girl eats dublin

Enthusiastically eating my way around Dublin and beyond.

Category: Special Occasion

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.

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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

The Vintage Kitchen, Poolbeg Street.

From the Irish Times to le cool, to the 80+ rave reviews on Tripadvisor, the Vintage Kitchen has been one of the most talked-about new places to eat in Dublin this year. Which of course means that any time I’ve tried to get a reservation for dinner there, they haven’t ever had a Friday or Saturday evening table when I’ve asked for one, and I kind of gave up trying a while ago. But, as soon as arrangements were made a few weeks ago for a Tuesday night rendezvous with my favourite dining companions, the Loreto Ladies, we snapped up the 8.15pm table we were offered and started studying the menu in anticipation.

The Vintage Kitchen’s BYOW policy has played no small part in its popularity, meaning that you can bring your favourite wine without even paying corkage. I was delighted to see that this also appears to extend into a Bring Your Own Pint policy, with punters arriving in with pints of Arthur’s finest in hand from Mulligan’s next door.

Better again, it was only when I noticed our waiter dropping records off at a couple of tables near us that I remembered also reading about their “Bring your own Vinyl” policy, which allows customers to bring their favourite records to spin on the restaurant’s turntable while enjoying their meal. The perfect option for the music obsessive or budding DJ, a potential embarrassment for those of you whose only stash of vinyl is made up of Mum’s old Mary Black albums and a Bosco LP… Thankfully the diners supplying the records on the night we visited had pretty uncontroversial Motown and indie leanings.

The menu is divided into ‘Something to Start’, ‘Something to Follow’ and ‘Something to Finish’ – that’s starter, main course and desserts to you and me. For €25 you get two courses of your choice from the menu, and you can add dessert for an extra fiver. Our waiter advised us from the start to “leave room” for dessert…at least we thought that’s what he was saying, but our hearing may have been muffled by the sound of furious scoffing of the little basket of fresh bread with a creamy fennel butter that he had just dropped off at our table. He got a bit more firm then, refusing our pleas for “more bread please” in favour of us leaving room for the food.

I started with “The excellent St Tola (adjective not mine, but I can’t argue with the description) organic goat’s cheese, black figs, Spanish tomatoes, cherry and star anise relish and slow roasted beets,” and what a start it was. The velvety-smooth little balls of goat’s cheese combined with the beetroot, tomato (two ingredients I would presume never should go together) and the pool of almost-black relish at the bottom of the dish, were a stunning combination.

St Tola goat's cheese and beetroot starter.

St Tola goat’s cheese and beetroot starter.

“House salt cod and Clogherhead crab salad” was the other star starter, also proudly bearing its Irish ingredients in its name. In the case of this dish, I didn’t think the presentation did it any favours, as the array of “blobs” of chili mayo and roast pepper pesto struggled to stand out against the clear glass dish – but the portion was generous enough for everyone to have a taste, and it tasted fantastic.

Salt cod & Clogherhead crab salad starter.

Salt cod & Clogherhead crab salad starter.

The other two had fish chowder (Sligo clams and Glenmar house smoked natural haddock chowder, to be precise) with tons of haddock and mussels shipwrecked in many delicious litres of cream, and an unusual dish of roasted and braised Carlow mushrooms, truffle essence, greens and basil milk, which proved worth the risk of ordering something that the rest of us were a bit “ugh” about on paper.

When it came to our mains, we mostly chose different main courses so as to sample as much of the menu as possible, trying everything but the steak and veggie options.

I never thought I could be completely full from eating white fish for dinner, but as I struggled to finish the last mouthfuls (never let it be said I was a quitter) of my huge, fresh piece of pan-fried Kilmore Quay hake, having polished off all of the accompanying “sautéed Cajun Roaring Bay” mussels and scooped the caviar out of the seashells that topped off this incredible dish, I had to concede that dessert wasn’t going to be on the cards.

Kilmore Quay hake, caviar, sauteed mussels, organic leeks.

Kilmore Quay hake, caviar, sauteed mussels, organic leeks.

I also loved the look of Niamh’s roasted poussin with crispy potatoes, soy and apple gravy with celeriac pot – the latter of which I couldn’t leave alone as I kept stealing forkfuls from across the table (sorry Niamh), and the other main course on our table which was the Slaney River slow roasted lamb shank with treacle gravy, slow roasted carrots and sweet potato mash. None of the four of us had anything but huge praise for all of this food (and we weren’t even availing of the BYOW).

