girl eats dublin

Enthusiastically eating my way around Dublin and beyond.

The Meeting House, Temple Bar.

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Porn Star Martinis at The Meeting House.

Are you looking for a secluded dinner venue where you can whisper sweet nothings into the ear of your new flame? Or carry on a deep and meaningful discussion with your loved one over cocktails?

Then, under no circumstances, should you go to The Meeting House. This new hotspot in the former premises of Eden in Temple Bar resembled a nightclub more than a restaurant, when I first walked through its doors at 8.30 on a Saturday night. Other than the terrace onto Meeting House Square, it looks completely different, bang up to date with industrial-style concrete pillars up to the ceiling, graffiti on the walls and a DJ already banging out the “choons” (is that still what the young people call them?) from early in the evening.

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Having booked ahead earlier in the week, we announced ourselves to the friendly hostess at the door and were invited to take a seat at the bar until our table was ready. As three girls starting a Saturday night out, we were more than happy to perch at the bar, peruse the cocktail menu, admire each others’ hair/handbags etc., and catch up on the gossip. However, we were also starving, and after 20 minutes we’d finished our drinks and there was still no sign of us getting our hands on our table. We ended up waiting 40 minutes at the bar until finally exasperated, I went up to the hostess to see what the likelihood of being seated was.

In fairness to her, she didn’t tell any fibs and immediately admitted to having forgotten all about us. Within minutes, we received a gushing apology, a booth at the window – and a chilled bottle of prosecco on the house. That put a stop to our grumbling, and after that initial mishap, the service was nothing short of super sweet and highly efficient for the rest of the evening.

In a party place like this, the first port of call has to be the cocktail menu, so there we began. My fancy was tickled by the tequila-based “Paloma Faith” and the classic Caipirinha, but it was impossible to pass the “Porn Star Martini” which is the first on the list. Despite the cheeky name, it’s a classy combination of vanilla vodka, passionfruit puree and vanilla sugar, topped with prosecco. Very sweet, but with a great kick, this was one of the better cocktails I’ve had in Dublin lately, and a reason to go back in itself.

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At the same time, we were also getting busy ordering from the extensive food menu. The notion of “Burmese food” may be confusing, or even off-putting for some, so to simplify it, I’d describe it as Asian fusion, served tapas or “sharing” style.

Oh, I’ve ranted about the “small plates” phenomenon before – beloved as it is of many new restaurants, but resulting in an epic swizz in many cases, when you end up paying twice the cost of a normal main course to eat three or four small dishes which don’t even go well together. The exception is that it works well when all the flavours are similar, and it works well here at The Meeting House.

Advised by our lovely waitress to order 2-3 dishes per person depending on our level of hunger, we found that this recommendation was spot on. We were a hungry crew on that evening (well, wouldn’t you be after waiting over half an hour for your table?) so we went for 8 dishes between three of us.

The lighting unfortunately didn’t allow me to take great photos of the food, so all images that follow are filched from The Meeting House’s Facebook page.

Mini Asian burgers and sweet potato fries.

Mini Asian burgers and sweet potato fries.

The food arrived all together and made an impressive spread across our table. The girls shared the 2 mini Asian burgers and were raving about the juicy beef burgers and the rice coconut buns straight away – I didn’t try them myself, but definitely a dish for the list next time. The rest of the dishes were a mixture of the marvellous and the middling – mostly excellent, but with a few that weren’t quite on point.

The one I was most looking forward to, the Tuna Sashimi, didn’t disappoint. Dark and delicious in a soya dressing, it converted even the non-tuna fan at our table. On the other hand, a vegetable tempura was a little too soft and, while the portion was generous, was a little disappointing. A rare steak salad was indeed nice and rare, but bland overall, with an overpowering taste of black pepper. This could be a great dish with better seasoning.

The sides were pretty stellar. One of my favourite dishes on the whole table was the simple sweet potato fries, or “Asian sweet potatoes” as they’re called here. Served with two different dips and coated in ‘secret seasoning,’ they’re a must-order, and the side of Asian greens was also excellent.

A steamed sea bass fillet in fish broth was really juicy and tasty – it made a great healthy option when paired with the Asian greens, and the house chicken coconut curry was declared “divine” by our resident Thai curry aficionado. I’m following a mostly Paleo diet at the moment which means a lot of carb avoidance (and no, Porn Star Martinis don’t count, before you ask) so we passed on the rice dishes, and didn’t miss the carbs at all due to the variety of other dishes and textures on the table.

