girl eats dublin

Enthusiastically eating my way around Dublin and beyond.

Month: January, 2014

Coppinger Row, Dublin 2.

Coppinger Row, named after the little alleyway on which it sits between Clarendon Street and South William Street, has now been open for almost five years, and is a Dublin restaurant institution at this stage. This place was the hottest Friday or Saturday night ticket in town for at least two of those years, but like me, you may be relieved to find it now pleasantly hip, rather than achingly hipster.

Even though it’s still always somewhere I recommend to people when I’m asked for suggestions for a casual city centre dinner with a bit of buzz, I hadn’t eaten at Coppinger Row for at least a year myself until I visited twice in the last two weeks – first for a Saturday lunch with two girlfriends, and then for a group dinner with some work colleagues on a Thursday night. I was curious to see if the food, and overall offering, had stood the test of time.

Coppinger Row

The day we visited for lunch, we made a simple order of one vegetarian mezze plate, one plate of Garlic & Chili Prawns a la Plancha, and one grilled sirloin steak with rocket and parmesan. Coppinger Row’s menus still make for appetising reading, self-proclaimed “Mediterranean” dishes proudly declaring their Irish provenance, with plenty of Irish and artisan suppliers visible on both lunch and dinner menus. After we ordered, we got stuck into catching up on the gossip, and given the time of year, the chat soon turned to our January diet and fitness regimes. I blamed the fact that I was suddenly starving on all the talk of diets, until I realised that the real reason was that we’d been waiting almost an hour for our lunch. Now, during this time we’d had our water topped up a number of times, and been moved to a window table by our friendly waitress…but really, I’d just prefer my food on time.

Once it eventually arrived, we enjoyed our lunch – the large portion of garlic & chili prawns (€11) was delicious, the vegetarian mezze board (€10) was colourful with top quality ingredients and my sirloin steak, served with a leafy rocket & parmesan salad, was juicy and perfectly charred from the grill. At €19.50 for the steak, it was a pretty pricy option for lunch, but I was treating myself as a reward for taking the carb-free, and also alcohol-free option…tough going as I watched the girls sipping on their chilled white wine. We did find it a bit strange that no side dish was provided with the garlic & chili prawns – where were the shells supposed to go? To solve this problem, we then had to ask twice before receiving a bowl. Really, with all the lovely, oily messiness that’s involved in shelling your own plate of Gambas a la Plancha, it should come with a finger bowl of hot water too.

Then, a week or so later, a group of eight of us were booked in for a work dinner after a day of meetings. After a swift drink in Grogan’s across the road, we were greeted by this appetising menu displayed outside, which definitely got us in the mood for a fine feed:

Coppinger menu

The brilliant cocktail menu is one of the main draws of Coppinger Row, and we ordered a round which included a perfect Cosmopolitan, a “Frisky Tart” (amaretto, pear liqueur, rhubarb bitters, lemon juice & sugar syrup, in case you’re wondering) and a couple of Hendricks-based “Cucumberlands” which I eyed jealously as I sipped an (admittedly pretty tasty) alcohol-free cocktail, cursing Dry January and the horse she rode in on.

Choosing a starter and main course was a tough decision, with no less than five delicious-sounding specials on offer, as well as the other options on the dinner menu. As I’d only recently sampled the Garlic & Chili Prawns a la Plancha, and their steak, I opted for Venison Carpaccio with artichoke puree and the interesting addition of “game crisps” to start, and their fish special, Hake with Mussels, Chorizo & Sugar Snaps, which ticked a good few boxes for me.

Coppinger starter

Venison carpaccio.

The venison carpaccio was superb and was just one of a selection of excellent starters, with no less than three of the others enjoying the goat’s cheese starter which came with roasted beetroot and brioche & pine nut croutons, and the garlic & chili prawns we’d enjoyed at lunch the previous week also making a reappearance. Unfortunately, the enjoyment of our starters began to wear off as we sat awkwardly looking at our empty plates and cocktail glasses for a good 15-20 minutes before anyone thought to come and clear our table. Once the plates and glasses were at last removed, we then began the long wait for our main courses. Thankfully, there was no shortage of chat and laughs to keep us going, but not once did either of the two waiting staff on duty come near our table to apologise for the wait, or to let us know when the main courses might be expected to come out. Hilariously, just as we thought our dinners were about to arrive, we were approached by the waitress to politely enquire “Would you like to see the dessert menu?”

