It wasn’t quite when Harry met Sally, but when La Bodega met Babette, it was a very nice feeling indeed. Restaurants have bent forward, backward and sideways to deal with the effects of the pandemic over the past two years, turning into all sorts of different skins as needed.
One such place is La Bodega in Ranelagh which for the past decade has had a steady clientele who come from the affluent red brick houses of the area for gambas al pil pil, calamares a la Romana and a few bottles of wine. White. But, I guess things still have to change, and last December owner Ali Barker announced that the next chapter would be a new restaurant, new look, new cuisine, but still the warm welcome and familiar faces.
Seeing this on Instagram, I looked like the place was stripped down and a new color scheme and furniture arrived, and, when it opened, we arrived too.
It was only Babette’s second night in action, but Mary and I immediately liked the atmosphere. The door opened quickly and we were greeted from the corridor of wind that swirled along the strip that is Ranelagh. There was a beautiful tropical wallpaper and long bench facing the bar; we were seated in a rather nice little corner at the back.
A brasserie menu has arrived, serving classic food and cocktails for all tastes under the four main headings: Le Confort; Fish; The Healthy; Steaks. Well, you can guess which ones I liked!
First for the starters (9€-11.50€), where we kept winks to the past life of the restaurant with the aforementioned prawns and mixed calamari with spicy chicken wings and onion soup with aged Gruyère.
I’ve chewed rubbery calamari in my time – we probably all have them – but Mary’s tender, simply presented calamari (€9) was the best ever, she said – a statement from this fan of fish. Served with simple garlic mayonnaise and lemon, we could see why this popular La Bodega staple had made the cut of Babette’s menu. Likewise, my starter of fresh and silky Irish burrata (€12) with roasted figs and gorgeous pink swirls of prosciutto aged 24 months on toasted sourdough was also a winner.
Main courses (€16.50-€34.50) included various 10oz burgers under different headings, as well as macaroni and cheese with braised beef cheek and crispy onions. The monkfish curry was on point, as well as the baked cod with a bean and chorizo cassoulet, as well as beer-battered fish and chips. There was 9oz/10oz strip loin and salt aged rib eye steaks with all the trimmings, plus a huge 18oz grilled strip loin for two for €67.50. Under The Healthy section was a poke bowl of superfoods; a bean burger; and Middle Eastern-style grilled chicken.
Mary had the duck pie (€24) which, as you can imagine, was in the Le Confort section. Like a big, warm embrace, it featured a deep, rich duck leg base and a stew base topped with an ample fluffy quilt of swirled mash – perfect on a very chilly evening. I had a large fishcake with salmon and smoked haddock (€16.50), which came sitting on a slice of smashed peas and herbs, and topped with a suitably oozing poached egg. It was excellent too — as were the finger-licking truffle fries (€5).
Desserts (€9) included a chocolate dome; sticky caramel pudding; panty glory; a selection of Irish dairy ice cream and a lemon meringue pie, which we shared. Light and fluffy, and torched at the table for a bit of drama, it was the perfect end to a lovely evening.
Cocktails seemed to be the thing around the tables around us but we stuck to vino, offering an entry level €30 – which is accessible to as many people as possible. However, for the wealthy, who fancy a €60 Saint-Émilion or a €95 Barolo, more expensive wines are available. With a bottle of vegan-friendly L’Etang de Sol Picpoul de Pinet (€38), our bill, water (€2) and service 10pc included, came to €127.05.
It was just good food that you would happily eat every day.
Tel: (01) 497-5577