Delicious Tuna Sashimi.

Delicious Tuna Sashimi.

They’re aiming to give good value here, with all dishes (including the cocktails) priced at 9.99, any 3 for 27, any 4 for 35 etc. We each had change of 50 once we’d paid the bill, which notwithstanding the good cheer provided by the free bottle of prosecco, we agreed was fantastic value for the feast of decent grub and fun atmosphere we’d enjoyed. There was also the lovely touch with our bill of a small bag of home-made chocolate truffles each, on which a voucher was attached for 20% off all food until March 31st (I didn’t get back to avail of it, but a very smart idea).

You have the option to move upstairs to the mezzanine bar area after your meal, but it was getting pretty rowdy up there by the time we finished eating, so we decided on another drink at our table and then moving onto our next destination.

So, if you’re set on a quiet dinner date, this isn’t the spot for you. But if you’re after tasty Asian bites washed down with excellent cocktails, and accompanied by a soundtrack that will have you chair-dancing in your seat while you have your meal, then you should pay The Meeting House a visit. I’d say it’s deservingly going to start giving Saba a run for its money in the group dining/hen party stakes, if it hasn’t already.

The other attraction here is their approach to Sundays, a clever move for what’s a quiet evening for many restaurants. On Sundays at The Meeting House, the pricing gets flipped on its’ head and you can enjoy exactly the same menu (including the cocktails), where everything is 6.66 instead of 9.99.

You’d be tempted to take a Monday off and go for it…Anyone with me?

The Meeting House, Meeting House Square, Temple Bar, Dublin 2.

Phone: +353 (1) 670 3330 or visit their website for menus.

Blas Cafe, Dublin 1 & Bibi’s, Emorville Avenue.

I remember the days when brunch was a lazy, hungover affair that took place any time after 2pm on a Sunday, and was usually accompanied by a “hair of the dog.” These days, it’s more likely to take place at what I would term “breakfast time”, and be accompanied by the bottles of milk and buggies of those friends who have since grown up and acquired small, giggly, wriggly responsibilities. And I wouldn’t change a thing.

I also had admit to myself recently, that I’d become just a bit set in my brunch ways and needed to try some new places. So, given that “brunch in Dublin” is still one of the most popular search terms leading visitors to this blog, this review brings you two new (or new to me) options for brunch in Dublin that are well worth your patronage of a weekend morning. Unintentionally, they both begin with B!

The counter at Blas Cafe.

The counter at Blas Cafe.

First up, the very family-friendly Blas Cafe, located in the Chocolate Factory building on King’s Inns Street in Dublin 1. If you’re a southside-dweller like me, fear not, this is well worth the trip. Just head for the Cineworld cinema, and you can even park in their car park. The cafe is just down this side street between Bolton Street and Parnell Street – there was also plenty of on-street disc parking available on the day I visited. The Chocolate Factory is a creative working space, home to artists and creative businesses, that feels like still very much a work in progress, and Blas occupies the ground floor.

And what a ground floor. I could see why the friends who selected our brunch venue that day have become regulars here. A huge, airy space filled with large and small wooden tables that offers plenty of space for little feet to run around, and lots of interesting nooks and crannies for them to poke into (or to park a buggy in). There’s even a drum kit art installation – but maybe best to keep them away from that one. On a Saturday morning, sunshine was streaming in through the windows and throwing light on the lovely counter displaying cakes and Wall & Keogh teas, and onto the huge kitchen area. I’d describe Blas as the Fumbally of the Northside, without the queues.

Blas floor

We had a big bench to gather our assorted group of adults and small people around, and it lent itself well to people arriving and ordering at different times. You order at the counter and your food & drinks are brought to the table a short while later.

Fresh from a Pilates class at my “happy place,” Form School that morning, I was determined to keep it healthy, and thankfully there were plenty of options for me to do so. From the simple menu (a little annoyingly, not published anywhere online so I can’t share it with you) I chose the poached eggs with bacon. This came with a delicious portion of homemade baked beans in tomato sauce, two pieces of lean bacon, a plentiful serving of avocado and salad leaves and some sourdough toast. I passed on the toast, but thankfully there were a few hungry little mouths only too delighted to take it off my hands. A hearty brunch or breakfast dish, and fantastic value at just 7.95.

