girl eats dublin

Enthusiastically eating my way around Dublin and beyond.

Category: Special Occasion

The Meeting House, Temple Bar.

FullSizeRender(1)

Porn Star Martinis at The Meeting House.

Are you looking for a secluded dinner venue where you can whisper sweet nothings into the ear of your new flame? Or carry on a deep and meaningful discussion with your loved one over cocktails?

Then, under no circumstances, should you go to The Meeting House. This new hotspot in the former premises of Eden in Temple Bar resembled a nightclub more than a restaurant, when I first walked through its doors at 8.30 on a Saturday night. Other than the terrace onto Meeting House Square, it looks completely different, bang up to date with industrial-style concrete pillars up to the ceiling, graffiti on the walls and a DJ already banging out the “choons” (is that still what the young people call them?) from early in the evening.

FullSizeRender

Having booked ahead earlier in the week, we announced ourselves to the friendly hostess at the door and were invited to take a seat at the bar until our table was ready. As three girls starting a Saturday night out, we were more than happy to perch at the bar, peruse the cocktail menu, admire each others’ hair/handbags etc., and catch up on the gossip. However, we were also starving, and after 20 minutes we’d finished our drinks and there was still no sign of us getting our hands on our table. We ended up waiting 40 minutes at the bar until finally exasperated, I went up to the hostess to see what the likelihood of being seated was.

In fairness to her, she didn’t tell any fibs and immediately admitted to having forgotten all about us. Within minutes, we received a gushing apology, a booth at the window – and a chilled bottle of prosecco on the house. That put a stop to our grumbling, and after that initial mishap, the service was nothing short of super sweet and highly efficient for the rest of the evening.

In a party place like this, the first port of call has to be the cocktail menu, so there we began. My fancy was tickled by the tequila-based “Paloma Faith” and the classic Caipirinha, but it was impossible to pass the “Porn Star Martini” which is the first on the list. Despite the cheeky name, it’s a classy combination of vanilla vodka, passionfruit puree and vanilla sugar, topped with prosecco. Very sweet, but with a great kick, this was one of the better cocktails I’ve had in Dublin lately, and a reason to go back in itself.

FullSizeRender(2)

At the same time, we were also getting busy ordering from the extensive food menu. The notion of “Burmese food” may be confusing, or even off-putting for some, so to simplify it, I’d describe it as Asian fusion, served tapas or “sharing” style.

Oh, I’ve ranted about the “small plates” phenomenon before – beloved as it is of many new restaurants, but resulting in an epic swizz in many cases, when you end up paying twice the cost of a normal main course to eat three or four small dishes which don’t even go well together. The exception is that it works well when all the flavours are similar, and it works well here at The Meeting House.

Advised by our lovely waitress to order 2-3 dishes per person depending on our level of hunger, we found that this recommendation was spot on. We were a hungry crew on that evening (well, wouldn’t you be after waiting over half an hour for your table?) so we went for 8 dishes between three of us.

The lighting unfortunately didn’t allow me to take great photos of the food, so all images that follow are filched from The Meeting House’s Facebook page.

Mini Asian burgers and sweet potato fries.

Mini Asian burgers and sweet potato fries.

The food arrived all together and made an impressive spread across our table. The girls shared the 2 mini Asian burgers and were raving about the juicy beef burgers and the rice coconut buns straight away – I didn’t try them myself, but definitely a dish for the list next time. The rest of the dishes were a mixture of the marvellous and the middling – mostly excellent, but with a few that weren’t quite on point.

The one I was most looking forward to, the Tuna Sashimi, didn’t disappoint. Dark and delicious in a soya dressing, it converted even the non-tuna fan at our table. On the other hand, a vegetable tempura was a little too soft and, while the portion was generous, was a little disappointing. A rare steak salad was indeed nice and rare, but bland overall, with an overpowering taste of black pepper. This could be a great dish with better seasoning.

The sides were pretty stellar. One of my favourite dishes on the whole table was the simple sweet potato fries, or “Asian sweet potatoes” as they’re called here. Served with two different dips and coated in ‘secret seasoning,’ they’re a must-order, and the side of Asian greens was also excellent.

A steamed sea bass fillet in fish broth was really juicy and tasty – it made a great healthy option when paired with the Asian greens, and the house chicken coconut curry was declared “divine” by our resident Thai curry aficionado. I’m following a mostly Paleo diet at the moment which means a lot of carb avoidance (and no, Porn Star Martinis don’t count, before you ask) so we passed on the rice dishes, and didn’t miss the carbs at all due to the variety of other dishes and textures on the table.

Delicious Tuna Sashimi.

Delicious Tuna Sashimi.

