Damson Diner & Fade Street Social.

by Catherine

So busy was I eating out and socialising in the weeks leading up to Christmas, that I had no time to write about it. This included a weekend of fantastic food in Galway (Girl Eats Galway?) which will get its own post in the next few days; another lovely lunch in the Whitefriar Grill; brunch in Peperina Garden Bistro in Ranelagh (which I’ll also post about soon); and many, many festive drinks in Dublin’s fine pubs. Ah, the Christmas.

But first, as I enjoy a few days’ Christmas break, with top button undone and the last of the Roses rattling in the tin beside me, it’s time for a belated look at two Christmas lunches in two relatively new Dublin hotspots – Damson Diner and Fade Street Social, both of which had been on my must-visit list for a while.

Strawberry Blonde at the Damson Diner (photo credit: Damson Diner on Facebook)

Strawberry Blonde at the Damson Diner (photo credit: Damson Diner on Facebook)

We hit up Damson Diner as a walk-in lunch on the Friday before Christmas, having been first turned away by its sister (or should that be Mother) restaurant, Coppinger Row. Surprisingly, Coppinger Row didn’t suggest that we visit Damson Diner, which I thought was a missed trick as when we got there, DD was half empty at 3 in the afternoon. They squeezed our party of four into a tiny four-top table on the ground floor, which still feels very much in the style of the South William (no bad thing) in its decor and layout. With winter coats and bags of Christmas shopping, we were a bit stuck for space, but the high stools and being able to look straight over the counter into the kitchen were fun. In the festive mood, we ordered cocktails – the Strawberry Blonde (muddled basil, elderflower liqueur, sweetened balsamic and topped with prosecco) was a perfect start to the afternoon. We followed this with a bottle of prosecco, about which I’ll say nothing more than “it was a great idea at the time.” Ahem.

Food-wise, between four of us we tried the Chinatown Chicken Wings (€9.50), Chili con Carne (€13.50), Philly Cheese Steak, and my highlight, the courgette fries (€3.50). So good we ordered seconds.

The Philly Cheese Steak was the other memorable dish – two authentic and delicious cheese steak sandwiches served in a pleasingly retro plastic basket. My Bangkok Chicken Salad tasted way too strongly of what I initally thought was wasabi, but then identified as daikon. It’s normally a taste I love, but it was overpowering here in the vast quantity of dressing vs the amount of leaves. However, the waitress was quick to sort me out with a bowl of fresh salad leaves from the chef which I added to the dish to scale down the taste of the dressing. The chicken was delicious and well-marinaded in (I think) tamarind, and there was plenty of it for the €12.50 price tag.

The food is kind of secondary to the cocktails and general buzz here, but it’s a great affordable option for a fun bite to eat with a few drinks to start off a night out. Nice one, Damson Diner.

The day after (nursing a whopper of a hangover – turns out prosecco followed by Grogan’s finest Guinness don’t mix), it was time to make my first visit to Fade Street Social. After months of failed contact between myself and the management of Fade Street/Rustic Stone, I had finally managed to get a booking for the dinner for two that I’d won in their Masterchef Twitter competition many moons ago.

Based on its’ celebrity status, some mixed reports from friends and my vain attempts to get a reservation on a few occasions, I was prepared to hate it.

I flipping loved it.

We sat in the Gastro Bar, which is on the ground level with one side looking out onto Fade St., and the other half facing into the kitchen area and the larger restaurant beyond. Packed with other Christmas lunching groups, the buzz was brilliant and our anticipation was piqued straight away. We were what I can only describe as “briefed” very efficiently by our server, who straight away explained that the food is served tapas-style and so it would arrive as it was cooked, and that three to four dishes was what she’d recommend for us. This was something I’d heard people gripe about – grumbles of “small portions” and “expensive for what you get” etc.

Well, having tried it now, to these folks I say “WTF? Were you actually there?” as (quite apart from the fact that most people should know that “tapas-style” indicates small tasting portions), there was nothing small about the portions here, and to get to sample this standard of cooking and creativity for between €7 and €13 per plate to me is actually amazing value. The whole soft-shell crab, crisply fried and served with miso mayonnaise, crab and lemongrass dipping sauce, could be the best €10 you can spend on a dish in Dublin today.

Clockwise from top left: Doughnuts, Baby Banoffi, special fries and soft-shell crab at Fade Street Social.

Clockwise from top left: Doughnuts, Baby Banoffi, special fries and soft-shell crab at Fade Street Social.

The seared tuna loin for €9 was spectacular, the Floured Crispy Chiffon Squid (€5.50) chased away my lingering sore head entirely, and the Chinese Pork Belly (€9) put the previous day’s fare at the Damson Diner entirely into the shade (sorry DD). The “special chips” that were on the board that day deserve a permanent place on the menu – skinny fries covered in parmesan, bacon and red onion puree… Amazing.

I could go on – but check out the Steve Simpson-designed Gastro Bar menu for yourself and be challenged not to drool. Finally, I would – scratch that, will – go back for the Baby Banoffi dessert alone. Seven euro gets you a glass (see the pic above) containing layers of banana puree, “caramel jelly, condensed milk caramel with banana sorbet” topped with a seemingly gravity-defying biscuit crunch which seemed to be spun from pure sugar. I’m getting dizzy just thinking about the textures, temperatures and tastes it contained.

We washed this all down with a superb Marble Leaf 2011 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough Sauv Blanc, I’m so predictable), €39, feeling very lucky to be enjoying all this wonderful food, wine and experience with the added bonus of having no check to pay at the end.

I had to take my hung-over hat off to Dylan McGrath and team. It’s a big, brave venture, but if the crowds continue to flock towards Fade Street Social then it will hopefully be around for a long time to come.

Halfway through my meal, I was already thinking of all the occasions I want to go back there for. A group dinner in the gastro bar at one of the big open tables; cocktails with the girls out in the garden; maybe a romantic dinner for two upstairs in the main restaurant – it would work for all.

Go there and go often – although if you’re like me, once January’s over of course.

Damson Diner, South William Street, Dublin 2 http://www.facebook.com/damsondiner

Fade Street Social, Fade Street, Dublin 2 http://www.fadestreetsocial.com