Words: Emily Mullen
Photography: George Voronov
Signature Dish is one of the first food features on CHAR. If you’re unacquainted, we would like to welcome you with open and slightly grease-covered arms. With Signature Dish we focus on the overlooked darlings of eateries all over Ireland. All too often, chefs create culinary masterpieces that are passed over in favour of more recognisable dishes on their menus. No longer. We want to celebrate these unsung heroes and give you a new reason to pop in to our favourite restaurants. This week it’s Mister S’s Burnt End Rendang Spring Rolls.
You might remember Mister S as one of those restaurants that as a hungry punter you sheepishly stuck your head into to see if they had a table, any table (even a stationary chair) available. One foot in the hustle and bustle of Camden street, the other across the threshold of Mister S hoping to be let inside those buzzy pink walls. Eyes roving hopefully around the rows of happy customers, seeking out an empty spot for yourself. Finding none, your eyes would invariably catch on the flames dancing in the open fire, on the elevated platform in the back. Hypnotised.
Opened in September 2019, just a couple of months before the pandemic, by Paul McVeigh and Jamie O’Toole, of Featherblade fame. Mister S had hit the ground running, frequently packed out and decorated with some of the best reviews. It was one of the most exciting openers on the Dublin food scene, heralding a new kind of dining that was clever, thoughtful and considered. Even their decor makes a conscious effort to defy expectations, anyone expecting to find the stark steel, exposed brick and raw wood of a typical “meat” restaurant will be met with feminine pink walls, soft playful lighting and the food served on dainty delf. They took a hyper-masculine concept of fire and meat and flipped it on its head, creating an intelligent form of cooking for everyone.
Transforming quality Irish ingredients through fire and smoke are still at Mister S’s heart, something that could not be better illustrated than through their signature dish the Burnt End Rendang Spring Rolls. Starting and ending with beef, the spring rolls begin as great big hunk of Irish beef and end it, delicately rolled and tipped into sizzling beef fat, seconds before serving. What happens to the short-rib before it hits the fryer, is where Mister S excel, iterations and stages, of brining, rubbing, spritzing, smoking, simmering and reducing. Starting with Jacob’s Ladder cut of an Aberdeen Angus crossbred from FX Buckley, the short-rib is brined for 24 hours with water, lemon, bay leaves, rock salt, spices and some sugar. Once it’s cooled down, a rub of ground black pepper and salt is applied all over, then the meat is hot smoked using Irish oak at 115 degrees for roughly six-eight hours depending on the cut. Sections of the short-rib are extracted for a main, while the burnt ends are saved and paired with some smoked chuck to make up the meat for the Rendang. The meat is shredded, slowly cooked with coconut milk and a blend of spices, Kaffir lime leaves, toasted coriander, tamarind, garlic, ginger, sugar, chilli, lemongrass, sweet soy sauce, sesame oil, palm sugar for another six to eight hours. Toasted desiccated coconut is added at the end which soaks up the excess liquid and it helps give it a nice umami seasoning. The curry is portioned into spring roll paper, rolled up and deep-fried in beef fat, then served piping hot with homemade Gochujang mayo. There’s no shortcuts to this dish, once it runs out it runs out, “it takes a lot of love and care… you would be in trouble if you tried to fast cook this” Mister S co-owner Paul McVeigh told us.
Taking an overlooked cut, sourced by one of the country’s top butchers, Mister S has transformed it into a dish that’s so far removed from its source you have to stand in awe of it. It’s the capability of Mister S, who uses the tools at their disposal to transform, not using smoke and mirrors, but using smoke and fire. It’s intelligent cooking, with every element carefully considered, from the choice of rub to the woodchippings chosen to smoke a particular cut. They brine, they reduce, they preserve, they press, they smoke, they char and they fan the flames, they do as much as could possibly be done to meat and integrate complex processes with ease, stopping short of using the woodchippings to translate their menu into smoke signals for guests. It’s in this transformation, that’s mirrored in their processes that make you sit up and think.
A fool would say all these stages can be tasted, but the spring roll certainly holds a complexity that belies its production. Held in the crispy embrace of paper-thin pastry, there’s the rendered caramelisation from the burnt ends of meat combined with the smokiness of its cooking, there’s the lime and coconut from the fragrant Rendang curry reduction throughout. After each crunchy bite the whisper of a new flavour can be tasted, they all build and meld together into a fragrant mouth mush, that’s complemented with the gentle heat of the smooth Gochujang mayo.
