedes and BMWs, plenty of restaurants and pubs and many blonde ladies. Dalkey and its satellite Killiney is also home to a plethora of celebs, and if spotting literary celebs is your bag, there's no better place to start than Finnegan's. In no particular order of precedence you can find Maeve Binchy, David McWilliams, Hugh Leonard, Robert Fisk, John Simpson and Neil Jordan occasionally enjoying Finnegan's hospitality.
What makes Finnegan's attractive is a combination of things. It's family run, it's comfortable, it's pleasingly decorated in the dark wood, brass and bevelled glass style and it also serves good food. In the summer you can sit at the outdoor tables and watch the Dalkey blondes diving past in their Mercedes, and in the winter you can enjoy its convivial warmth and spot Ireland's literary celebs.
The lunch menu in the Sorrento Lounge offers six starters and twelve main courses and unless you choose the T-bone steak or the fillet steak you can't spend more than 20. In fact nearly all of the main courses are priced at less than 14. Also the main courses include the sort of comfort foods that I enjoy - dishes like cottage pie, corned beef and cabbage and breaded haddock.
The wine list isn't Finnegan's strong suit, but Mary and Marian chose for themselves a Sauvignon Blanc from Chile made by Miguel Torres, which I though was very good and was priced at a modest 17. A couple of bottles of mineral water kept me happy. To start Mary chose the tomato soup and I picked the prawn cocktail, and for main courses we all joined in; the corned beef and cabbage for both Marian and Mary, and the cottage pie for me.
Mary's tomato soup was very tasty, with a hint of chilli giving a lift to what is often an uninteresting soup. I had a mound of prawns on a plate with the traditional Mary Rose sauce accompaniment, which I enjoyed enormously. Actually this very generous plateful left me in a poor way for my main course, which could easily have fed two. The cottage pie came in its own oven-to-table white flat and it took me while to realise that it was all for me. I did make a determined attempt, but with the best will in the world I got no further than half way. Meanwhile the girls were enjoying their corned beef. Three large slices each covered in a parsley sauce and served on a bed of shredded cabbage that had been perfectly cooked an had just the right amount of crunch' to it. We were also served a dish of vegetables and potatoes which were hardly touched. The moral seems to be that of you're having a Finnegan's main course, you probably won't manage a starter as well.
What I liked about this meal, apart from the excellent company, was the lack of pretension. Dishes like cottage pie and corned beef should be celebrated as part of our national cuisine. As much as I love sophisticated cuisine, I still love the simple purity of dishes like these. If they're well done with good ingredients, then they're dishes that would please the most discerning gastronome. And when you get a meal like this and the bill for the three of you comes to 77.05, then you know you've done well. And oh yes, before we'd finished eating we'd spotted Maeve Binchy and Hugh Leonard.