Poached eggs & bacon at Blas, with optional side of Gruffalo.

Poached eggs & bacon at Blas, with optional side of Gruffalo.

The coffee was great, so I had two, and with the second I decided to indulge in a “Paleo” coconut brownie (just like the cavemen used to eat, obviously). But that was unfortunately a little bland, and not worth the calories it inevitably contained. That’ll teach me.

The cafe was pretty empty while we had our brunch, but was starting to fill up around 12.30 or so as we got ready to leave. It currently opens for brunch on Saturdays only, so don’t leave it until Sunday, or you’ll be disappointed.

(While writing this review, I found some more lovely photos of Blas by French Foodie in Dublin, which can be found in her post here.)

The second great brunch experience I had recently was a little more akin to those lazy brunches of old, when my friend the Divine Doctor (she’s going to love that nickname) and I, took a trip across the city centre for a late Sunday afternoon visit to Bibi’s on Emorville Avenue. Just off the South Circular road on a red-brick residential street, Bibi’s has long been a haunt of the Dublin 8 cool crowd, but it had been ages since I’d paid it a visit. What was formerly half clothes shop, half cafe, has been fully transformed into a cafe/restaurant which is now one of the prettiest spaces I’ve eaten in in Dublin.

If you, like me, are a little jaded by the usual french toast and Eggs Benny options of Dublin’s many brunch spots, the weekend menu at Bibi’s is an altogether different kettle of fish. An Ottolenghi-esque roster of ingredients turns out original brunch dishes like Turkish Eggs; Roasted butternut squash & poached eggs; as well as twists on the standard brunch options such as a smoked salmon Eggs Florentine and a sinful-sounding roast ham, Gubbeen cheese and relish pan-fried toastie.

We both settled on the roasted squash with poached eggs, out of pure curiosity.

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Butternut Squash and Poached eggs… I dream of this.

Whoever invented this dish is nothing short of a genius. Covered in garlic yoghurt – YES you read this right, and it is amazing – and drizzled with chilli butter, this was a dish I wanted to order again before I was even halfway through it.

A generous bowl of toasted, fresh sourdough and two tiny dishes of butter was served alongside our egg dishes. I loved the toast being served on the side, rather than the ingredients all being piled on top of the toast as you get in so many restaurants.

Bibis

Having walked to the Poolbeg lighthouse earlier that afternoon, we’d already decided we had earned a treat, and picked the Hazelnut Blondies from the pile of baked treats that had greeted us on walking in the door. These were washed down beautifully by Cloud Picker coffee (I’ve been enjoying a bag from this new Irish micro-roaster at home the last few weeks), and fresh green juices by Sprout. Add to that the veritable flock of the loveliest, friendliest waitresses who attended to our every wish and didn’t rush us when we were sitting there after the other customers had left, and it all added up to make it a most relaxing Sunday afternoon.

So I’ll be adding both Blas and Bibi’s to my weekend haunts from now on, and maybe I should move onto the C’s next. Any suggestions?

Blas Cafe, The Chocolate Factory, King’s Inns Street, Dublin 1. Check out their Facebook page.

Bibi’s, 14A Emorville Avenue, Dublin 8. www.bibis.ie

Delahunt, Camden Street.

Over the festive season, lots of people asked me what had been my favourite restaurant of 2014. I can tell you now, that my best Dublin restaurant of the year only stole into that place in the dying days of December, when I first walked into Delahunt on Camden Street.

In the former premises of Jack Carvill’s off-licence, a beautifully curated restoration, bags of character and some seriously creative Irish cooking have combined to create a restaurant that “had me at hello.”

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I liked it so much that I ended up eating there twice in the same week. The first visit was on the invitation of two friends who are further ahead of the curve than me, and had chosen Delahunt as the venue for the annual celebration of their wedding anniversary. I was mostly just excited to eat anything that didn’t have turkey or ham as the primary ingredient. But I began to get properly excited when we walked through the doors of Delahunt and took in the view.

