girl eats dublin

Enthusiastically eating my way around Dublin and beyond.

Category: Brunch

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.

Bibis 2

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

Foodgame, South Lotts Road.

foodgame sign 1

There’s a happy triangle of culinary goodness to be found in this little corner of Dublin 4, at the junction of Bath Avenue, Shelbourne Road, and Grand Canal Street.

Not so long ago, your options were limited to a choice of two chippers, or a feed of pints in Slattery’s pub. Then Junior’s arrived on the scene, which seems to be out the door every day and night of the week. Now we have Paulie’s Pizza, the Chop House, and Farmer Brown’s, all feeding the well-heeled locals and the Google Ghetto-dwellers, as well as The Bath Pub giving Slatt’s a run for its money on the pub front (they’ll also serve you a pizza during the week or brunch at the weekend).

But it’s the smallest spot that has stolen my heart, and become my new local, since I moved to the area a few months ago. Foodgame is a tiny cafe on South Lotts Road that’s busy every weekend (and I hear they do a savage lunch during the week), but still feels like a well-kept secret to everyone except the loyal locals who frequent it. It started life a few years ago as part-foodstore, part cafe, but over time has morphed fully into a cafe/restaurant. I got addicted to the coffee first, when all of my weekend jogs or walks gradually started to end up there. Then I came back for the grub… and now I keep going back.

Last Saturday morning, I’d sat down at a table just inside the door, papers in front of me as I waited for my coffee to arrive, when a little girl toddled in with her Dad. She looked around, big smile on her face, and clapped her hands. I knew just how she felt.

Foodgame is somewhere that I’m perfectly happy to go on my own – in fact I kind of prefer to. The communal seating and counter areas in this small space lend themselves to spreading out the papers while you get stuck into your coffee and breakfast.

photo credit - Foodgame

photo credit – Foodgame

I love the simplicity of the menu, which is the same few dishes written on a blackboard and rustled up in the tiny kitchen area. Bacon and eggs, mushrooms on toast, scrambled eggs on toast, omelettes, their homemade granola. Most things come served on their freshly baked brown bread, or toast if you prefer. There aren’t any fancy brunch dishes or “healthy options” on the weekend menu, but I like to think that these beautiful piles of the yellowest eggs and perfectly grilled rashers are clearly made with only the finest of produce, so they can only be good for you. Like my logic? You’re welcome.

Although one exception to this rule may be their totally legendary mushrooms – this pile of buttery garlicky goodness on toast (or as a side with your eggs, if you ask nicely) is worth every single one of the bazillion calories it undoubtedly contains.

I love the staff, who are always friendly, never over-familiar, and intuitively sympathetic to hangovers (not that I ever have one). Annoyingly, none of them look like they eat their own buttery mushrooms – maybe my “good for you” logic is actually true.

I love the small selection of baked things on the counter (my sister & I fought over every last crumb of an orange & polenta cake on a recent visit), the scribbled design of the coffee cups, the clever blackboards outside (usually offering free coffee to whatever poor unfortunate has been in the news that week), and the two tiny tables outside that get the sun in the mornings.

foodgame sign 2

I love it so much, that I’m afraid that by writing about Foodgame I won’t get my favourite seat at the weekend any more (assuming people other than my mother are reading this blog). But I’m risking it, because I reckon they deserve it. You need that coffee, and those mushrooms on toast, in your life.

Foodgame, 10 South Lotts Road, Ringsend, Dublin 4.

Visit their website or their excellent Facebook page for more info and pretty pictures.

Super Miss Sue, Drury Street.

Super Miss Sue

You could argue, that Super Miss Sue actually isn’t even open yet. With the main event, the “Restaurant and Gin Bar” yet to open its doors, what you’ll experience on visiting currently is their downstairs cafe, complete with fish counter, and walk-in chipper at the back, which they’ve named Cervi (open til 3am Fridays and Saturdays, night owls).

However, given the buzz about SMS since its “soft launch” a few months ago, John Farrell and co. could almost decide not to bother progressing with that undoubtedly expensive upstairs fit out, and just keep turning over those tables and bags of fish & chips downstairs. Having tried and failed once or twice to try the place out since it opened, I was quite surprised when I called up to see if I could book a table for dinner for our most recent Bank Holiday weekend and was greeted with a sunny “Sure, how many people and what time would you like?” Excellent.

