girl eats dublin

Enthusiastically eating my way around Dublin and beyond.

Category: My local spots

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.

menu

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.

roast beef

(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.

 

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Foodgame, South Lotts Road.

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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.

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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.

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.

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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.”

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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

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.

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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
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