The whole place feels like a labour of love. Carvills’ old wooden off-licence counter has been kept and restored in all its glory, and now serves as a long wooden bar which runs half the length of the restaurant and immediately invites you to pull up a seat and have a cocktail. The old floorboards (I remember almost falling through a hole in one of them while on a closing-time mission to pick up a bottle of wine, some years ago) have also been kept and restored and this all gives the place a stylish, but lived-in feel. Every corner has been thoughtfully curated, right down to the prints on the walls in the snug and the framed sketches lining the walls in the bathrooms. The net curtains on the windows give it an “Auld Dublin meets NYC” feel. It doesn’t feel like a brand-new restaurant at all. As we were still waiting for some of our group to join us, we duly pulled up a couple of stools at the bar and ordered a drink. We chatted to the unassuming young chap behind the bar, and fished to find out a bit more about Delahunt’s back-story. As it turned out, the “barman” himself was the owner (Darren is his name), who has bravely bought the whole building from NAMA. With a background in some top Dublin dining haunts, and ambitious plans researched by visits to London and New York, he’s brought two chefs from Locks with him to Delahunt and his plans for the place include expanding upstairs with more seating and I think, another bar. The name “Delahunt” came from the old name of the premises before it was Carvill’s, discovered on a sign they found during the renovations and which now hangs on the wall in the restaurant.

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Needless to say, by this stage we were only dying to sample the food. The rest of our gang having arrived, we were delighted to be shown to the “snug” at the back – a glass (and more net curtains)-enclosed private dining room which looked to be an original feature of the building. It holds a table that can snugly fit 8-10 people and from where you can still see out to the rest of the restaurant and into the kitchen – very important for nosey parkers like me. We took our seats and imagined old Mr Carvill or his book-keeper doing the paperwork here back in the day.

The menu was simple – 4 starters and 4 mains, with starters from €7-10 and mains from €18 up to around the €25 mark. The great thing about us being a big group was that we got to see and sample everything from the menu. I was thrilled with the presentation of my Jerusalem artichoke soup, which was poured into the bowl at the table on top of some tiny mushrooms, and served with a wooden board on the side on which was presented my “mushrooms on toast” with hazelnut pesto. I thought €7 was amazing value for a dish that had so much taste and theatre. The other starters around the table were going down well too, especially the popular “Crispy pressed ham hock & crubeens, celeriac remoulade, raisin mustard,” which although was described as looking like “a fish finger” defied all criticism once you tasted it. I also loved the pear & Bellingham blue cheese salad with chicory, sherry and walnut and it was this one that I ordered the next time I visited. Finally, the Home Smoked Salmon, with Guinness bread, horseradish and cucumber, was served sashimi-style on a black slate and accompanied by some very good Guinness bread. We’d also received some of the same bread in the excellent bread basket that had been delivered to us earlier on, so everyone got to tuck in.

The standard continued through to our main courses. The star of the show was the “Beef cheek braised in stout, glazed carrot, black cabbage horseradish, smoked bone marrow,” a perfect winter dish with slow-cooked beef that fell off the fork (and into our gobs). The hake in my “Roast hake with red wine & beetroot braised lentils, leek, Lardo di Colonnata” had been replaced with plaice – a lovely piece of fish and a great dish, but I definitely felt it would have been better with hake or even a meaty piece of cod. The other main course that was the envy of all but the two people who’d ordered it, suprisingly was the vegetarian one. A potato cake topped with a crisp hen’s egg and served with curly kale, capers and white onions, it was another stunning winter warmer. The level of presentation of each dish was fantastic, and the portions were perfectly judged.

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We also got to sample all of the side orders, including roast potatoes, an amazing swede mash, and (I surprised myself in my post-Christmas state, by scoffing quite an amount of this) brussels sprouts and chestnuts.

The wine and drinks lists are excellent – sure they’d have to be, to avoid the ghosts of the building’s previous owner coming back to haunt them. We enjoyed our red wine, a “Quadrifolia” Douro from Portugal (34) so much that I ordered it again on my second visit. We also had a lovely “La Closerie” Chardonnay, great value at €26, so you can down it guilt-free. The lads also sang the praises of the Whiskey Sours and the Maple Old Fashioned, and I can back up the latter as the beautifully made Old-Fashioned in the photo at the top of the post was the one I enjoyed all to myself when I came back a few nights later.