You can currently book for five people or more, and smaller groups are walk-in only. Dare I say that if you were four, you could book for five and be sure you were going to get a table. You could always order an extra bottle of wine to assuage your guilty conscience. But you didn’t hear that from me…

The impressive exterior, with its big black metal windows and neon “SMS” signage, has made its mark on a previously dead corner of Drury Street and Stephen’s Street already, offering a brand new opportunity for a bit of people-watching in Dublin city centre. From the slick exterior, I was surprised at the simplicity of the interior when we pushed the door open on that busy Sunday night. “Very New York,” was one of the girls’ comment, and indeed there is a real similarity of look and feel to its sister restaurants, 777, Dillingers and the Butcher Grill, all of which have seemed NYC-inspired.

But, that’s where the similarity ends, as once again, here is a very different and new food offering. Super Miss Sue is all about the seafood. As someone who usually gravitates to the fish choices on any restaurant menu, to be faced with an entirely seafood-based menu is a very exciting thing indeed.

We didn’t have the fresh or grilled seafood platters, but the sight of these being delivered to other tables created some great restaurant theatre and visually drove home Super Miss Sue’s seafood credentials. But in fact, the most genius thing we tasted, wasn’t seafood-based at all.

A snack of four slices of toasted, fresh sourdough with ricotta, honey and jalapeno (these ingredients spread over the toasted bread), served in a wooden bowl, of the type my Mum used to serve peanuts in at drinks parties in the 80s, was a mind-blowingly simple and tasty starter.

We immediately started pooling ideas on how we could re-create it at home. Just writing about it makes me want to rush back in and devour a portion all to myself with some grilled prawns and a glass of icy-cold white wine.

It even threw my hotly anticipated “Bloody Mary seafood cocktail” into the shade. However, that is also a cracker of a starter. Served in a traditional prawn cocktail dish, you get a pile of prawns, mussels and squid, along with some lettuce and avocado, served drowned in Bloody Mary instead of the usual Marie-Rose sauce. A little messy to eat, and a lot pricey at €14, but a very cool twist on a classic starter.

The other starter that was praised at our table was the Tuna Sashimi – very simply presented as three generous slabs of rare tuna in a soy-type dressing, oddly named “modern dressing” on the menu. Having already raided the sourdough starter, I decided against raiding the girls’ plates again even in the interest of research, so I’ll give you their word for it, and that word was “amazing.”

We had a bit of a wait for our main courses as the restaurant began to get busier. Not a wait of Coppinger Row proportions, but enough to mean we were very eager to get stuck in by the time the dishes arrived to the table.

The presentation of all our main courses was simple – almost a little underwhelming. The Blackened Swordfish Burger with pineapple relish presented itself as a small-ish floury burger bun isolated in the middle of a plain white plate (nice touch to have the SMS logo on the crockery though), not visually living up to the anticipation built by the colourful descriptions on the menu. Similarly, my “sea bream stuffed with samphire, lemon, garlic and capers” initially looked to be a very small piece of fish with no visible stuffing or any other bells and whistles. But in both cases, we got stuck in and quickly got over this initial perception, when the taste took over. My bream was incredibly fresh, the lemon and garlic flavouring perfectly balanced and adding just the right amount of buttery goodness to the fish and the bundle of samphire that was hidden within.

Intersting side orders are also a focus here. The cynical side of me knows that it’s an easy way to add a few extra fivers onto a bill, but it also offers a great way to sample more of what the kitchen has to offer and add interest to more simple dishes. The sides at Super Miss Sue are definitely in the latter camp. I could have eaten two bowls of the braised kale, and the “Cervi fries” turned out to be proper “chipper chips…” the talk of the table.

At the moment, it’s a wine-only drinks offering until the “Gin Bar” opens upstairs. Two bottles of Ca’ D’Alta Pinot Grigio (€29) went really well with the variety of dishes we had, and our bill for four people came to €190 before tip. Perhaps unnecessarily, we were tempted to order something sweet at the end, so this included one nice-but-not-amazing lemon tart that we shared, our chosen salted caramel dessert being sold out by the time we got that far.

photo[2]

The only bum note for us (pun totally intended) was the bathroom. Only one unisex toilet for the whole place, where funky decor should not be a trade-off for hygiene. But you’d hope that a bigger space upstairs, when it opens, will mean more facilities (for both sexes, please).

