Its taken me a few weeks to write this review and every time Ive thought of it Ive been reminded that almost every other review I have ever read of the Winding Stair has been excellent.
On that specific day in an effort to show one of my Ballymaloe friends the very best of Dublin foodie haunts we had already been to the Cake Cafe and to Murphys for some sea salt and burnt caramel ice-cream along with a very long trip through the aisles of Fallon & Byrne. I was proud of my little city haunts and glad we could impress my big city foodie friend, one who spends her days as a personal chef making very fabulous food.
When one of the Ballymaloe girls mentioned booking the Winding Stair I was delighted (I had spent years never reserving early enough to get a table there) as was our visitor who had read about it in numerous emails from friends along with Angelika Houstons recommendation in the Aer Lingus magazine on the way over.
Now a table of Ballymaloe foodies are probably going to be hard to impress as we have been very much indoctrinated to scowl at such little things such as the full bottle of wine being poured before it gets around the table, the resting of the wine bottle on the glass as its poured and pouring of a fresh bottle on top of an already half full glass. We cant help it, the voice of Darina just floods back. The Winding Stair does however have an excellent selection of wines and an even better selection of dessert wines all much to my chagrin on that given night as I was driving. We had been convinced that we were in time for the early bird and indeed told so by one of the waiters on arrival but strangely when we ordered were told that to eat the early bird you have to be out (rather than in) by a certain hour. Later on leaving we found that the sandwich board outside mentioned no start or end times for the earlybird but instead that those interested should enquire within.
I had been warned that the portion sizes were massive but couldnt help but order the smoked fish plate as a starter which was very easily shared with one friend. The fish was amazing and there was lots of it including what I found out later was some of the very last smoked irish eel in the country. As Im so late in writing the review I cant quite remember what other starters graced the table although I know there was definitely some chowder somewhere.
There was a lot of fish between quite convoluted menu and specials that evening and strangely we all found it hard to find something that really appealed for main course. I had the Kilkeel hake fillet with sweet potato, tomato, cockle and mussel stew and Dublin Bay prawns and it was the first time that I ever left fish on the plate due to the very huge portion size. Im convinced its the guilt of an Irish Catholic upbringing that makes me feel bad about not being able to finish my plate of food so if youre planning on going you might want to bring someone with a massive appetite to hoover up the leftovers or abstain from a day of eating cake beforehand!
Then came a list of what could only be considered quite heavy male desserts on such a lovely Dublin summer evening. I had a bite out of the sticky pear and ginger cake and it was glorious but was much too winterly for the day that was in it. I had tiny sips of the very lovely dessert wines and waited with anticipation to order my coffee.
Unfortunately however the coffee was not to be. As soon as the desserts were finished our waiter asked did we want anything else and then promptly told us that we didnt have time for coffee and needed to be off the table in 5 minutes. At no stage during the dinner had we been warned about a time limit so this was very disappointing, even more so as they could have easily asked us to order our coffees along with dessert which they hadnt.
There are so many good things to like about the Winding Stair between the location, the lovely dining room and the fact that the food is all very local and enough to keep you going for half a week. However, as I walked down the stairs that evening without a drop of caffeine in my blood I couldnt imagine myself eating there again due to the poor service. Poor service shouldnt have to be something to put up with just to eat good food.