They’re aiming to give good value here, with all dishes (including the cocktails) priced at 9.99, any 3 for 27, any 4 for 35 etc. We each had change of 50 once we’d paid the bill, which notwithstanding the good cheer provided by the free bottle of prosecco, we agreed was fantastic value for the feast of decent grub and fun atmosphere we’d enjoyed. There was also the lovely touch with our bill of a small bag of home-made chocolate truffles each, on which a voucher was attached for 20% off all food until March 31st (I didn’t get back to avail of it, but a very smart idea).

You have the option to move upstairs to the mezzanine bar area after your meal, but it was getting pretty rowdy up there by the time we finished eating, so we decided on another drink at our table and then moving onto our next destination.

So, if you’re set on a quiet dinner date, this isn’t the spot for you. But if you’re after tasty Asian bites washed down with excellent cocktails, and accompanied by a soundtrack that will have you chair-dancing in your seat while you have your meal, then you should pay The Meeting House a visit. I’d say it’s deservingly going to start giving Saba a run for its money in the group dining/hen party stakes, if it hasn’t already.

The other attraction here is their approach to Sundays, a clever move for what’s a quiet evening for many restaurants. On Sundays at The Meeting House, the pricing gets flipped on its’ head and you can enjoy exactly the same menu (including the cocktails), where everything is 6.66 instead of 9.99.

You’d be tempted to take a Monday off and go for it…Anyone with me?

The Meeting House, Meeting House Square, Temple Bar, Dublin 2.

Phone: +353 (1) 670 3330 or visit their website for menus.

Delahunt, Camden Street.

Over the festive season, lots of people asked me what had been my favourite restaurant of 2014. I can tell you now, that my best Dublin restaurant of the year only stole into that place in the dying days of December, when I first walked into Delahunt on Camden Street.

In the former premises of Jack Carvill’s off-licence, a beautifully curated restoration, bags of character and some seriously creative Irish cooking have combined to create a restaurant that “had me at hello.”

Screen Shot 2015-01-18 at 1.39.27 PM

I liked it so much that I ended up eating there twice in the same week. The first visit was on the invitation of two friends who are further ahead of the curve than me, and had chosen Delahunt as the venue for the annual celebration of their wedding anniversary. I was mostly just excited to eat anything that didn’t have turkey or ham as the primary ingredient. But I began to get properly excited when we walked through the doors of Delahunt and took in the view.

The whole place feels like a labour of love. Carvills’ old wooden off-licence counter has been kept and restored in all its glory, and now serves as a long wooden bar which runs half the length of the restaurant and immediately invites you to pull up a seat and have a cocktail. The old floorboards (I remember almost falling through a hole in one of them while on a closing-time mission to pick up a bottle of wine, some years ago) have also been kept and restored and this all gives the place a stylish, but lived-in feel. Every corner has been thoughtfully curated, right down to the prints on the walls in the snug and the framed sketches lining the walls in the bathrooms. The net curtains on the windows give it an “Auld Dublin meets NYC” feel. It doesn’t feel like a brand-new restaurant at all. As we were still waiting for some of our group to join us, we duly pulled up a couple of stools at the bar and ordered a drink. We chatted to the unassuming young chap behind the bar, and fished to find out a bit more about Delahunt’s back-story. As it turned out, the “barman” himself was the owner (Darren is his name), who has bravely bought the whole building from NAMA. With a background in some top Dublin dining haunts, and ambitious plans researched by visits to London and New York, he’s brought two chefs from Locks with him to Delahunt and his plans for the place include expanding upstairs with more seating and I think, another bar. The name “Delahunt” came from the old name of the premises before it was Carvill’s, discovered on a sign they found during the renovations and which now hangs on the wall in the restaurant.

Screen Shot 2015-01-18 at 2.42.27 PM

Needless to say, by this stage we were only dying to sample the food. The rest of our gang having arrived, we were delighted to be shown to the “snug” at the back – a glass (and more net curtains)-enclosed private dining room which looked to be an original feature of the building. It holds a table that can snugly fit 8-10 people and from where you can still see out to the rest of the restaurant and into the kitchen – very important for nosey parkers like me. We took our seats and imagined old Mr Carvill or his book-keeper doing the paperwork here back in the day.

