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.
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:
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.
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.