So bring on the fancy upstairs opening, and let us try some more great seafood from sexy Super Miss Sue – I think she’s here to stay.

Super Miss Sue, Drury Street, Dublin 2.

Tel: +353 1 679 9009.

Visit their website or more news & deals/announcements are posted on their Facebook page.

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.

Dillinger’s, Ranelagh.

Picture the scene.

A Saturday night a few weeks ago, and while it would be a bit extreme to say that I was suffering from a broken heart, I was certainly feeling a bit dented in the left side of the chest area on this particular day due to the behaviour of a certain He Who Shall Not Be Seen Again. As The Frames said a long time ago…“I’m not sad, I’m just disappointed.” For once, I found myself agreeing with Glen Hansard.

Now, there are many people who would advocate beating a hasty retreat under a rock to get over that bruised heart/ego feeling – long bath, yoga, you know yourself.

But there was only one thing for it as far as I was concerned. Call up Wing-Woman Number 1, dress up, get out and curse the day the fool was born over some seriously good food and drinks.

It was a cold and rainy night, and we didn’t feel like going too far for our fun, so I called up Dillinger’s in Ranelagh, which I’d been meaning to visit for dinner since they reopened a few months ago, to see if they could fit us in at short notice. I’d been in for brunch, and been impressed by the much more slick, smart and spacious-looking Dillinger’s.

They offered us a seat at the bar – now I know some people are funny about eating and drinking on bar stools, but I happen to love it and I knew that Wing-Woman #1 did too, so I booked in straightaway. After a quick drink in the newly-refurbished Russell’s, now called the Tap House, we made our way across the road and took up our seats at the bar.

I decided that wine would be the wrong option given my frame of mind, for fear of being found, much later, singing “All by Myself” into my shoe, and opted for a 777 Margarita (€10). This is one of the genius benefits of the new Dillinger’s as far as I’m concerned – as it’s a sister restaurant of the insanely popular 777 on George’s Street, you can get the margaritas here without the queues. The night was already looking up. I also talked Wing-Woman #1 into sampling one, even though she protested that she “hated Margaritas.” Let me tell you, she didn’t hate them any more by Margarita number 3 – although I’m pretty sure she was hating me the next morning…

Dillingers

Mmmmmmargaritas….

Anyway, to the food. Accessory to the cocktail-fuelled conversation it may have been on this occasion, but it was damn good.

I started with Tuna Tacos (€11), another dish with very close ties to the 777 menu. Three small, soft tacos, were filled with seared tuna (which I was surprised to find was cold, but it was no bad thing), fresh guacamole and nicely spicy chipotle chili salsa. Could there have been a better dish to wash down with a chilled, potent margarita?

We both chose fish for our main course, with WW#1 going for the whole sea bass that was the fish of the day on that particular Saturday, while I ordered the roast cod with gambas, which came with small sprigs of broccoli and cauliflower. This was a gorgeous, fresh piece of fish with some beautifully juicy gambas on top, one of those dishes you eat ever-so-slowly because you don’t want to be finished just yet. Main course prices here run from €15 for a burger to €29 for the rib-eye on the bone – I can’t remember how much our fish dishes were but I’m guessing somewhere in the mid-€20s.

The side dishes were also superb – a dangerously delicious stack of onion rings (€4) and a much more virtuous heirloom tomato salad (€5) complemented both of our main courses brilliantly.

Service was sharp and fun, with a special mention deserved by our very sweet American waitress for joining in on the banter and keeping those wicked margaritas flowing until we called it a night.

I’ve been recommending Dillinger’s to all and sundry for brunch, dinner, hot dates or birthday parties, ever since. Check out their Facebook page for their weeknight specials too – I’ll be making my way down there for the Monday/Tuesday Calamari Special any day now.

Dillinger’s, 47 Ranelagh, Dublin 6.

Phone: +353 1 497 8010