In keeping with my recent foody theme, I thought I might as well tack on a review for a restaurant kvetch and I visited for the first time a few weeks ago. We’d been passing The Winding Stair on a fairly regular basis over the past couple of years, looking at the menu, with me thinking “Wow, that’s really kvetch’s kind of thing”, and with kvetch thinking “Wow, that’s really my kind of thing”. The menu was pricier than we normally choose (although not unreasonable for that kind of establishment), and I think that alone was what kept us from trying it for so long.
- The Winding Stair – Lower Ormond Quay – Dublin
We planned to go there on a Saturday night, and the place did look a bit swanky from what I could discover on the ole intarwebz, so (I think this was on the Thursday evening) I encouraged kvetch to ring and book a table. It was just as well he did that, because they had no tables available for Saturday night. Ultimately we got a table for the Sunday evening at 20:45, which was fine.
What with the foody bloggage I do, and what with documenting such bloggage with images, I thought I might document this expedition with some photographs in case I wanted to blog about it. I proposed that we make a night of it, head down towards the restaurant at around sunset, take some pictures, and then go for a beverage between then and the table booking. We enjoy a lengthy-ish dusk at these northern latitudes, and I like taking photographic advantage of the interesting light which usually falls around then.
Unfortunately on that evening, kvetch felt really tired, which impaired his enjoyment (and mine) somewhat. He doesn’t cope well with having his sleep disturbed. (actually, I don’t know anybody who does, do you?)
- Why was kvetch’s sleep disturbed, you may ask?
- And why would that disturb anybody’s sleep, you may ask?
Well, the reason for that, as it happens, was because the restaurant had rung to confirm our booking.
Well, since you ask, kvetch’s sleep was disturbed because the restaurant decided it would be a good idea to confirm our booking well before noon on a Sunday morning.
Can you believe that?!
I consider that kind of behaviour to be a HUGE demerit for the restaurant. Although other things about it were really positive, I just cannot overlook that kind of careless inconsideration.
Just to be clear, I am absolutely fine with confirming a booking on the day.
I am absolutely not fine with confirming a booking on the day, when that day happens to be a weekend and the confirmation is enforced unconsensually at an unreasonable hour.
I feel that they really could have waited til after noon, preferably after 13:00. If they needed confirmation that urgently, they could have rung the night before.
- A more respectful procedure:
- Advise customers at the time of booking that they prefer them to confirm their bookings closer to the time.
- Advise customers within what time frame confirmation would be appreciated.
- Ring customers to confirm their booking.
And then if confirmation had not been made prior to the specified deadline
I would consider a call after that to be reasonable.
During this outrageous early phone disturbment, the restaurant offered no reason nor apology for their unwarranted intrusion at that hour, and kvetch was too groggy to request one, having just been woken up by the phone.
In my opinion, our consent was transgressed by failing to give us the full information (i.e. confirmation being required, and when, and the possibility of being rung before noon on a Sunday), and by failing to give us any opportunity to decline such contact or make alternative arrangements.
I strongly disagree that simply making the booking is grounds for the restaurant assuming our consent in every single matter relating to eating in their establishment. I have written about this before.
This may not seem important to you. But your importance rating of this might change if your sleep were disrupted when you don’t sleep well or enough in the first place, and one of your rare chances to catch up and lie in is irreparably scuppered.
- This is a health issue.
So our first visit to The Winding Stair was initially coloured by the restaurant having transgressed our consent.
Not a good start.
- Winding Stair staff and future customers, please take note, and ensure that you clarify this when booking.
Ok, so kvetch was uncomfortably tired, and therefore unable to serve me to his usual high standard. And I wasn’t enjoying his company as much as I might have, and he wasn’t enjoying himself as much as he might have.
So after getting some really lovely shots, kvetch needed a coffee to perk him up a bit. So we stopped in this coffee place that was due to close in half an hour, and kvetch got a very pretty looking coffee.
- Pretteee coffee.
He was very patient whilst I took the coffee pictures, although his need for coffee did grow increasingly urgent, so that’s why I wasn’t able to take the time to get this shot just as sharp as I’d have liked.
But you get the idea anyhow. :)
After that he felt much better (let’s have a big cheer for coffee!!) and we went to a nearby beveragerie called The Lotts to enjoy some refreshments and each other’s company.
- The Lotts Bar – An enjoyable beveragerie complete with food servage.
We went into the more modern looking section to the right, because the older looking section clearly had some kind of sports playing on the big screen. Although the section at the right looks much more modern on the outside than the section at the left, the inside is nicely paneled with creaky wooden floors and an assortment of traditional-looking seating. We sat at the bar until some comfy looking benches at window tables became available.
- And then whoooosh… we grabbed them. :)
I’d found and printed out The Winding Stair dinner menu, and we perused it as we talked and drank.
We found it difficult to choose, because everything looked pretty interesting. Having done some restauranty homework on the web in addition to getting the dinner menu, I’d read repeated and confirmed reports that the smoked haddock was the best main course on the menu, that the chips were out of this world, that the steaks were so-so, and that the portions were large. So we decided against starters, kvetch was persuaded to choose the fish, and I chose the corned beef with horseradish mash. We decided to add two side orders, one each of chips and salad.