Little crispy poussin (awww) with celeriac pot.

Little crispy poussin (awww) with celeriac pot.

Much has been made of the “vintage” decor here, and while it’s definitely quirky, I couldn’t honestly describe it as comfortable. Conditions at our window four-top table were pretty cramped and there was a persistent draught from the window at the back of my neck for the whole night. I wouldn’t put up with it in any other restaurant. But as you might have guessed already, the Vintage Kitchen isn’t really like any other restaurant you’ll find in Dublin right now.

The value for money is incredible when you consider that we enjoyed all of the dishes above at a cost of €100 for four people. It’s worth mentioning that two dishes on the night we visited carried a supplement – a relatively hefty €6 for the striploin of beef and another €4 for the cheese plate on the dessert menu would bring the cost of your dessert, if you were to make it that far, to €9. Our friendly waiter (and I mean by this that he was so friendly that my friends thought I knew him, so enthusiastic were the chats throughout our meal) also raved about their lunch menu, which includes the superbly creamy fish chowder and which I urge you try if you’re a Dublin city centre worker.

They’re also currently promoting a brilliant value Christmas lunch menu on their website where €25 will get you not two, but three courses, which should guarantee them a full house for the whole festive season. We’re already booked in for the Lovely Ladies Christmas Liquid Lunch, 2013 Edition, where I’m sure we’ll take full advantage of all possible BYO policies.

Even though it describes itself as a “pop down to” rather than a “pop-up” restaurant, it feels like The Vintage Kitchen could be a testing ground for chef Sean Drugan, before he moves onto loftier things. So my advice is to take whatever booking you can get, and go there soon.

The Vintage Kitchen, 7 Poolbeg Street, Dublin 2.

+353 (1) 679 8705 for reservations or visit their website.

Restaurant FortyOne, St. Stephen’s Green.

‘Where is Restaurant FortyOne exactly?’ was the most common reaction to my quick straw poll to check if many people of my acquaintance knew that Restaurant FortyOne is the restaurant housed in the fancy surroundings of Residence members’ club on St. Stephen’s Green.

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While I’d heard great reports on the food from various sources, if I’d heard anyone mention that they had eaten in Residence, I would have assumed that they were members or guests of members, and never really considered it as an option to visit myself for a meal out. For me, Residence has been the venue for some fun late nights drinking excellent cocktails (and sometimes dodging the amorous advances of the over-fifties brigade), on the occasions that I’ve been lucky enough to be brought along by friends who are members there.

But two things I discovered when I had the chance to have lunch there to celebrate the upcoming nuptials of a very special friend, in the company of some other special ladies*, were that 1) you don’t need to be a member or be in the company of a member to eat there, and 2) chef Graham Neville and his team are serving up some of the very best food I’ve had in Dublin, or anywhere else, in a long time.

Dinner there will cost you upwards of €35 for a main course, but this beautiful, clean, colourful food, with ingredients containing fresh vegetables and herbs from their own kitchen garden outside Dublin, was ours to enjoy for just €30 per person for two courses or €35 for three on their set lunch menu.

I haven’t altered or applied filters to any of the photos I took of our lunch dishes, so some of them will look a bit lopsided (Let’s face it, I probably had a glass of wine in the opposite hand to my iPhone), but I wanted to show the food in all its lovely colour and freshness.

My starter of Dinish Island scallops featured two meaty scallops sitting in a stunning strawberry and cucumber gazpacho – a gorgeous combination of warm and cold ingredients. I think that was caviar dotted along the top of the cucumber, but I may have been too busy slurping on the gazpacho and cutting my scallops into the tiniest possible pieces to make them last, to notice.

starter

The other starter that was inducing gasps of food envy around the table was the simple-sounding “Buffalo Mozzarella, Heirloom Tomatoes, Wild Artichokes, Herbs.” An iteration of the standard Caprese salad, for sure, but on another level entirely – this featured torn pieces of baked flatbread and what one of our party, who had lived in Italy, described as “the best buffalo mozzarella I’ve had anywhere, including Italy.”

mozzarella

(Side note: can anyone enlighten me as to what is it with heirloom tomatoes being on every menu in town these days? Most fashionable new ingredient for 2013?)

