girl eats dublin

Enthusiastically eating my way around Dublin and beyond.

Category: Early bird option

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.

161 Cafe & Bistro, Upper Rathmines Road.

I was living a stone’s throw from this place for about six months before I realized that I was spending my Saturday or Sunday mornings trekking (OK, cycling ten minutes) to Ranelagh or town for brunch, when there was a gem on my doorstep. It’s now the place I go when I’m feeling unsociable and want nothing more for company than the paper. The only reason I haven’t featured it in my brunch posts before now is that there are less than twenty seats in the place. Now that I am writing about it, I’ll bleedin’ kill yis all if I can’t get a table the next time I’m hanging for an Eggs Benedict of a Sunday morning.

Café 161 is a tiny restaurant situated in the row of shops on the Upper Rathmines Road that also includes the wonderful Lawlor’s butchers, Connolly’s fish shop, an O’Briens and the institution that is Fothergill’s and their wonderful cakes and baked goodies. Oh, and the obligatory Tesco Express. It’s a great little cluster of specialist stores and a treat to do a little local shopping at the weekend.

cafe161

I’d originally put it down as more of an evening spot, due to their constant advertising of their early bird menu on a sandwich board outside, which I seemed to trip over every time I popped into Tesco for a pint of milk.

It took a friend’s suggestion to have brunch there one weekend to convert me, whereupon I was kicking myself under the table as soon as I had a sip of my giant cappuccino (I actually asked for a “Giant cappuccino,” don’t judge me) and clapped eyes on the fine-looking steak and eggs that I soon found in front of me. I’ve since had a few cracking brunches there – from the Eggs Benedict to the Huevos Rancheros to the French Toast (with chargrilled banana, swoon), all the brunch favourites are on the menu and all under a tenner. For me this is great value, even this far out of town, as the portions are huge. No less than three gloriously fat sausages come with the full Irish, for example, and the ingredients are all clearly of the highest quality – gorgeous yellow eggs, plump roasted tomatoes, fresh salad leaves and glistening hollandaise are all standard at 161. I’m always amazed as to the quality of the food they are turning out of the tiny kitchen here (you’ll see it for yourself as you have to pass through the kitchen to get to the loo!).

Greg, the friendly Kiwi owner, and staff, are always chatty and welcoming, but also perceptive enough to leave you alone if you just want to enjoy a solitary brunch with the paper. The pretty, duck-egg blue decor I’d admired from outside is even prettier inside, although it can feel more cramped than cosy when it’s really busy, and was uncomfortably hot when I visited during our recent heatwave. But I’ll be looking forward to some cosy winter-morning brunches when the weather gets a bit chillier and spinning into town on my bike for Sunday brunch becomes a less appealing prospect. I also really must get around to trying the early bird – €19.50 for two courses has to be a good midweek option.

161 Cafe & Bistro, 161 Upper Rathmines Rd., Dublin 6.
+353 (1) 497 8049
Website | Facebook page

Mak at D6, Ranelagh.

One thing Ranelagh isn’t short of is restaurants. From stalwarts like Tribeca, eatery 120 and Mario’s, to newer favourites like the Butcher Grill, Cinnamon and la Bodega, and with Dillinger’s soon to re-open and add to the offering, locals are never short of options for eating out. But one thing that’s been proven with the number of successful new additions there over the past couple of years, is that there’s always appetite for more. Mak at D6 is located on the Triangle in Ranelagh, between Itsa and the Wine Buff, and I’d been very keen to try its “Dim Sum and authentic Chinese cuisine” offering since I first spotted it opening up a few months ago. Since then, I’ve heard good reports from some local friends who can be trusted about such things.

In fact, I’ve become very familiar with the exterior of Mak (I hope it’s OK to call it that, “Mak at D6” is a bit of a mouthful), as I pant past it towards the end of my jog a few times a week. But it was only last weekend that I finally got to familiarise myself with its interior, when Cousin Carol and I hit it up for dinner last Saturday night.

Makd63

It looks a bit canteen-like from outside but once inside, I was pleasantly surprised by the low-lit, modern interior, with windows along one side looking out onto the Triangle, and the kitchen opening onto the other side. We’d booked our table online earlier in the week – while checking out their website I’d been curious to see if their online booking would work, as many restaurants’ websites don’t, but I got a prompt response by email to confirm my booking, and we were seated in a nice spot at the window as soon as we arrived.

After too many average takeaways over the years, I don’t really get excited about Chinese food, but I was excited about the prospect of some decent dim sum, specifically the little steamed dumplings that are my absolute favourite. I would have chosen solely from the huge selection on the dim sum menu, which is split into three sections, Steamed, Pan-Grilled, and Crispy, but as Cousin Carol was keen to have a Chinese main course we decided on dim sum to start, to be followed by dishes from the main course menu.

I straight away decided on the Prawn Har Gau, which I was excited to see quickly arrive in its little bamboo box, containing four translucent steamed dumplings filled with delicious, fat prawns and bamboo shoots. Easy to divide between two – although I would happily have eaten all four. I also definitely hoovered up more than my fair share of our second starter, the salt & pepper calamari. These were a small plate of lightly coated, salty, crispy squid rings which were absolutely divine, especially washed down with a glass of the suitably chilled Sauv Blanc our cheery Chinese waiter had recommended. We seriously considered ordering a second portion but restrained ourselves at the thought of our main courses.

For my main course, I’d chosen pan-fried sea bass (with ginger and coriander oil) over the more expensive black cod dish (a whole tenner in the difference!), and didn’t regret my decision when I was served two excellent fillets of sea bass, which I teamed with a yummy side order of broccoli with ginger and chili to help myself resist overdosing on the delicious bowls of steamed rice that also accompanied our main courses.