I decided I didn’t have room for dessert, but asked if I could order an Irish coffee instead. Once the rest of the table got wind of this idea, the staff found themselves with an order for five Irish coffees on their hands, which they obligingly whipped up even though they hadn’t been on the menu. The Irish coffees washed down a selection of superb desserts including a Rhubarb Fool with Leinster sugar cake (that’s biscuits to you and me) and a very sinful warm chocolate pudding that had everyone else sneaking spoonfuls of it around the table.

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Ain’t no fool like a rhubarb fool.

When finally we had finished polishing off this feast of food and drink, we realised we were the last people in the restaurant, so sadly decided we’d probably have to move on. Here has to be given an honourable mention for all of the staff, at one point all of whom were with us in the snug, as they teamed up to make sure that all of our dishes were served up at exactly the same time and to the right recipients. They all really knew their stuff, were great fun without being intrusive, and added to the overall banter of our evening (special mention to Rita who I met on my second visit – she is a legend).

Cheesy goodness.

Cheesy goodness.

We were a bit scared of what damage we might have done to the bill at the end of the evening, but were pleasantly surprised when it arrived, as we all considered a total of about 80 per head including service very fair value for the level of food, drink and overall experience we’d enjoyed.

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Delahunt is elegant, but casual, and to be able to eat this standard of food in a relaxed, buzzing environment is something new and very much welcome in Dublin. I’m even OK with the unisex toilets here (usually a pet hate – see Super Miss Sue) because they’ve kept them as individual, self-contained bathrooms. I think Delahunt is going to become very, very popular in Dublin and although selfishly, I’d love to keep it on the down-low, it absolutely deserves to be.

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New menu, January 2015.

In keeping with Delahunt’s understated style, it’s been launched without PR “buzz” (which can often lead to overpromising and underdelivering – take note, The Dean). But, it’s building that buzz all by itself, and quietly packing them in every evening that I’ve passed since. They’ve just changed the menu and added some new dishes, so don’t wait until 2015 is too much older before you pay this place a visit. Oh, and if you’re a group of 2-4 people, or you’re looking to impress your date, ask for the window table – it’s the best seat in the house.

Delahunt, 39 Camden Street Lower, Dublin 2.

Tel: +353 1 598 4880, visit their website or Facebook page.

The Old Spot, Bath Avenue.

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I recently wrote about the small triangle of foodie heaven that is my ‘hood, which has given us such gems of eateries as Foodgame, Juniors, Paulie’s Pizza, Farmer Brown’s and the Chop House. Late this year, this little corner of Dublin was further added to with the opening of The Old Spot, in what was formerly the Lansdowne Pub (does anyone else remember the slightly mad Filipino restaurant that used to be upstairs?) just under the bridge on Bath Avenue. Under the same ownership as Junior’s and Paulie’s, its credentials are strong, but when I read a review by the esteemed Irish food critic, Lucinda O’Sullivan, that was none too favourable, it did make me think twice about visiting. But, mostly based on the owners’ track record, and partly because I don’t think it’s playing fair for critics to review restaurants when they’re so new, I decided to give it a try on one of the last weekends before Christmas, and make up my own mind.

The occasion was a visit of The Mammy and Daddy to Dublin, and a plan for Sunday lunch. What better reason to try out the new gastropub on my doorstep, in the hope of a great Sunday lunch like the ones I still fondly remember from living in London a few years ago. London does the gastro-pub thing so well, and on entering the Old Spot, you immediately see that they are trying to bring the best elements of this to Dublin.

I immediately found myself beginning to disagree with Ms O’Sullivan’s review, which had described this as “more restaurant than gastropub.” To me, it’s exactly as a London “gastropub” would be, with a small bar area in the front with some seats if you’re just there for a drink, or waiting on a table, and a cluster of tables in the dining room area, allowing the space to function as a restaurant.

We were warmly welcomed and instantly loved the decor. Cosy and traditional, yet with lots of quirky touches, and a soundtrack of mostly 90’s hip hop that saved the ambience from being too old-school Sunday pub lunch. Mammy approved of the comfortable seating – once the friendly waitress had fixed a wobbly leg on our table – and Dad approved of the wine list. All good so far. I ordered a glass of Paddock Shiraz (€7.50) while the parents each went for a glass of Marques Tempranillo (€6.60), and we settled into choosing from the 2-course lunch menu, at €24 per person.

