“Let me show you Siberia directly,” says our hostess. Of course she didn’t actually say that, but that’s what it felt like. Open for less than a wet week and Jamie Oliver’s Checker Lane is as busy and noisy as you’d reckon on a seven-thirty Friday night.
However, the host tries to seat us at a single table next to the bar, away from the action, for four. We tell her we’d rather be seated in the main dining room and miraculously she finds us the table for three we booked, which we like better.
Decor overflows with color with upholstery in red, terracotta, teal, and a soft green, while walls are covered in William Morris-style floral wallpaper and lime green paint. The acoustics are terrible.
Checker Lane prides itself on its whiskey cocktails, so let’s try the Apple Three Ways, featuring Green Spot single pot still whiskey, calvados, cider, apple, and honey, which proves understated, along with a passable Negroni and a decent mojito.
It’s not a long menu, but a significant number of dishes are already sold out. Dishes we can’t order include the baked oysters with garlic butter crumb, the crab toast, and the burrata. Also unavailable are the market fish and lamb chops, which sounded interesting with their coffee rub, harissa, and salsa verde. I assume the mixed grill that includes said chops is off too.
So we start with battered cod roe and naked oysters from the kibble section. The tarama doesn’t come with the promised seed crackers, but with a semi-toasted seed bread. Nonetheless, it’s the best thing we eat all night – simple, smooth, very flavorful – and it costs a fiver.
There’s no mention on the menu of where the oysters came from, but they’re as fresh as can be, and the green chilli and, I think, pickled cucumber topping on three of the six works well. Our waiter is not sure why the kitchen cannot prepare the baked oysters when there are oysters on site.
Mushroom toast’s description — porcini ragout, crème fraiche, white wine, tarragon — is delicious, but the dish turns out to be a boring version of the mushroom toast you might make for your WFH lunch.
Scallop crudo with yuzu, orange, radicchio, shallots and pink pepper is better and looks lovely, but for €16 I would have hoped for more generosity with scallops and more zing; Instead, the dressing is too sweet. I had seen some gossip on the internet about the steep price of the €80 32oz T-bone steak. Intended for two, it’s served with sticky onions, watercress and a choice of bearnaise, peppercorn sauce or garlic butter. For chips you pay €5.50 extra.
Cote de boeuf at Etto, which costs €84 and is served with watercress, crispy garlic potatoes and Bordeaux and Bearnaise sauces, is widely recognized in Dublin as the benchmark for steak sharing. While prices are on par at Checker Lane, the dish is significantly inferior.
Our T-Bone arrives with two sad little pots of sauce, neither of which look like the Bearnaise we requested. I ask the young man who brought it to the table what it is and he tells me it’s peppercorn sauce and garlic butter because the kitchen has run out of Bearnaise. The steak itself is cooked well above the medium-rare we ordered and the meat lacks flavor. The peppercorn sauce is terrible. The chips we ordered never show up despite a few reminders. We don’t finish the steak (we bring it home for the dogs) and are not charged for it, and three glasses of wine come from the manager as an apology.
Chicken Kiev is one of those nostalgic dishes that everyone loves. In honor of Checker Lane, the chicken here is free-range from Rings Farm in Co Kilkenny, but there’s no exuberant flood of garlic butter as the knife cuts through the meat – on the contrary, the amount of garlic butter (the whole point of the dish) was below expectations.
Of the desserts listed on the menu, only two are available plus ice cream. The hot chocolate is everything a gooey baked chocolate mousse should be, while a runny Irish cream dessert — like chic Baileys with Guinness — is nutmegly delicious. With a kale salad, the three cocktails, a 500 ml carafe each (€22) of the house red and the much better Framingham Pinot Noir (€41), our bill for three comes to €208.50 before service, but not at the T-Bone calculated, but included part of the missing chips.
Our waiter is friendly, but there’s not much he can do about the chaos in the kitchen. I’m surprised when he and the manager later explain that the restaurant is operating at reduced capacity while they sort out any teething problems, as I’m not sure where and how they’ll be packing in those extra guests.
I have nothing against Jamie Oliver, who is often a force for good in the UK, and at least Checker Lane, which was set to open over two years ago, is more of a partnership with an Irish businessman than an outpost of a British chain. But our experience was disappointing.
Earlier in the week I saw people discussing the restaurant online, saying that while they weren’t interested in going there, they thought “your mom” might like it. Well, I’m “your mother” and I’m telling you she’s disappointed.
Battered cod roe followed by grain salad is €22.
Share the seafood platter and T-bone steak with sides and dessert, and you’re looking at €160 for two before drinks or service.
Checker Lane by Jamie Oliver, 27 Exchequer Street, Dublin 2.
https://www.independent.ie/life/food-drink/food-reviews/chequer-lane-restaurant-review-i-have-nothing-against-jamie-oliver-but-our-experience-was-disappointing-42072838.html Checker Lane restaurant review: “I have nothing against Jamie Oliver, but our experience was disappointing”