Carol was served Mak’s version of that Chinese classic, beef black bean style (€17), and declared it a world away from its gloopy takeaway cousins that have given the dish a bad name over the years. Both dishes came as generous, yet elegantly presented portions, which unfortunately I didn’t get any decent photos of due to the dim lighting (OK, OK, I was too busy chowing down to do much snapping).

Having heard a couple of grumbles about slow service here, I can only assume that this was either an early teething problem, or that Mak had also heard the grumbles and addressed them, as I can only say good things about the fast and very attentive service we received from our waiter, who when asked to help us choose between two wines, also recommended the slightly cheaper one rather than default to the more expensive recommendation. I liked this a lot. Every other table seemed to be enjoying a similarly speedy level of service based on the comings-and-goings we could see between the kitchen and the diners.

Having taken our table at 8.30pm, we finished up just after ten, and weren’t in any way rushed to leave even though the place had by then completely filled up with Saturday night revellers. Two starters, two mains and a decent bottle of wine came to under €90.

Mak are open for lunch every day, and from 5.30 every evening to 11pm on weekend nights. Yes, it’s Chinese at Ranelagh prices, but still represents decent value due to to the quality of the food, service and atmosphere. The next time I go back I’ll be eating just from the Dim Sum menu – the main attraction here as far as I’m concerned. Char sui pork bun, I am coming for you!

Mak at D6, The Triangle, Ranelagh. +353 1 406 0006.

Whitefriar Grill, Aungier Street.

Whitefriar Grill. We sat in that little corner down the back…

Since I’ve started writing this blog, a lot of people have been asking if, or when, I’m going to start “slating places.”

The reality is, that while I dream of being able to come up with such gems as this one from AA Gill in the Sunday Times last weekend:

“The menu is short and beside the point, really. The food is there to be ordered collectively and forgotten or thrown, or eaten with your mouth open while imitating northern people.”

I didn’t start this blog so that I could become some sort of mean mystery-shopper who delights in anonymously slating Dublin restaurants. They’re having a hard enough time of it as it is. Chances are, I’m only going to decide to spend my precious time and cash somewhere that I’m pretty sure will be good based on others’ recommendations, or am curious enough to check out and find something at least constructive to say.

So, this is all a rather roundabout way of leading into “another” glowing review. But believe me, it’s deserved, as those of you who have visited this place will know already.

A couple of weeks ago I was entertaining my sister for the weekend, and was looking for a Saturday early bird deal that we could avail of before heading to a gig that night. Their brilliant value early bird menu was a perfect opportunity to try out the Whitefriar Grill, a place that I’d been hearing a subtle, mostly brunch-related buzz about for a while. They do 2 courses for €18.50 or 3 for €21.50, which knocks the socks off most rivals in terms of price, and also offers a more generous time slot (5-7pm) on a Saturday than you’ll find elsewhere.

A serendipitously positive review from Catherine Cleary in the Times on the day we visited was enough to reassure our third dining companion – let’s call her the D4 Die-Hard – who would otherwise have wondered why on earth you would go to Aungier Street for dinner on a Saturday night.

We took our table at 6.30, and loved the simple but cosy candlelit surroundings which I’m guessing work equally well by day or by night. We ordered a bottle of ‘The Stables’ Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc (€30) and browsed the choices on the early bird menu. Having heard that these guys are all about their meat (I guess the clue’s in the ‘Grill’ bit), I went meaty for my starter and chose the Jack McCarthy’s black pudding with oxtail and fried quail’s egg.

Black pudding starter with oxtail and quail egg.

This was an outrageously flavoursome dish and I found myself eating it in tiny bites to make it last as long as possible. My D4 Die-Hard had the gambas pil-pil on crushed tomato toast, a large portion with some truly giant prawns on top of toasted, tomato-ey sourdough bread.

Giant Gambas.

My sister’s salad of saffron-poached pear, gorgonzola and raspberry vinaigrette looked slightly inferior in comparison to the other two mightily meaty starters, but was a perfectly tasty option in its own right.

You’ll be glad to know that my steak craving is on temporary hiatus, so I opted for roast fillet of hake which arrived beautifully crispy, presented atop a plank (more food on wooden boards!) and accompanied by new potatoes, peperonata and fine beans. It was a generous portion of fish and I found myself disagreeing wholeheartedly with the criticism in the Irish Times review that the hake they’d had was dry, as mine was succulent and tasty, a view shared by my sister who was stealing from my plate/plank in between bites of her own tandoori chicken (with Bombay potatoes and mint yoghurt).

Full of good cheer (and halfway through a second bottle of wine), we all decided to go for dessert and I had a Bailey’s and cherry creme brulee, which was presented in a simple ramekin dish – perfectly hard and crunchy on top, creamy and cool underneath, with just the right amount of Bailey’s flavour running through it. The other two were getting stuck into some excellent chocolate fudge brownies – a staple dish on many menus but here, artfully stacked on the plate along with ice-cream and cream. The corner I nicked from across the table tasted very good indeed.

So, the damage. Three early birds, two bottles of wine, and a couple of coffees set us back just over €40 each. I could happily have stayed ensconsced in the back of the Whitefriar all night, but the downside of the early bird option is that the next round of paying punters are snapping at your heels by 8pm.

So it was time to move on, back out into the chilly Aungier Street air, and ready for our night out to begin.

I’ve already been back for brunch once since then (there’s only one word for their Pork Belly Florentine and that word is ‘OMFG’), and have also booked a big table in for our Christmas LLLL,* when we will be very much looking forward to trying out the cocktail menu.

So sorry, no slatings here just yet.

*Lovely Ladies’ Liquid Lunch (TM).