A bistro that's got the bottle top quality food and service in no corkage seagrass
I reviewed Seagrass about three years ago. I recall I was impressed, with both cooking and service. I thought it time for a revisit, the more so as it now has an optional 'no corkage' bring-your-own-bottle (BYOB) policy and I wanted to treat Daughter Two, over from Manchester, to a couple of special wines I'd been hoarding.
BYOB, as far as our local restaurant fraternity is concerned, has been a no-go area. I can understand why. For restaurateurs operating in a city blighted with outrageous rents, and sky-high insurance, wage and utility costs, juggling profit-and-loss and ending up in the black is a balancing act akin to traversing the Giant's Causeway on a monocycle. The higher margins on drink sales were as welcome as a Lotto win.
But now the game has changed. We are drinking less and it's harder to put bums on cushions. Permitting diners to bring their own wine, and so drinking cheaper or better, can increase the number of diners coming over the threshold.
Seagrass was heaving. Phoning earlier in the day, I couldn't get a table (on a week night) before 8.15pm. The ground-floor room is pleasant and comfortable, without undue genuflection towards creating 'atmosphere'. There were but two people out front and one, Nina I think, looked after us in exemplary fashion.
I gave five stars for service because: glasses, larger ones for our Shiraz, were brought immediately to table, followed by an ice bucket for the Riesling; a spoon I'd knocked off the table was spotted and promptly replaced; the menu was properly explained; the meal correctly paced; we weren't sneered at as skinflints because we declined the fizzy water, as happened in another establishment recently; and a myriad other courtesies.
The food matched the service. We started with a bowl of superb rustic bread, accompanied by two house-made dips, one being a feather-light chicken-liver creme, plus some tasty, fresh olive oil.
Daughter Two was prepared to fight me for the creamed (smoked on the premises) haddock, chive and pea casserole. I scammed a forkful and made a note to pester chef and proprietor Sean Drugan for the recipe.
I was very happy with my eloquently named 'mussels from the harbours of Sligo & Kerry'. An assortment of large and small mussels anointed with wonderfully up-front aromatics -- coriander, lime, probably lemongrass and more, and spiked with chilli. Of these, we made short work.
D2's grilled rib eye was a gorgeous piece of meat, cooked properly to medium -- that's 'pink but no blood'. It came with roasted tomatoes, a smoked paprika hollandaise, a tasty, coarse-textured caponata and a mug of the best chips I've had for ages, every one crispy-crunchy. To enhance these, there were three dips -- creamy cider, spicy tomato and what seemed like a homemade brown sauce spiced up with fresh ginger.
I also went for beef, cooked in contrasting fashion. Slow cooked until it dissolved, presented with caramelised onion gravy and roasted baby potatoes; proper comfort food, made more so by a generous slice of seared lamb's liver balanced on the top.
I'm not normally a chocoholic, so how I ended up with 'bitter artisan couleur dark chocolate and banana pudding with chocolate ice cream' is something of a mystery. I was concerned about the possibility of chocolate overload, so was glad when my request for a scoop of vanilla ice cream to lighten things up was granted. I needn't have fretted; the original concept was perfect. As was Daughter Two's baked NY cheesecake with toffee nut ice cream, a 'childhood memory' kind of dessert that melted on contact. A tolerable espresso topped off the evening.
Proper bistro cooking; uncomplicated but enhanced with the kind of tweaks and twiddles that only a sensitive chef can bestow, well thought out and, on the plate, harmonious. The sort of food I could eat every night of the week. So many restaurants lash out the steak, chicken breast or sea bass, with their own interpretation of Heston's grotesque chips and a bowl of salad fit to take gold in the Olympics of Boring, and think they've done a fine job.
Seagrass, by the way, does have wine on sale, a simple selection, reasonably priced. One nice touch is the provision of prosecco, in 200ml bottles, which could serve at either end of the meal.