Cue stunned silence from the table as we all fought the urge to reply “Eh no, we’d just like our bloody dinner please.” Really this was the theme of our evening overall – delicious, well-presented food let down by a comedy of errors when it came to the service.

We’d been told that the restaurant would need our 7pm table back by 9, but it was tipping 9 o’clock by the time our mains even arrived. Even though our friendly waiter had made a big production of taking our orders when we arrived – insisting on starting at a specific point on the table and going around from there – this bore absolutely no relevance to how the main courses were served to us when they eventually made it to the table. We were so relieved just to be getting our dinner at that stage, that we tried not to get too annoyed at having to answer “me” every time the waiter or waitress proffered a dish and announced “Steak?”/”Hake?”/”Venison” etc., with the plates plonked in front of us once we’d claimed them.

Going back to the food again, our main courses were mostly great, and when I polled the table, the Venison special (€25) and the Rib-eye steak with roasted bone-marrow (€27.50) were the particular highlights. I was a little disappointed with my hake, as although it wasn’t mentioned anywhere on the menu, the hake, mussels and chorizo were served in a tomato broth which contained a lot of potato along with the advertised sugar snaps. I hadn’t wanted potato, and it was almost impossible to remove it so I ended up eating the fish and picking the chorizo and sugar snaps out of the rest. Turns out, the absence of a side plate seems to be a ‘thing’ at Coppinger Row, as I was left without anywhere to discard my mussel shells, while beside me one of my colleagues struggled with the same prawn-shell dilemma we’d had on the previous visit. As the waiting staff were so thin on the ground, we didn’t bother making another request and instead improvised with one of the dishes from our side orders which was empty by that stage.

Funnily enough, we weren’t asked for our table back – I think they may have sensed our frustration, and we finished up our dinner, wine and enjoyed some delicious sorbet, teas and coffees without further incident. But for the price we paid, with starters averaging €10-€15, cocktails €12.50, mains in the high €20s and a few decent bottles of wine, the slow, shoddy service was unacceptable.

I still love you, Coppinger Row, but please pull your socks up, because food of this standard, especially at these prices, deserves better service.

Coppinger Row, off South William St., Dublin 2.

Tel: +353 1 672 9884 or visit their website.

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The Brasserie @ The Marker Hotel.

The Marker opened just in time for our Summer 2013 heatwave, which for a few weeks, transformed Grand Canal Dock into the Riviera. Now, it was a particularly Dublin type of Riviera, with young wans in Penneys bikinis sunbathing on the dock while young fellas took running jumps into the ever so slightly polluted waters below. But still, it was Scorchio, and we were happy.

In those heady few weeks where the country threw caution to the wind and went for al fresco after work drinks on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and sometimes even lunchtime, the shiny icon of this heatwave was the new Marker Hotel’s rooftop bar. I’m one of those so-called “Dublin’s Silicon Docks” workers, so I joined my colleagues on several occasions to beat an after-work path down to The Marker, where we grabbed coveted rooftop seats and sipped €13.50 cocktails until the sun went in and we remembered there was a recession on.

So I knew the cocktails were good, but it wasn’t until December and the occasion of our annual “Lovely Ladies Liquid Lunch – Christmas Edition” that I got the chance to sample the food at The Marker for the first time.

Originally aiming for lunch, the lovely Jill, bravely co-ordinating the diaries of ten busy women and finding a suitable venue, was told by The Marker that they didn’t do lunch during December, so we decided on an early dinner instead and booked a 5pm table.