I must say, perusing and drooling over a menu, with beverages, in the enjoyness of serfy socialisement, is possibly one of the most pleasurable ways to spend a Sunday evening out that I can think of. Really, that whole evening was as pleasant and tranquil an experience as any I’ve had recently (and not-so-recently), and offered an opportunity kvetch and I don’t often have, of socialising, just ourselves, whilst out and about. Usually we’re out doing the shopping or something, which isn’t really socialising.
Or else we’re out for just a meal, in which case I’m mostly too distracted by my foodal bliss to be any kind of coherent conversationalist.
Or we’re out for a kinkfest, in which case there’s always too much else going on for us to get much of a chance to enjoy each other, unfortunately.
- Note To Self: Spend more time enjoying socialisement with serf in non-foody environments.
We left The Lotts at about 20 minutes to 9, as The Winding Stair was only a minute away around the corner. I took some time to get a few shots of the place. I had difficulty getting any nicely sharp ones because of the dim light.
- Note To Self: I really must remember to bring my monopod along on expeditions like this.
- Note To Self II: I simply must remember that suitable stationary objects cannot be relied upon to be located at my convenience.
- Note To Self III: I must remember that my camera is likely to shake without a monopod, and so I am likely to get blurry images in low light conditions when I want sharp ones.
- Note To Self IV: I cordially invite myself to note the hell out of this at my earliest convenience, please, thank you.
So I was struggling to get a sharp image, and kvetch was noodging me to get a move on so we wouldn’t be late for our booking. And I indicated to kvetch the sum total of the amount I care about being late for people who ring before noon on a Sunday.
- (this much ==> . <== )
So I made do with the not-quite-sharp images I shot (as you see above) and headed over to dinner.
Here are those gorgeous shots I took which I mentioned earlier.
- The Ha’penny Bridge is just sooooo photogenic.
- More gratuitous Ha’penny Bridge porn. :)
- The restaurant over the bookshop can be clearly seen through the upstairs windows.
- The Winding Stair stairs sure are windy. Bonus extra feature at the bottom right – A kvetchy foot.
Not only were those stairs the only way in, but the loos were also only accessible via yet more stairs. It’s a great building with a lovely lived-in feel to it, but unfortunately fairly unwelcoming to anybody with any kind of mobility difficulty.
When we went in, I saw why it was so important to book. The room was really small for a restaurant – there were maybe 15 tiny tables for two in the whole place. The reviews on the web say the place seats 100, but I honestly cannot imagine 100 people fitting comfortably in there. That might well be true, but I can’t confirm it.
I announced ourselves as having booked to a woman standing at the till. She correctly identified us by name, showed us to our table, and offered to take our coats and bags.
We settled at our table, looked at the by-now-familiar menu, and placed our orders for drinks and dinner. Our server proudly presented and discoursed about their extensive wine list, and she seemed kind of disappointed when she realised (after some persuady insistence) that we really weren’t going to have any, yes, we’re sure.
I think it was lovely that she was so enthusiastic about their winey offerings.
- This is really a rantlet about other establishments, not The Winding Stair, but I do wish somebody would educate most Irish food workers about the importance of restraining themselves and their enthusiasm for alcohol in an (occasionally misplaced) effort to make themselves feel hospitable.
I just don’t think it’s reasonable for a customer to have to persuade a server that they don’t want something, y’know?
But again, this was not an issue we experienced with The Winding Stair. Just another one of my wee side rantlets, ok?
Right, ok, carry on now. :)
- I never heard of these before, but my elderflower tasted lovely.
The place smelled pretty good. Perhaps not quite good enough to lure me in from the street as some other places have, but good enough to let me know that whatever we had, it was likely to be at least tolerable.
The atmosphere was a bit noisy, as one might expect from a small room with maybe 30 people in it.
- The bar area at The Winding Stair.
- The kitchen at The Winding Stair.
When our food came, the first thing I noticed was that their crockery seemed a rather odd choice. Deep bowl-like plates, with huge rims, all competing for space on the tiny table. Personally I would have chosen crockery with a more optimal space ratio of foodily-useful : non-eating-space-hoggage. The chips and salad at least came in deeper, taller, narrower bowls with no rims on them, so that was a little more efficient use of the table area. Eating was a bit awkward, as all the dishes seemed to constantly jostle each other and us for elbow room.
The food, when it came (because remember, this is what it’s all about) looked like beautifully presented and arranged comfort food. If I had to describe it, I’d call it
- Traditional Fare With Flair
The basic ingredients were extremely traditional, varieties of meat, varieties of fish, varieties of potatoes and cabbage, all done with dollops of dairy products such as cream sauces and rich cheesy additions. They had two uninspiring-looking (but probably delicious) vegetarian main courses on the menu, both of which seemed to be built around some variety of cheesy potato.
But the preparation of these traditional basic ingredients was clearly done with thoughtful care. The ingredients themselves were plainly of the very highest quality, and cooked to perfection. My corned beef was so tender it just fell apart when I poked it with my fork. It seemed almost pessimistic to provide a knife. I really could have eaten the entire meal using only a spoon.
