Down and Durty

True Irish pub design and traditional meat-and-potato fare are bringing the customers in.

Honestly, when I think of Irish pubs, I generally think of establishments that have based their business plans on two things: a handful of stereotypes and a Celtic font. But----barring an appearance by Colm Meaney or a musical tour of the restaurant by Anna McGoldrick----it is pretty much impossible to cram any more authenticity into Durty Nelly's Irish Pub.

With a sprawling bar that curves through the pub, from a more upscale Victorian setting in the front to a laid-back country style area in the back, the space is at once relaxingly upscale and folksy.

The menu---which was created with the consultation of Canadian celebrity chef David Adjey, who is familiar to Food Network Canada and HGTV fans from his work on Restaurant Makeover----has a tight focus on homey, traditional meat-and-potato fare. Service is quick and friendly and our server is happy to provide suggestions based on customer favourites and her own preferences. We start off with the Hungarovin Jaszberenyi Riesling ($5.97) and the light, smooth Durty Nelly's House Ale ($4.87) while we make up our minds.

Word on the street is that Durty Nelly's fish and chips are basically some kind of Neptunian ambrosia, seasoned with the tears of joy wept by angels from above, but we decide a full-out assault on nursery rhymes is the order of the day. We settle on Guinness-braised lamb shank with market vegetables and potato bread dumplings ($17.99) and Nova Scotia lamb stew with potato-parsley gnocchi ($13.99). Sorry, Little Bo Peep. You can call back the search party.

The stew is thick, heavy and nicely seasoned and the serving is big enough to make Éirinn go Brágh, but ultimately it is a bit of a disappointment. The lamb is inconsistent with stringy, dry nuggets outnumbering the few tender treasures, while the vegetables are so soggy that they can't hold up to even the gentlest assault from a soup spoon. But it's the gnocchi that is the real disappointment in this dish. Dense and rubbery, they are doughy bricks instead of the pillowy, melt-in-your mouth treat I expect.

The stew is also inexplicably served with focaccia. It's too oily a bread to really complement the dish. Something a little more traditional like Irish soda bread or a nice, flaky biscuit to soak up the thick liquid would be nice.

Meanwhile, the lamb shank is perfectly cooked. It's soft and juicy, and seems ready to fall right off of the bone with no more prodding than a gentle breeze. The shank is served with a drizzle of the rich Guinness sauce, caramelized pearl onions, a side portion of carrots and cauliflower and potato bread dumplings. Unlike the gnocchi, the moist, deftly cooked dumplings are the starchy highlight of this plating. The portion is, again, a little overwhelming, but you can't really fault a Henry VIII-sized shank sitting on a generous pile of dumplings.

We finish up our meals with French vanilla ice cream with spiced berry compote ($6.99) and toffee bread pudding with caramel sauce ($6.99). The bread pudding is rich and dense with a nice spice and lovely caramel sauce, but the whipped cream has the cloying taste of a canned whipped topping. A clean, fresh cream would be a nicer counterpoint to the heavy sweetness of the bread pudding. The berry compote is fresh and tasty, if a little unexciting, but also suffers the same unfortunate whipped topping.

It turns out that there is live traditional Irish music at Durty Nelly's on Wednesday nights, something we didn't realize when we sat down for our meal. If straining to talk to your dinner companion over the rhythmic beating of a bodhran doesn't exactly keep your Irish eyes smiling, you might want to pick another night.

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