Back? Dear, oh dear. We’re all very fond of Jamie Oliver, but its recent opening in Dublin city center is a little puzzling. I mean, why? This restaurant on Rue de l’Échiquier was planned for 2020, and enough warning signals have since been fired for operators to rush for cover. Planet Jamie imploded, with most of its restaurants biting the dust, although overseas franchise outlets survived, including Jamie’s Italian, in Dublin’s Dundrum. But you would have thought, after the imposed cooling-off period of the past two years, that there would be less appetite for celebrity brand food.
But here we are, his familiar name barely visible above the Checker Lane door; and the partnership with Gerry Fitzpatrick continues. It is, we are told, a one-off, unique restaurant in the Jamie Oliver stable. But somehow, with its colorful layout and tasteful but nondescript decor, it doesn’t seem unique – we could be at any of Oliver’s more than 60 franchised restaurants on six continents. .
It has all the hallmarks of an all-day menu that can be adapted to Oliver’s existing markets (Bali, Dubai, Kuala Lumpur International Airport, whatever). The names of the best producers are written on the back of the menu and trumpeted proudly by the staff who seem to have come straight from the pages of a glossy magazine. All this is very admirable.
A pint of Guinness (€6.50) with the kind of head that deserves a post on the Shit London Guinness Instagram account isn’t the best start to a night, and a browse through the wine list indicates a considerable markup on the 150ml per -glass options versus bottle prices.
Lightly Dressed Crab on Toast (€14) is lackluster – not the combination, as Clogherhead Crab on Roundstone Bakehouse Sourdough should be something very nice, but somehow the flavor is muted, tasting little more than chopped chervil or tarragon that’s bent through. A remoulade on the side is superficial.
The mushroom tartine (€13), a ragout of porcini mushrooms, does much better. It has the richness you’d expect, with just a touch of creme fraiche acidity, on a substantial piece of that sourdough toast.
For our main courses, I’m expecting the Chicken kyiv (€23) to release a flow of garlic butter that will have me eating porridge for a week to balance calorie intake, but the almost barrier coating balls of golden breadcrumbs give way with a mere sigh of melted butter and not enough garlic. It’s Ring’s Farm chicken, so top marks for using a free-range bird, and its shape is so uniform it appears to be the result of a finely tuned cooking process. Little Braised Lettuce is a sad, soggy take on a French classic. Maybe he spent too much time seeing a recent prime minister.
The lamb chops (€29) are rubbed with coffee. I have never tried this Crime Against Lamb before, and I have no intention of doing it again. Undercooked sticky onions, and perhaps red wine vinegar, do nothing to spice up the dish, and a chop of roasted carrots with cumin and honey (€5.50) remains mostly untouched.
It took a lot of juggling for our waiter to arrange the dishes on our small round table, from which we have a view of the back of the gas station, where the napkins are folded. I don’t know why we and three other tables for two are tasked with keeping this miserable corner of Siberia warm when there is plenty of space at the front of the restaurant.
But there’s a lot I don’t understand about this restaurant, including the citrus trifle dessert (€11), which wouldn’t be out of place in the chilled section of Tesco Finest. Crumbs of cookies cover a layer of cream that protects a layer of barely set jelly and two pieces of orange splashed with yuzu.
To pay homage, everything is hot, including the plates, and our waiter takes care of his little corner of Siberia with charm. But the dishes are at odds with the food ethic Oliver states on his website: “Food is fun, joyful, creative and should keep us healthy.” Maybe he needs to move the “should” to the beginning of that sentence. Food should be fun.
Checker Lane is the type of restaurant you might tolerate in a captive environment like an airport or a large train station. But on Exchequer Street in central Dublin? I do not think so. This is the celebrity restaurant that no one ordered.
Dinner for two with a pint and three glasses of wine was €127.25.
THE VERDICT: Irish produce ruined by operating procedures
Music: Chic and disco classics
Source of food: Gilligan’s Farm, Rings Farm, Kish Fish, Caterway
Vegetarian options: Limited – mushroom toast, burrata, grain salad
Wheelchair access: Accessible, with accessible washrooms