Green 19 - A small victory for value.
Paolo Tullio's Review
p>The printed tide of doom and gloom shows no signs of abating. Pick up any newspaper and you'll be regaled with in-depth analysis of the dire state of our economy. While it's perfectly true that our national finances could have been better handled and vast sums have been wasted, if you've ended up with the impression that everything is slowly coming to a standstill, throw that depressing thought out of your mind. While some enterprises are certainly taking a hard hit, others are doing just fine.
Traditionally, restaurants are the first to feel a recession, since they're reliant on disposable income and entertainment expenses. With those two revenue streams drying up, things are getting tough for the catering industry. But here's what keeps me optimistic: there are restaurants out there doing a roaring trade. They're in the minority, but it's worth noting what they have in common. All of the busy restaurants are offering exceptional value for money.
What is happening increasingly is that restaurants are offering deals on their menus. Set lunches and dinners are now very good value, as are early-bird menus -- as long as you're happy enough to dine before 7.30pm. What I got this week was unusual. I got great value off a menu, but it wasn't a special menu, an early bird or a set meal -- it was the normal menu.
Personally, I'm not a fan of dining out at the weekend. Packed restaurants hold no pleasure for me, only dread. I learned many years ago that restaurants rarely operate at their best when they're full or nearly empty -- anywhere between 60pc and 80pc capacity seems to be the optimum. So it was with some trepidation that I ended up planning a meal out on a Friday night. The peripatetic artist Susan Morley was back from three weeks in Brazil, where she'd been exploring healing crystals, aetheric vibrations, homoeopathic remedies and life-enhancing essences. Despite that, she looked very well.
A couple of friends had told me about Green Nineteen, a new restaurant on Camden Street whose unique selling proposition is that all of their main courses are priced at €10. It operates an unusual booking system -- they put a few tables aside for reservations and the rest are allocated on a first-come, first-served basis. Susie was too late to book a table, but was told that it shouldn't be a problem after 9pm. We arrived at 9.30pm and found a packed restaurant with a waiting list for tables. After adding her name to the list, they suggested we should go and have a drink and they'd call us when there was a free table.
So we wandered up and down Camden Street for a bit, not wanting a drink but needing to pass the time. "This is why I hate weekends," I complained to no-one in particular. "Crowded bars, crowded restaurants, nowhere to park, too much traffic..." "Oh, stop whingeing," said Susie, just as her phone rang. Our table was ready.
Green Nineteen isn't big, but it's on two levels. Our table was upstairs, where a large group had about half of the tables. It's simply decorated, plain but pleasing, but it's all hard surfaces, which means the noise levels are very high. If you were planning a romantic tête-à-tête, this wouldn't be the place as you'd never hear the sweet nothings murmured by your partner.
Both the menu and the wine list come on a clipboard. The wine list is very short and the mark-up is reasonable, but the drinks menu also lists a lot of cocktails. The extraordinary thing about the menu is the prices. Starters are between €4 and €6, main courses are €10 and desserts are €5. While most restaurants charge between €2 and €3 for an espresso, here they're priced at €1.50. I would have liked to have ordered a large bottle of mineral water but -- here we come to my only quibble -- they only had small bottles at €2 each, the only bad value on the menu.
The menu is short -- there are two starters, a soup and a roasted mushroom on focaccia -- but they also have three dishes for sharing between two: a cheese plate, a cured meat plate and pinchos (which come in two sizes: an €8 or a €12 size). We decided to start with the pinchos, the northern Spanish name for tapas -- named after the Spanish for 'toothpick', which holds them together. We had the larger version, which gave us three each, then Susie ordered the fish and chips and I had the organic burger and chips. Both of our main courses are things you can easily get in take-aways, but here's the thing -- in take-aways you'll pay almost as much and you'll get no table, no chair, no service, no plate and no cutlery. When you think of it that way, you'll see why five isn't a high enough score for value for money.
The pinchos arrived on a wooden platter along with my Italian beer, a Moretti at €4 and two bottles of water. They were very good -- a black pudding with melted cheese on focaccia, goats' cheese with a sun-dried tomato and a roasted pear and walnut. These tasty nibbles work out at €2 each.
Despite being ridiculously busy, the service was very good. It was attentive and quick, and no-one was overlooked in this busy room. Our main courses arrived and the first thing I noticed was the batter on Susie's haddock. It was thin, crisp and golden -- exactly how it ought to be, but often isn't. And there was a surprise for me with my burger, too. Despite being cooked as per the diktats of the health fascists, it was still moist inside. It was well-flavoured too, and both of our dishes came with chips the way I like them: not white and anaemic, but a dark, golden brown. A ramekin of mayonnaise and a tomato salsa accompanied the dishes.
We had a dessert between us, the chocolate brownie, which came with a very good cherry ice-cream. An espresso for me finished this meal, which brought the bill to €50.50 without service.