There’s no separate restaurant as such, with the bar, reception area and Brasserie all running along the front of the hotel. You eat behind the glass windows that make up the outer wall, looking onto (at best) Grand Canal Square and the water beyond, or (at worst) straight into the side of the Grand Canal – sorry, Bord Gais Energy – theatre. It’s an ultra-modern, airy space, living up to The Marker’s “design hotel” credentials, and having seen it in daytime, I wondered if it would feel a bit cold and empty to eat there in the evening. But it was busy on the night we visited, with low lighting and the buzz of chatter warming up the space. Our long table was perfectly positioned in the middle of the room for us to be able to chat, laugh, exchange Christmas gifts and move around without being “that annoying table.”

Marker restaurant

The Brasserie at The Marker. Photo: Open House Dublin.

Given the early hour of the evening, we ordered from the pre-theatre menu, which reading it today looks largely unchanged from when we visited before Christmas – this is no bad thing. At €25 for two courses or €29 for three, this menu grabbed my attention straight away and had us all feeling excited about what was to come.

Although I was tempted by all of the starters, I went for the beetroot-cured Clare Island salmon, with horseradish cream, brown bread crumble and lemon puree. The salmon, when it arrived, was cured like sashimi, and had taken on the bright pink colour of the beetroot. It looked stunning on the plate, and combined with tiny tastes of horseradish and lemon, scattered with crunchy caramelised brown bread “crumble,” it had me declaring it was “one of the best things I’ve ever eaten” after just a few forkfuls. Really that good.

Off to a great start then, and our main courses did not disappoint. My pan-roasted sea trout, sitting in a light mussel chowder and topped with a crisp onion bhaji, had me raving about it all over again. Other main courses sampled “in the interests of research” were a delicious rump of roast lamb, and the roast Monaghan chicken breast in a puy lentil stew with Serrano crisps. All were excellent and meant we were a very happy table of ladies before we’d even clapped eyes on the dessert menu.

Pan-roasted sea trout, mussel chowder, onion bhaji.

Pan-roasted sea trout, mussel chowder, onion bhaji.

Full of good cheer/a few bottles of Picpoul de Pinet, we decided “Sure it’s Christmas!” and instigated a no-sharing rule on the dessert front. I had a very good creme brulee, warm and crunchy in a shallow dish and topped with mulled pears and raspberries. However, my enjoyment of this lovely dessert was tainted by the food envy created by Miriam’s chocolate mousse with cinnamon doughnuts, which was distracting me from across the table.

This was the star dessert for any chocolate lover – a generous blob of dense, slightly bitter chocolate mousse perfectly offset by the sugary cinnamon doughnuts, and even better when accompanied by an espresso. It was the kind of dessert you’d come back for.

The only downside of the evening for me was the service, which I’d heard a few grumbles about prior to visiting. Now, it was totally quick and professional, but also totally lacking in warmth and there was very little engagement from our waitress in terms of food or wine recommendations. In their favour, they didn’t rush us from our table which can often be the kicker about early bird or pre-theatre dinners, as the restaurant had emptied out a lot by the time we finished up.

So, even if the musical fare on offer at the Grand Canal Theatre doesn’t float your boat, don’t let that stop you trying out this “pre-theatre” grub, which is great value for the standard of food on offer. It’s a new part of town for most people, so it’s a good option if you feel like a change of scene for your evening out, and you can hop in a taxi into town afterwards or go for a glass of wine next door in Ely HQ.

I also like the sound of The Marker’s “Le Drunch” at the weekend, which sounds like the makings of a fun afternoon, despite its slightly pretentious name. One for after the January detox, perhaps.

The Marker Hotel, Grand Canal Square, Docklands, Dublin 2.

Phone: +353 (1) 687 5100 or visit their website.

My top eats of 2013.

Happy New Year header

Happy New Year! I’ve been a bad blogger since before Christmas with “the day job” taking up most of my waking hours, but my New Years’ resolution is to post one review on this blog, every week of 2014. Hopefully this will be good news to at least some of the readers who have made it so rewarding for me to write about restaurants I visited in Dublin last year.

So, before 2014 gets much older, I thought I’d round up my top 5 eats in Dublin of 2013, including a couple that I never got around to writing about (see busyness excuse above).

