In recent times we have been spoiled with new openings shaking up the Dublin dining scene, and it would be easy to stick to sampling these new kids on the block every weekend. That said, restaurants mature and evolve over the years when managed well, and Oliver Dunne’s Cleaver East is no exception to this, now in its fourth year and cemented as a solid and reliable dining destination.
As well as a highly regarded chef, Dunne is a restaurateur with his finger on the pulse and an innate understanding of what people actually want to eat. Look at his newest venture, Beef and Lobster, a casual eatery knocking the notions out of lobster and serving traditionally luxurious ingredients with a keen price-point and you’ll see Dunne’s commitment to making dining out accessible as well as entirely enjoyable.
With that in mind, Cleaver East has added to its offering of one of the city’s best loved brunches, excitingly non-conformist #NotAfternoonTea and the ever tempting #PornBurger to include an Early Bird menu with an unprecedented price tag – €15 for a starter and main. The best part, Saturday and Sunday availability from 5:00 pm to 6:45 pm meant a recent visit with a slightly hungover man I would have struggled to rouse from slumber in time for brunch was perfectly timed.
Cleaver East is embedded in the hustle and bustle of Temple Bar, yet tucked away from the often boisterous crowds in Bono’s five star Clarence Hotel. Opening in 2013, the slick high ceilinged, dark wood and suede steeped dining room predates the lookalikes which have sprung up across the city – warehouse style, butcher ship tiled floors and low hanging bulbs, but it’s the only one with meat cleavers hanging from the walls, that’s for sure.
Perusing the extensive choices in both categories over a House Cocktail laced with Morgan Spiced Rum and gingerbread syrup, we pondered what dishes we would be presented with in exchange for the price of a cocktail in most places. Opting for the Beef Dripping Rosti, a delicately plated bowlful arrived, like a Caesar salad with none of the leafy faff – just concentrated flavour, with the volume turned up as loud as the buzzy background soundtrack.
Whatever about their signature #PornBurger, which passed by and turned both our heads, cutting into that plump and oozing poached egg was voyeuristic pleasure. It wasn’t my dish and it is something I wouldn’t think of ordering, but from the hazelnuts to the Parmesan crisp I loved the textures, the concept and the unabashed flavour punch it packed.
Seafood paired with Hendricks Gin is a new obsession of mine after knocking back half a dozen Hendrick’s soaked oysters in Cavern recently, and the Cured G&T Salmon confirmed the perfection of the pairing. Citrus soaked gin is the ideal foil for oily salmon and cubes of jade cucumber jelly were a playful touch.
Generous slices of blushing salmon were butter-like succulent, accented with horseradish mayo adding pleasing heat in tandem with some seriously sharp pickled radish. I would have paid close to €15 for this dish alone and wasn’t too keen to share – a very positive endorsement indeed.
While you could opt for one of Cleaver East’s signature beef cuts, a rib eye for a supplement of €10, we really wanted to see how far €15 a head could go here so instead went for Beef Short Rib for a meaty fix. Shortrib is one of those less expensive cuts which flavour-wise can give its superiors a run for their money when it reaches its full potential.
Slow and purposeful cooking in this case yielded a tranche which would have waved a white flag at the sight of a knife, unyielding in succulence. Sticky balsamic jus and smokey sweet red pepper ketchup played with rich melting meatiness to produce a five out of five on the ‘fifth taste’ umami scale – delicious.
My main of cod was again beautifully presented, like an ode to the Tricolor. I loved the fact that crisp smoked batter pieces were scattered on top of the nicely cooked fillet, separate so I could pretend I was being saintly, while satisfying a latent fish and chips craving I didn’t know I was suffering from until that moment. This genius hack provided all the right textures, just in a lighter, more refreshing dish. I did feel the potato and lemon mousse was a little confused consistency-wise, but I enjoyed the citrus punch it packed to cut through the batter morsels I couldn’t stop eating.
The Early Bird menu doesn’t offer desserts – and to be fair we absolutely didn’t need them – but we were both quite keen to linger a little longer and sample some more. Lemon Marshmallow Pie, with blackberries and almonds sounded like the perfect palate cleanser.
For me, the marshmallow could have spent a little more time under a blowtorch, but this didn’t stop us from destroying it between us. Delicate buttery shortcrust pastry played home to a filling which just struck the right balance between the saccharine sweetness of Italian meringue and tart, sour lemon – lipsmacking in a very good way.
As there was no Chocolate Fondant left (blasted brunch crowd beat me to it), we were instead offered Cleaver East Nutella Cheesecake, and to be honest, this playful plateful outshone the typical oozy fondant I know and love. A fallen cone spills a mousse of sheer chocolate hazelnut hedonism and I thought to myself, this is what Ferrero Rocher aspires to be. Hazelnut scented rubble and sticky toffee popcorn finished the plate, as did I…this dessert needs a permanent home on every menu offered at Cleaver East.
Our bill, including three courses each, a cocktail and glass of wine, came to €63, primarily owing to my curious sweet tooth and love of a tipple. That said, an another night I wouldn’t feel like dessert and the two courses for €15 more than satisfy even the heartiest of appetites. Sides would have been entirely unnecessary, although tempting. For four well executed, exciting and delicious dishes to cost €30 felt like reverse daylight robbery, a crime I’d happily commit again.
With prices and notions slashed, Cleaver East’s new Early Bird is simply a cut above the rest. The only thing Oliver hasn’t taken a cleaver to is the quality. Of the dishes we sampled, there were no weak links, and each displayed the clever creative flair you expect from each of Dunne’s eateries. On the Early Bird front, Cleaver East has just butchered its competition.
6 Essex St East,
T: (01) 531 3500
Growing up with the name Darina, I was constantly asked if I could cook like my namesake. With that(and greed) as the ultimate motivator, I realised that baked goods make excellent bribes and an obsession was born! I am the only person to have contested both Masterchef and the Great Irish Bake off, fuelling my desire to focus on food in a serious way. Working with TheTaste allows me to satisfy this craving and marries my food fascination with my love of writing and ranting.