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But of course, the real test was going to be the food.

And from my first dunking of a perfectly charred, chewy slice of sourdough into a bowl of silky, pesto-drizzled celeriac soup, I had a feeling that Lucinda and I were going to differ on this score too.

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This soup tasted as delicious as it looked, and this was backed up by Dad who was also enjoying a bowl across the table. Meanwhile, Mum was tucking into Potted Crab & Avocado with Lime Cream, which was plenty of fresh crabmeat and avocado mushed up in a little glass jar and scooped out with more of the same excellent sourdough toast.

We had a bit of a wait for our main courses, as the restaurant began to fill up with other lunchers, but our waitress kept us updated and we weren’t even tempted to be cross when the service was so cheery. Mum and I whiled away the time by rummaging through the shelf of old children’s and classic books that was on the wall behind our table.

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When the mains did arrive, we were thrilled to see three very large servings of meat presented to our table. Both Mum and I had chosen the special main course of the day, a rib-eye steak at a €5 supplement to the set menu, and they were served with mashed potato, green beans and cafe de Paris butter on the side. I’d ordered green veg as a substitute for the potato, and these came as a generous portion of fresh veg in a cast-iron side dish. However, the roast beef was a little too rare for my Dad’s liking. Almost bloody, it was taken away by the staff and promptly returned having been either cooked, or re-carved to his liking.

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(Rare beef fans rejoice, no dried-out Sunday carvery roast for you here!)

A selection of roasted potatoes and vegetables, not to mention a Yorkshire pud the size of his head, kept Dad happy for some time while Mum and I polished off our delicious, juicy-not-fatty, char-grilled rib-eyes.

We reluctantly passed on dessert as we were completely stuffed after those 2 courses, and instead finished with some very good coffees as we caught up on all the family gossip. The lunch for 3, including the supplements for our steaks, three glasses of great wine and three coffees, came to €108.10.

I’ve since been back for another excellent lunch, a 3-course set menu affair (fantastic value at €30 a head) with a work group on Christmas week, which was flawlessly served up to universal praise from a group of twelve – no mean feat. The evening menus also look pretty exciting, so once the January diet is over I’ll be looking forward to trying an evening visit in the new year.

You’d wonder how many restaurants one small corner of Dublin can hold while allowing all to make a profit, but the crowds filling the Old Spot, its sister establishments and the other eateries of the area on a nightly basis suggest that Bath Avenue isn’t at that tipping point just yet. So I’m delighted to respectfully disagree with Lucinda, and say that whether for lunch or evening, the Old Spot is well worth your pennies in the New Year. And with the DART around the corner, The Bath and Slattery’s pubs nearby, it would make a great destination for a night out even if you’re not a local.

The Old Spot, 14 Bath Avenue, Dublin 4. Tel: +353 1 660 5599.

www.theoldspot.ie

This review is dedicated to my good friend Malachy, who we suddenly and sadly lost on November 12th this year. Mal was always a great man for seeking out the latest and greatest of Dublin’s restaurants and cafes, and the tills of Brother Hubbard, Boojum and the Black Sheep will surely be lighter for his passing. Our hearts on the other hand, will be heavier for a long time to come.

 

Etto, Merrion Row.

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For a jaded old eater-outer like me, reading a menu where almost every single dish’s description contains a word you’ve never heard before, is a Very Exciting Prospect indeed. So when, on my first visit to Etto, a restaurant that had been “on my list” to visit since early in the New Year, I feasted my eyes on a menu full of words like “botarga, vitello tonnato, nduja, agnolotti, fonduta, malfatti, trompettes, persillade,” I knew that an eating adventure was about to begin. I’ve been lucky enough to eat at Bocca di Lupo in London, and this was the first time I’d seen the same type of ingredients on an Irish menu as you’ll find on the line-up at that celebrated Soho haunt.

Etto is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it white shopfront located a couple of doors down from O’Donoghue’s and across the street from Foley’s (Yes I’m Irish, I use pubs as directions), near the junction of Ely Place and Lower Baggot Street. A chalkboard outside has been proudly proclaiming Etto’s awards for Best Casual Dining at both the Food & Wine Magazine Awards and the Irish Restaurant Awards earlier this year. Awards aside, the term “Casual dining” doesn’t do Etto justice at all, in my opinion. The minimal interior feels casual, with slightly uncomfortable wooden seats and bare white walls, but there’s nothing casual about this food or about the ambitious, regional Italian-influenced menu.