When it came to the main courses, I almost sobbed when I came to the last mouthful of my Monkfish with Courgette Flower, stuffed with prawns (the courgette flower, not the monkfish). This beautifully meaty and moist piece of fish was served in a vegetable broth that was creamy, but not heavy in any way.

fish

I also have to give a special mention to the side order of vegetables I received when I requested some “green veg” instead of the new potatoes that were being offered along with the main courses. In most restaurants when I make the same request, I’ll get a side of broccoli at the best of times, or a dirty look at worst. In FortyOne, I was asked if I had any preference on what vegetables I’d like, and when the main courses arrived I was presented with a beautifully presented selection of creatively-chopped courgettes, steamed asparagus and green peas. I rarely get excited over vegetables but on this occasion, I had to show my side order off to the whole table (I said show off, not share).

veg

I didn’t have dessert, but I got to sample my friend Jenny’s delicious Warm Apple Tarte Tatin with bourbon vanilla ice cream. The pastry in the perfectly-formed round tart was light and flaky, the warm apples creating a gorgeous melty taste-fest with the creamy vanilla ice-cream, making it a deservedly popular dessert around the table.

Throughout the meal, the staff were formal enough to make it feel like a special occasion, but not at all stuffy. They were happy to answer any questions we had on the food and to leave us to our own devices when the “hen” antics got under way. They also were completely gracious in their response to all requests, provided a plentiful supply of freshly baked breads at regular intervals, and didn’t try to rush us off the table at any point, which we really appreciated.

The final lovely touch was the tray of freshly home-made macarons that arrived along with our coffee at the end of the meal. I hadn’t realised that tea/coffee and petits fours were included in the set lunch price, so this just confirmed for me that €30 for the two courses I had, plus excellent coffee and petits fours, was pretty brilliant value.

For anyone who had dessert, it was €35 for three courses, and if you weren’t like us on the wine front (i.e. ordering and consuming a fair number of bottles over the course of the afternoon), you can choose to accompany your three courses with a glass of very decent house white or red wine for an additional €5.

I just think it’s a fantastic option for a couple, or a couple of friends, to treat themselves to a proper, special restaurant experience without spending massive money in doing so.

Similarly, for food of this standard, 3 courses for €38.50 on their Pre-Theatre menu in the evening is also superb value. It feels like chef Graham Neville and team have stars (of the Michelin variety) in their eyes – I hope they get them.

*N.B. Behaviour of said “Ladies” by the end of the afternoon may have been less than ladylike.

Restaurant Forty One, Residence, 41 St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2.

Tel: +353 1 6620 000 or visit their website.

Weafer & Cooper, Glasthule.

Inside Weafer & Cooper (photo credit: restaurant)

Inside Weafer & Cooper (photo credit: restaurant)

A friend put a conundrum to me the other day: “If you had to give up eating out, except for one day of your choice a week, which day and which meal would you choose?”

Pondering this classic First World Problem (aarrgh! What would become of Girl Eats Dublin?), it didn’t take long for the answer to become clear. You can take your midweek tapas, your Friday night pizza and wine, your Saturday night dinner with a rowdy gang of pals…. but you’ll never take my Suuuuunnnndaaaaaayyyyy Bruuuuuuunnnnch (last line to be read aloud, Braveheart-style, for the desired effect).

Ah, Sunday brunch. One of the only good things spawned in Dublin by the Celtic Tiger, and still an affordable luxury, it has to be my favourite eating-out occasion of the week. The perfect way to cure a hangover if you’ve been out on Saturday night – or if you haven’t, the ideal way to still get a little socialising fix in before going back to work on Monday, making your hungover friends jealous with how fresh you look. Living within strolling distance of both town and Ranelagh, I tend to stick with the tried-and-tested brunch spots – Odessa, Bar with No Name or Dillinger’s (currently closed for renovations). A bad brunch can ruin a perfectly good Sunday, particularly if one’s head is already in a delicate state, so I have tended in the past to avoid risking my weekly eggs-and-coffee-based treat by going somewhere new.

But, in the interest of research (the things I do for you, dear reader), I have been cautiously trying some new brunch spots over the last few months. After a few delicious brunches at my new favourite, the Whitefriar Grill (try the Gambas Benedict), my widening of the net was going well, so last weekend I struck out even further afield, with a willing Brunch Buddy in the form of my friend Gillian. Hangover-free, we hopped in the car and headed out the coast to Glasthule.