Stripping cooking processes back to their most rudimentary, Mister S created an entirely new brand of fine dining which was available for walk-ins and at an affordable price point. We chatted to co-owner Paul McVeigh about defying expectations, processes and why Mister S’s Burnt End Rendang Spring Rolls is so much more than just a few pieces of wrapped up veg served with a sweet chilli dip:
The short-rib takes on several iterations before it hits the fryer: brining, rubbing, spritzing, smoking, simmering and reducing. A fool would say all these stages can be tasted, but the spring roll certainly holds a complexity that belies its production.
How are your relationships with suppliers?
Before we opened we drove the country visiting all these different suppliers, built up a really good rapport with them. We spoke to Dave from Andarl Farm in Glenamaddy, Co. Galway, at the start of covid and he was fretting and worried about his stock, and we were straight away to him “how can we help?”. He said, things like my shoulders nobody wants them anymore and that’s how the Bo Ssam came about. Dave had a cut that wasn’t getting used we brought the pork shoulder in here and we tried ways to make it work and the Bo Ssam came about and was a huge success for both of us. He was delighted that we were using a cut that wasn’t going to be sold since his retail and wholesale had completely dipped and we were able to help him out by using an amazing cut. The Bo Ssam was one of our first lockdown meals it was for six people.
How have you found getting supplies at the moment?
Beef is getting very difficult, the price has shot up it’s now increased by 10-15% now at least. The kill numbers are down significantly and the demand from the continent is huge. I can’t get over the prices, it’s the rib-eyes that have just gone up crazy.
You guys are dealing with premium meat as well
That’s what we pride ourselves on, sourcing the best we can around the country, treating it simply and cooking it over fire and smoke that’s what our mantra is. We want to be known as the best place to go for accessible inviting food, that’s what we’ve set our aim as to be the best in that market. We do want to be accessible, we won’t repeat customers, as soon as people think fire, smoke, meat and fish we want them to think of us and to come here. We don’t want to be known as just a meat restaurant, we use plenty of fish here as well,we treat them simply and gently as well, be it lemon sole, black sole or brill.
You would be known for being good value?
That is something that we do want to be known for, we would hate for anyone to feel ripped off when they come here or have heat at-home meal.
Would you ever think about getting into producing your own meat?
I really find it interesting, the more I work in this industry the more I would like to get into farming and get to know our farmers more. I really enjoy the site visits, and unfortunately during covid we aren’t allowed to do it as much, so I’ve lined up trips when we can do them. I’m really keen to get down to Gilligans, they have their own farm but they are one of the few that have their own abattoir on site, which us very rare with EU regulations. But it would be a dream, to truly do farm to fork, have your own farm, straight from the farm and use every single cut you can.
How did you get started with the fire and smoke aspect?
When Jamie and I wanted to do our second concept, I think it’s what really excited us. There were a few places doing it in Dublin but we always felt like there was room for more and that we wanted to target that market. It just really excited us, it trims and pairs back cooking, there’s nowhere to hide with this style of cooking. That’s why isn’t important to source the best meat and fish, and to then treat it simply. We want the fire, the smoking and the grilling to do the work. It might look like a very simple menu but there’s a lot of thought gone into it, there’s a lot of movements and sequences to the prep, one dish might have four or five different prep elements to it. You look at the spring roll, we buy it in, it’s trimmed back, it’s brined overnight, then it’s smoked for six-eight hours with wood that’s been carefully chosen. It might read simple but there’s a lot of thought gone in its complex.
You have a taste of any of these burnt bits—not that I’ve had it—but it’s like crackPaul McVeigh, Mister S
Do you have a background cooking over fire?
Not really, before we opened I spent a good bit of time over in London in a few different restaurants. I’ve a very good friend over there Martin Anderson who works in Big Grill (formerly Temper), he worked there as an in-house butcher and also a chef, they would buy in four-quarters and halves of beasts, break them down in house and use every single piece. So I was there for about two weeks with him and just got to work side by side with him, he was a great help and was brilliant to work with. Another guy in London, Elliot (formerly Smokestack) who was working at the Hackney Brewery, he was given a whole kitchen and a unit to work out of there. He was a great help to me as well, I worked side by side with him for a week. This is all before we opened, just to get an idea.
What else did you do in terms of R&D?