The menu was simple – 4 starters and 4 mains, with starters from €7-10 and mains from €18 up to around the €25 mark. The great thing about us being a big group was that we got to see and sample everything from the menu. I was thrilled with the presentation of my Jerusalem artichoke soup, which was poured into the bowl at the table on top of some tiny mushrooms, and served with a wooden board on the side on which was presented my “mushrooms on toast” with hazelnut pesto. I thought €7 was amazing value for a dish that had so much taste and theatre. The other starters around the table were going down well too, especially the popular “Crispy pressed ham hock & crubeens, celeriac remoulade, raisin mustard,” which although was described as looking like “a fish finger” defied all criticism once you tasted it. I also loved the pear & Bellingham blue cheese salad with chicory, sherry and walnut and it was this one that I ordered the next time I visited. Finally, the Home Smoked Salmon, with Guinness bread, horseradish and cucumber, was served sashimi-style on a black slate and accompanied by some very good Guinness bread. We’d also received some of the same bread in the excellent bread basket that had been delivered to us earlier on, so everyone got to tuck in.

The standard continued through to our main courses. The star of the show was the “Beef cheek braised in stout, glazed carrot, black cabbage horseradish, smoked bone marrow,” a perfect winter dish with slow-cooked beef that fell off the fork (and into our gobs). The hake in my “Roast hake with red wine & beetroot braised lentils, leek, Lardo di Colonnata” had been replaced with plaice – a lovely piece of fish and a great dish, but I definitely felt it would have been better with hake or even a meaty piece of cod. The other main course that was the envy of all but the two people who’d ordered it, suprisingly was the vegetarian one. A potato cake topped with a crisp hen’s egg and served with curly kale, capers and white onions, it was another stunning winter warmer. The level of presentation of each dish was fantastic, and the portions were perfectly judged.

Screen Shot 2015-01-18 at 2.16.41 PM

We also got to sample all of the side orders, including roast potatoes, an amazing swede mash, and (I surprised myself in my post-Christmas state, by scoffing quite an amount of this) brussels sprouts and chestnuts.

The wine and drinks lists are excellent – sure they’d have to be, to avoid the ghosts of the building’s previous owner coming back to haunt them. We enjoyed our red wine, a “Quadrifolia” Douro from Portugal (34) so much that I ordered it again on my second visit. We also had a lovely “La Closerie” Chardonnay, great value at €26, so you can down it guilt-free. The lads also sang the praises of the Whiskey Sours and the Maple Old Fashioned, and I can back up the latter as the beautifully made Old-Fashioned in the photo at the top of the post was the one I enjoyed all to myself when I came back a few nights later.

I decided I didn’t have room for dessert, but asked if I could order an Irish coffee instead. Once the rest of the table got wind of this idea, the staff found themselves with an order for five Irish coffees on their hands, which they obligingly whipped up even though they hadn’t been on the menu. The Irish coffees washed down a selection of superb desserts including a Rhubarb Fool with Leinster sugar cake (that’s biscuits to you and me) and a very sinful warm chocolate pudding that had everyone else sneaking spoonfuls of it around the table.

Screen Shot 2015-01-18 at 1.50.06 PM

Ain’t no fool like a rhubarb fool.

When finally we had finished polishing off this feast of food and drink, we realised we were the last people in the restaurant, so sadly decided we’d probably have to move on. Here has to be given an honourable mention for all of the staff, at one point all of whom were with us in the snug, as they teamed up to make sure that all of our dishes were served up at exactly the same time and to the right recipients. They all really knew their stuff, were great fun without being intrusive, and added to the overall banter of our evening (special mention to Rita who I met on my second visit – she is a legend).

Cheesy goodness.

Cheesy goodness.

We were a bit scared of what damage we might have done to the bill at the end of the evening, but were pleasantly surprised when it arrived, as we all considered a total of about 80 per head including service very fair value for the level of food, drink and overall experience we’d enjoyed.

Screen Shot 2015-01-18 at 2.34.31 PM

Delahunt is elegant, but casual, and to be able to eat this standard of food in a relaxed, buzzing environment is something new and very much welcome in Dublin. I’m even OK with the unisex toilets here (usually a pet hate – see Super Miss Sue) because they’ve kept them as individual, self-contained bathrooms. I think Delahunt is going to become very, very popular in Dublin and although selfishly, I’d love to keep it on the down-low, it absolutely deserves to be.

Screen Shot 2015-01-18 at 1.09.36 PM

New menu, January 2015.

In keeping with Delahunt’s understated style, it’s been launched without PR “buzz” (which can often lead to overpromising and underdelivering – take note, The Dean). But, it’s building that buzz all by itself, and quietly packing them in every evening that I’ve passed since. They’ve just changed the menu and added some new dishes, so don’t wait until 2015 is too much older before you pay this place a visit. Oh, and if you’re a group of 2-4 people, or you’re looking to impress your date, ask for the window table – it’s the best seat in the house.

Delahunt, 39 Camden Street Lower, Dublin 2.

Tel: +353 1 598 4880, visit their website or Facebook page.

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.

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.

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.