This menu changes daily and is divided into small plates, large plates and desserts. You can treat this as “starters, main courses and desserts”, or simply take the “small plates” approach to eating and pick and choose a few dishes to have with a glass of wine.

It was an almost impossible decision to pick a starter from the list of small plates, but on the guidance of our lovely waitress, I ordered Duck egg with fonduta, courgettes and summer truffle. Fonduta, it turned out, has the texture of mashed potato but is actually a cheesy puree (Fonduta – Fondue, the penny dropped) from the Piedmont region that was delicious mixed with the runny duck egg and scooped up with the toasted bread.

Duck egg, fonduta, courgette.

Duck egg, fonduta, courgette.

I was dining with my Best Friend Since We Were 4, I’ll call her BFSWW4 for short. The occasion was the belated celebration of both our birthdays (AKA: any excuse for a Thursday night out), so we’d already decided upon clapping eyes on the menu that we’d be going for the full 3-course option. For her starter, BFSWW4 had Coco beans with jamon iberico and tomato toast, which was heavy on Spanish influence. It was all I could do not to scoff her iberico ham, but I settled for just a taste.

Coco beans, jamon iberico, tomato toast.

Coco beans, jamon iberico, tomato toast.

Our enjoyment of these small plates was greatly helped by our quaffing of a lovely Ponte Del Diavolo Pinot Grigio from Friuli, which we were already hailing as “the nicest white wine ever.” Now, I’m not usually one to get excited about Pinot Grigio, but this was really delicious. At €37, it wasn’t cheap, which indicated to me that maybe throwing money at the problem is the key to enjoying Pinot Grigio.

The photo that you see at the top of this post shows our main courses – in the front, my roast hake with new potatoes, trompettes (little mushrooms, fact fans) and brown shrimp. The generous portion of fresh hake was topped with a little cloud of foam that added a fine-dining flourish. A perfect plate, which I added to with an unbelievably fresh side of heirloom tomato salad with goat’s cheese and marjoram.

BFSWW4’s choice was a lamb shoulder with summer turnips and a mint broth, the latter of which was poured over the lamb when the dish was served to our table. We shared these two fantastic dishes while enviously looking at the giant portions of pork chop with romesco sauce and cavolo nero being devoured at the table beside us.

Even after all this, there was still room for something sweet. And with more desserts on this menu than there were large plates, I was happy to see that this is clearly a place where they take their sweet tooth seriously. Not just the token sweet dishes or crowd-pleasers at the end of the menu, here was yet another opportunity for Etto to showcase that they’re really doing something impressive here. My flourless chocolate cake was served, not with the vanilla ice cream or cursory blob of whipped cream you’d expect, but with with sour cream ice cream – an amazing foil to the dense sweetness of the chocolate slice.

Flourless chocolate cake with sour cream ice cream.

Flourless chocolate cake with sour cream ice cream.

For our second dessert, we passed on the recommended Red Wine Prunes & Vanilla Mascarpone, in favour of a Peanut Butter Semifreddo with poached apricots. Days later, I was still telling anyone who’d listen about that delightful semifreddo, which was spooned up before I even remembered to capture it with a photo.

With small plates between €10 and €12, and the large plates ranging up to €28, there was nothing “casual” about our bill at the end of the night, but it felt worth every cent. Next time, I think a great plan would be to sit at the bar with a glass of prosecco (on tap for €7 a glass) and a couple of small plates – it just looked more fun up there, with the added bonus of making the experience a bit easier on the wallet. The pre-theatre menu is also great value at €24 for two courses or €28 for three, with many of the same dishes as the a-la-carte menu, if you can squeeze in between 5 and 6.30pm.

Since this visit, I’ve since tried and failed to book twice for Saturday nights, but they’ve been booked out more than a week in advance both times. So do as I say, not as I do, and get with the forward planning so that you can enjoy this Irish/Italian gem for yourself.

Etto, 18 Merrion Row, Dublin 2.

Tel: +353 (1) 678 8872 or check out their website for full menus and the fabulous wine list.