No experiments at the Guinea Pig, but still delivers results

Guinea Pig, Dalkey

4.5/5

The Guinea Pig is the sort of restaurant I imagine characters in Agatha Christie novels would eat in. I can see them scraping their silverware across the plates and speaking in hushed voices about that dreadful business down at the Old Rectory. In reality, the clientele are a mixed bunch. To my left, I overheard a stately old woman remark to her sombre husband that the place hadn’t changed the seventies. He agreed, punctuating his nods with mutterings of “delicious, delicious”. On the table to the right, a group in their mid twenties discussed who wanted in on the weed tomorrow, and who could roll. Everyone looked completely at home.

The rooms manage to capture the comfortable familiarity of an old friend’s house. Seats are squishy, table decoration is unfussy and the staff are friendly without being obtrusive. We had the Early Bird menu, which at €24.50 (excluding dessert) is a bit pricey for the average student pocket. For a birthday or a special occasion however, it might be worth splashing out.

Though it is primarily a fish restaurant, there is a wide selection on the Early Bird menu, with eight starters and twelve mains to choose from. Our table ordered half the starters and the fish mixed grill, braised lamb shank, sirloin steak, stuffed chicken and honey roast half duck for mains. There was an extra change of five euro for the duck and the steak.

The menu choice may seem familiar, but it is the execution of the dishes which sets this restaurant apart. Deep fried mushrooms with garlic mayonnaise can be bought in chippers and dodgy cafes across the country, but these were a different species entirely. Crisp, hot and juicy, these mushrooms were as close to perfect as they could possibly be. Their sweetness was perfectly offset by the garlicky zing of the homemade mayonnaise. The spring rolls were a little on the small side, but delicate and decidedly moreish. P thought that the chowder was only “fine”, and C had the melon, which mercifully had not been turned into a fan, but was served chopped with small pieces of kiwi and mandarin.

Then came the main event. Portions are generous, as they should be. Pretentious morsels of pretentious food are on the out. It’s dark days. We want comfort food and warm full tummies. Honey-roast duck with apricot sauce is always in danger of turning into a syrupy sweet disaster, but this was not to be. The duck was tender and delicious. Apricots can be bitter, but their tartness was expertly balanced by the sweetness of the honey. All elements taken together, it was the best duck I’ve ever had.

D had steak, which was cooked as specified and tender. Braised lamb shank was not much to look at, but I was assured of its deliciousness. M was less than impressed with the size of the fish on her fish grill, but found them well cooked. F had no comment to make on the chicken. I think may have found the whiskey sauce a little rich, but as he is only eleven this is perhaps to be expected.

Main courses are served with a communal bowl of vegetables and a bowl of chips. The other options are salad or potatoes, but to choose salad over vegetables would be to miss one of the greatest parts of the whole meal. I will admit to having a bit of a “thing” for veg, and it breaks my heart to be served bendy lukewarm carrot sticks and grey broccoli over and over again, ruining otherwise perfectly pleasant meals with their desecrated limbs. The Buttery is a repeat offender. The Guinea Pigs’ crunchy carrots, mangetout, beansprouts and courgette are to the Buttery’s pallid offerings what a lambourgini is to a pair of broken rollerskates. I can’t get enough.

The dessert tray is then brought out. This is rather crafty. As dessert is extra and one is already uncomfortably full, the average customer might think to forgo dessert and head straight for coffee. But wafting a tray of mouthwatering cakes and strudels and so on under one’s nose brings out the Bruce Bogtrotter in one, so we all had dessert. It was great. Presentation isn’t the best, but who cares when every mouthful feels like it was baked by granny with love. The homemade ice-cream tastes like wandering around Rome at night, strawberry is especially good. We all had tea, which was served in a nice big pot, none of your stingy one cup one bag rubbish. The label swinging from the side was Barry’s Gold Blend. Keeping it real.

map to guinea pig

Guinea Pig — The Fish Restaurant

17 Railway Road,
Dalkey,
Co. Dublin,
Ireland

+353 (0)1 285-9055

http://www.guineapig.dalkey.info/