Our destination was Weafer & Cooper, a restaurant that’s been in business for about 18 months, but I’d only heard about recently from a colleague who lives nearby. Dun Laoghaire is about as far as my weekend excursions usually take me, so Glasthule is relatively unfamiliar territory. On a main street dominated by a pub, a car showroom and across from an empty shop unit, Weafer & Cooper is a lovely sight. Formerly two old houses, its duck-egg blue shopfront complete with sophisticated signage and large windows appealed even from across the road. My research in advance had informed me that the name, which I had cynically assumed was a makey-uppy effort following the “random name + random name” formation so beloved of bars and restaurants, comes from the fact that the two houses that formed the building the restaurant now occupies were owned by the Weafer family, and the Cooper family. I liked the name already, and learning its history I liked it even more.

It’s a huge premises inside, split into two levels with the kitchen and giant pizza oven down the back and is one of the nicest restaurant fit-outs I’ve seen in Dublin in a long time. I loved the counter immediately inside the front door which held a selection of gorgeous looking fresh baked cakes and tiers of meringues, then leading on into the bar and coffee-making area.

I’m a sucker for a window seat, so I chose one of the tables for two at the window, and settled in to review the menu. Asking for a ‘strong Americano’ while I did so, I got exactly that – an excellent coffee served in a lovely glass mug was accompanied by a cute miniature glass milk bottle containing my requested hot milk. I also ordered a fresh juice on impulse, having seen their juice menu on the blackboard while I was waiting for the table. ‘The Beet,’ (€4.50) containing beetroot, carrot and orange, was a vibrantly coloured and delicious glass of goodness that was guzzled in no time.

Hovering in indecision over the menu, and with no sore head to be cured with eggy dishes, I ended up throwing carb-caution to the wind and ordering from the pizza menu, choosing the Gambero pizza (€15) with prawns, rocket, lime and creme fraiche. Gillian asked to combine two of the brunch dishes, a request that was met with a sunny “no problem” attitude from our friendly waitress – take note, other Dublin brunch establishments (on the topic, I’m hoping that Dillinger’s remove that rather harsh “No Substitutions” from their menu when they reopen next month).

In the time between ordering and receiving our food, the temperature around our window seat got so cold and draughty, dropping another bit every time the door behind me opened, that we had to ask to be moved otherwise we’d have been eating our lunch with our coats on. Again this was “no problem at all,” but as we saw other diners shivering around us too, this seemed like a problem Weafer & Cooper’s owners should probably look at addressing.

Once settled at our new table, the food arrived and Gillian was served two beautifully poached eggs on top of smoked salmon, accompanied by some very fresh-looking roasted tomatoes, grilled Portobello mushrooms, and some divine Guinness bread. My pizza could have done with a little less cheese which was in danger of overwhelming the prawns, but was otherwise crisp and delicious, the creme fraiche, rocket and hint of lime perfectly setting off the generous topping of large tiger prawns. If you’ve never tried prawns on a pizza before, I highly recommend this one.

weafer

For dessert, lured by the sight of the baked goods counter rather than the official dessert menu, we shared a chocolate brownie and a giant, fresh meringue which Gillian described as “the most perfect meringue I’ve ever had.”

The service was friendly and considerate throughout, although it got a little confused the busier they became with Sunday lunch parties. I was kindly given half of my brownie carefully wrapped up to take home, which I greatly enjoyed with a cuppa later that evening, but the second coffees we ordered after our dessert took so long to arrive that we almost regretted them once they did. We were in no rush so it didn’t bother us too much, but would have been irritating had we been in a hurry to get out by a certain time. This, and the chilly temperature of the front dining area, were my only gripes in what was otherwise a really great brunch/lunch experience. Some draught-proofing around the front door and windows and they’ll have that latter problem solved. Or I’ll just wait for the weather to get a bit warmer before making a trip back…

So, another successful experiment in brunching. I think the VCC is going to be next on my list, but if you have any other recommendations, do let me know in a comment!

Weafer & Cooper, 71-73 Glasthule Road, Co. Dublin.

Tel: (01) 231 1971

Website and Facebook page.