We invested in a Big Green Egg (outdoor cooker) had it out the back of my house, we were smoking on that for probably nine months before we opened. That’s how it came about, I was always intrigued by short rib. The most memorable short rib cut I got in my life was in a place in New York called il Buco, the head chef there at the time was Justin Smillie (now the head chef and owner at Upland), his kitchens and his menus are phenomenal. That’s the first place I really tasted short rib, it was a knock-out, treated very simply, beautiful piece of meat. That’s what made me sit up and take notice really. When Mister S came about that was one of the dishes I wanted to try and work with and to have our own version of. That’s where the burnt end short rib came from.
How did the Burnt End Rendang Spring Rolls come about?
We never thought we would have spring rolls on our menu, it’s not something that we set out to do. After so many R&D sessions we tasted the burnt ends and we thought “ok there has to be somewhere we can use them, we have to fit them into the menu somehow”. They were just phenomenal, but obviously, you can’t just serve a portion of burnt ends on a plate. We wanted a way to integrate it onto the menu, and one day I just made a burnt end curry, which turned out to be the Indonesian Rendang. The lads were there and they came over and tasted it and it was a knockout, we just thought “this is the dish” we need to find somewhere to use this. So we tried a few different ways to kind of encase it in this and that and the spring roll won it straight away. What’s not to like about slowly shredded pieces of meat with a spice paste wrapped in a thin pastry, dipped in mayonnaise. It’s rare to get that, to find that dish that encapsulates what a restaurant is about.
There was a bit of a gap between Featherblade opening and Mister S
Yeah there was a gap of five years, Featherblade opened in 2015 and here was 2019. I think because Featherblade was our baby, we wanted to perfect, we didn’t want anything knee-jerk we wanted to make sure that Featherblade was humming nicely, and we got it to the stage where we were really proud of it. Then Jamie and I felt like we needed a fresh challenge as well and that’s where Mister S and our love of cooking over fire came from.
What’s happening next?
Getting back open!
You guys really hit the guys running when you first opened
Yeah I put that down to about eight or nine months of recipe development because it was such a niche style of cooking as well, we knew we had a lot of work, research and trials to put into it and that’s what we did really. We didn’t want to leave any stone unturned and that’s what we did we tested, tested, tested, and documented everything we did. That’s where the Big Green Egg came in handy at home.
Where did the name Mister S come from?
It’s a long story, needless to say naming a restaurant is one of the worst tasks. You should never ask people’s opinion, it’s like a baby, but that’s what we did. It wasn’t fun we had three people trying to come up with the name, bouncing off each other, none of us agreed on anything, and then it got to the stage where we said “OK Mister S, we love it”. The S stands for what we were going to call it initially, so we stuck with it.
Yourself and Jamie are both chefs?
Yeah Jamie, spent time in Ballymaloe (Cookery School), he’s worked in a couple of kitchens but he would more be the brains of the operation, I would be the brawn and the muscle [laughs]. But it’s not about us, it’s all about the team here, Dan (Hannigan) left just after Christmas (to start Treehouse Treats in Goatstown with friends Luke Murphy and David Keane) and now we have a new head chef Ted (Tudorel Ostache) who came from Pichet, we also brought on as an executive head chef, Aran he was our head chef at Featherblade so now he’s overseeing both restaurants. So we have a really strong team now in place.
I suppose they aren’t what you originally think of when you think of spring rolls?
My first memory of a spring roll was a Chinese restaurant in Meath back in the early 90s, my mum would ring it in, myself and my dad would drive into Athlone for it. It was such a rarity back in the day, we used to get it for our New Years Eve feast. That’s how I always remember spring rolls, with the shredded veg inside with your sweet and sour dip. It’s that nostalgic dish that brings you back.
Are they popular?
They are addictive, it’s like the burnt ends, they are like crack. They are by far our best seller, we wouldn’t dare take them off the menu. It’s that unicorn starter that everyone talks about, we are very proud of it and delighted that it’s been so successful. That’s the beauty of a signature dish, in order for it to stand out, it needs to be out there. If I’m working on the floor, if people haven’t been here before it’s what we always tell them to get, it showcases what we are about. Anything on a menu that’s crispy and out of the fryer usually does well. They’ve been such a great seller. Some people come here just for it, some people ask for a side of spring rolls with their mains, some people have also ordered it for dessert as well. When you read Burnt End Rendang Spring Rolls on the menu you just think “ah it’s a bit of curry”, but about 16 hours of cooking have gone into it, they have to prepped into a certain size, everything has to be rolled perfectly, it’s a pokey type of dish.