It looked pretty too. Two round pieces of corned beef were resting on a bed of cabbage, propped up on a pillow of horseradish mash. The cabbage was so tasty that I just had to eat it all, even though cabbage and my digestive system have a feud going back generations.
- (Ha! A successful blow on behalf of the Cabbagulets. Take that!)
The horseradish mash was splendidly horsradishy, much zingier than I would have expected or hoped for. On enquiring, The Winding Stair kitchen staff told me that they prepare their own horseradish instead of buying it in pre-prepared.
I could tell. :)
However, they didn’t corn their own beef.
- (ah well, can’t have everything. :) )
Kvetch’s haddock dinner wasn’t much to look at, kind of like a big plate of white goo, with the white fish, white sauce, and white cheddar mash. It kind of looked like a big bowl of amorphous pasta shapes in carbonara sauce. But although just the teensiest bit overcooked for my taste, the fish was nevertheless flaky, tender and droolicious.
The chips, as reported, were absolutely out of this world. I could have made a whole meal out of them alone. And the salad of green leaves tossed with a plain oil and vinegar dressing, was just right. The leaves were fresh, crunchy, and schlurpworthy, and the assorted mixture was assembled with care regarding the different tastes of the leaves. It wasn’t like other salads I’ve had, where the assortment of leaves tended to be based on including more of the cheaper leaves and fewer of the more expensive, regardless of flavour combinations. And the dressing was perfect, not too oily, not too vinegary. A little less vinegar and a fresh squoosh of lemon juice might have been nice too.
- (what can I say? I like to customise.)
When I’d finished eating and drinking, aside from my other positive impressions, I was also left with a salty taste in my mouth, a little burn in my throat, and the feeling that everything had been uniformly over salted. (between the Saltagues and the Cabbagulets, I dunno what must’ve been going on in my Digestive Arena Of Combat) Aside from that, my overall impression was very high quality ingredients, beautifully, carefully, thoughtfully and expertly prepared and presented.
- I think the meal would all have been pretty near perfect for me, if only I hadn’t lucked out with that special extra salt bonanza.
The light was very dim, and I had (as I said before) no monopod with me, so it was very difficult to get any kind of usable images of our dining experience. I couldn’t get taking a picture of kvetch’s dinner, nor of the chips or salad, but I did get this barely useable image of the uneaten portion of my dinner before I brought it home with me (and enjoyed the next day). What you see here is one piece of corned beef and its remaining pillow of horseradish mash, after I ate the other piece of corned beef, some of the mash, and all the cabbage. :)
- The Winding Stair – Corned beef with horseradish mash (I already ate the cabbage by the time I got round to taking this).
This blog post has photos taken in daylight showing the small size of the tables, and the large size of the chips. Our chips looked like theirs. But however small the tables look in that picture, they look a whole lot smaller when we’re sitting at them with plates and glasses and stuff everywhere.
- Mmmmmm, these chips were spectacular.
This photo shows Elaine facing our table next to the pole.
- See? Really small tables.
- Well, somebody has to pay it…
As you can see from the bill, the pricing structure is a bit weird.
The main courses seem a bit pricey to me, but having eaten the dishes, I don’t think those prices are much outside the reasonable range.
The drinks seem outrageously expensive at €3.25 each, whilst the chips seem ridiculously underpriced at €3.95. I mean, I don’t think I can find a portion of chips anywhere else on this entire island nor in the UK for that price. Especially not chips of this quality. If I could go in there and order chips and nothing else, I might be tempted to do that every day. :)
I’m not sure whether the pricing is adjusted to make some things dearer and some things correspondingly cheaper, but the whole thing seems just a bit strange.
Since the restaurant opened in 2006, they have obviously gained a number of awards in 2007 and 2008, which I’m sure they deserved. :)
- If I had that many awards, I’d put them up too. (probably)
- More awards porn.
And it was ever so slightly unfortunate that Sunday night would appear to have been bin night, because there was an enormous pile of, um, rather um, fragrant waste just at the door, which wasn’t all that pleasant to pass by whilst going in and out.
- We were unfortunate with the bins.
So, I’d definitely go again, occasionally. For me, The Winding Stair is nice for a change once in a while, and a good venue for when kvetch deserves an extra special treat (as long as we sort out the booking confirmation call beforehand). The excellence of the ingredients and their preparation almost overshadows the bonus extra salt feature. Nevertheless, I’d like to try a lunch there sometime.
Even though I appreciate that this might be comparing apples with oranges, I just don’t kink that hard for what a lot of people call “plain cooking”. And even though The Winding Stair cuisine is anything but plain, is clearly top class within its foody genre, and tastes lovely (saltiness aside), it just doesn’t do it for me in the same orgiastic ways that Japanese food does.
Whether or not Japanese food sends you into a blissful spiral of wonderfulness, I heartily recommend that you try The Winding Stair at least once.
From the most personal of gastroenterological, olfactory, and gustatory perspectives, for my money and tastes, euro for euro, The Winding Stair just can’t hold a candle to its neighbour, Yamamori Sushi.