1. Las Tapas de Lola

Hands-down my Dublin restaurant of the year. I first reviewed Las Tapas de Lola on the second night they were in business, and wasn’t at all surprised to see them become the most talked-about, written about and queued-up-for restaurant in Dublin this year. Every meal I’ve had at what is now commonly referred to as “Lola’s” has been a joy. Yes, the tapas are amazing (try the chickpeas with spinach, the meatiest of meatballs, the paella with squid ink, and the churros – Oh God, the churros), the surroundings are gorgeous, but it’s the personal touch of every single member of the team at Lola’s that makes every visit so memorable. Whether it’s giving passionate food or wine recommendations, helping to squeeze in “just one more” friend to your table or remembering names and faces of their repeat customers, Vanessa, Anna and their team rock it every time.

2. Restaurant Forty One at Residence

It’s a big statement, but I think the lunch I had at Residence back in August probably stands out as my best single meal of the year. I was also lucky enough to ring in the New Year with dinner there, and the 3-course celebration menu definitely didn’t let down the standard of my earlier visit. But it’s hard to beat the lunch experience for the price, and if your New Years’ resolution is to expand your eating horizons, I’d definitely recommend starting here.

3. Dillinger’s

I’ve been surprised to hear mixed feedback from friends on “the new” Dillinger’s since it reopened after refurbishment earlier this year, as each brunch and dinner I’ve had there in recent months has been fantastic. Even quite aside from the heartache-curing qualities of their superb margaritas, anything I’ve eaten there, from tuna tacos to steak to outstanding French toast at the weekend, has been tasty, fresh, generously-portioned and served up with a smile (usually by someone ridiculously good looking). I just wish they’d bring back the Huevos Rancheros to the brunch menu.

4. Bijou

This Rathgar stalwart, which I’d formerly regarded as a bit too middle-of-the-road to be worth trading in for a dinner in town, was the location of another of my best meals this year when I went for a mid-week local dinner with a friend and was seriously wowed by the food. Bijou had its menu cleverly remodeled under new chef Ian Ussher, offering creative and beautifully presented modern dishes, while still maintaining the midweek specials, brunch and Sunday lunch options that should see them keep their loyal local custom while attracting a new crowd which, like me, may have previously passed it by (Check out their “Meat & Liquor” menu from Mondays-Wednesdays). It’s also rare to find somewhere in Dublin these days that has as good an atmosphere and buzz on a Tuesday night as you’ll see on a Saturday.

Bijou

Featherblade of beef at Bijou, Rathgar.

We were still talking about their Pork Tasting board, feather-blade beef and salted caramel martinis, weeks later. Next time someone’s foolish enough to ask me out for a romantic dinner, this will be my venue of choice.

5. The Black Apple Café

Perhaps an unusual choice for a Top 5 meals, given that I usually have nothing more here than a bowl of porridge or an eggy breakfast, is my new local favourite, The Black Apple Cafe. On my first visit earlier in the year, I got the feeling that this was a lot of other people’s favourite local café too. In a part of Harold’s Cross that you’d only pass by accident, in the middle of a motley row of shops and businesses, you’ll find the lovely team at the Black Apple Café cooking up ridiculously good cakes, breakfasts and the best flat white I’ve had in Dublin. It’s a place I usually visit by myself and a bowl of their porridge with fruit and a perfectly created coffee enjoyed with the paper makes it my “happy place.”

black apple

And, as I feel I’ve neglected to try new places in the last few months, the top five on my hitlist to visit to help accomplish my New Years’ blogging resolution, in no particular order, are:

1. Etto, Merrion Row

2. Kinara Kitchen, Ranelagh

3. Terra Madre, Dublin 1

4. Forrest Avenue, Sussex Terrace

5. Seven Social, Dublin 7.

If you’ve got anywhere else you think I should try, I’d love to hear about it. Thanks for visiting and reading Girl Eats Dublin in 2013 – I promise to be a more regular reviewer in 2014!

Catherine.