It might look like a very simple menu but there’s a lot of thought gone into it. There’s a lot of movements and sequences to the prep. One dish might have four or five different prep elements to itPaul McVeigh, co-owner of Mister S
Do you cook in Mister S?
Yeah, I do plenty of shifts in the kitchen. When Covid happened I was straight back in. My wife and I had our first daughter on the 12th of March last year, two days later we had to shut both restaurants. That was hard, but in saying that it was a nice time to have paternity leave, two weeks of sitting at home which was lovely. As soon as those two weeks had passed Dan and I got straight into it, creating cook-at-home meals. We just felt like it was a good opportunity to get back out there and to get back cooking and doing what we love. The demand was there for these meals as well so we wanted to stay busy. We are a new restaurant, unfortunately, we’ve been open longer as a Covid restaurant than a dine-in restaurant. This is crazy to think, so we opened on September 9th 2019 and then Covid was March. I haven’t worked as hard as I have in the past six years.
We are a new restaurant, unfortunately, we’ve been open longer as a Covid restaurant than a dine-in restaurant.Paul McVeigh – Mister S
Do you prefer being in the kitchen or handling the business end of things?
I like both, I like being on the floor as well, I like interacting with customers, it’s a great way to get a feel for the place, what’s selling what’s not selling what the feedback is like, what’s working, how it looks on the plate.
Do you think using fire has made you more creative?
Definitely, the less gadgets make it more creative, it’s all quite primal this way of cooking. You really have to think and that’s why I think there’s a lot of thought gone into our menus. It’s not simply turn on your induction and then your pan and getting a crust on things, there’s a lot of thought gone in.
How has the pandemic been?
We’ve pivoted in so many directions during Covid we nearly did a full 360. We’ve done the heat at-home meals, hot food collection, a larder box, we’ve done the Bo Ssam, then we went back to heat at home three course meal four-choice offering. We were really happy with them, we learnt a lot, we interacted with our customers a lot. After every weekend a customer will be sent a feedback form asking if they’ve any feedback for us, we will take that very seriously we have a staff meeting every Monday to talk through the feedback that we get and how we can improve on the week ahead. We really try and stay in tune with what the customer wants, if you aren’t listening to your customer you are just an egotistical eejit. That grounds us, there might be a week were we think we’ve nailed it and come Monday morning you have a meeting and you get the feedback, it’s so useful. One of our aims are when we reopen Mister S as a dine-in restaurant we want to be better than we were before covid and I think we’ve gotten to the stage now where we are definitely heading in the right direction.
How did the Burnt End Rendang Spring Rolls translate during your cook at home?
They’ve never been taken off the menu, even during the pandemic we tried to make the spring roll heat at home, but asking customers to shallow pan fry them or deep fry them so we put them in a panko nugget was the best way to serve them. They reheated really well and they had an exterior crunch to them.
Who are your customers?
They would be from about 25 upwards, it’s a broad demographic. Before Covid it was busy every night of the week, with people out on a date, out for a gig. We are on Camden street, it’s a great street it’s got that demographic here. We have a lot of returning customers, that was especially apparent during the heat at home meals, it’s very humbling to see them return and return again. In a way Covid has been good for us, because we’ve expanded our customer base, a lot more people are talking about us a lot more people know about us because of the success of our heat at home meals.
What do you recommend drinking with the spring rolls?
Definitely a chilled white, maybe an albariño I’m never one to force a drink on anybody. It could work with a red either a pinot noir blaufränkisch that pairs really well with smoked spicy foods. If I’m working on the floor I always try and push that because people aren’t usually familiar with the grape variety.
How are you fixed for the reopening?
We’ve drawn up a new style of menu, the bones of it are still there, but we will have a broader section of mains. We want to appeal to more people, so if someone wants to come in and have a nice piece of fish they will be catered for.
You are leaning into the pink thing I see [when we were there Mister S was in the middle of a redesign]
Yeah we wanted to offset the kind of mainly place with the pink on the walls and the plates. We are even softening the place up even more, with warmer colours, new lights.
You can find Mister S on 32 Camden Street Lower, Saint Kevin’s, their indoor dining will resume from July 6th, visit their website for more information.
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