Grub in the Dub
Dublin is expensive. There are lots of great restaurants but I couldn’t afford to eat in most of them. Just a trip to the chippy costs €9 and you are looking at at least €20 for a main course at a mid-range eatery, especially in the touristy area around Temple Bar. However, I’ve been here several times in recent years and have managed to find a few good places, and I’m sure there are plenty more to be discovered away from the centre.
The Oliver St. John Gogarty (Intermediate A), Temple Bar.
With its prominent location on the Temple Bar strip, this garishly painted live music pub might not seem an obvious choice for good food but in terms of traditional Irish fare I have had no better in the capital. The restaurant is on the second floor, best accessed by a door on the side street.
On this occasion I had the Bacon and Cabbage which came with a white béchamel sauce on the side (B+). My companions had the Irish Stew, involving a huge lamb shank, which I can attest to being delicious (A) as I’ve had it myself on two previous visits.
To finish, the Guinness ice cream with blueberries had to be tried and it was actually very nice (A). The apple pie, with ice cream on the side is also excellent (A). The waiting staff are usually stretched but will give you good friendly service when they finally get round to you. After eating you can go down to the next floor to catch the live band belting out the classics, with maybe a bit of Gaelic dancing too.
Odessa (Intermediate A), 13/14 Dame Court (near Temple Bar) , Tel. 01 670 7634
Not trad in the slightest, this is a very cool spot serving cocktails and a modern multi-cultural menu of world classics. It’s the kind of restaurant/bar/club I would love to open myself if I had the money. In particular I like the retro modern decor and the comfortable stylish furniture, and the fact the building has five floors, each with a different feel. The second floor (entrance through a different door) is a good place to come for a Sunday Brunch (they open at 11.30) of Eggs Benedict washed down with a large Bloody Mary (both A).
On this visit though I joined the beautiful things in the main ground floor restaurant to feast on their ‘Soul Food’ menu with several choices for only €10. I liked the freshness of the Jerk Chicken with an orange, sweetcorn and bean salsa (B+). Also good was the Odessa Burger with tomato relish, dill pickle, smoked Applewood cheese and chunky chips, but my bun was over toasted and it was a bit too tall to fit in even my oversized gob (B-).
Sadly a favourite lunch time place of mine, Gruel at 68a Dame St (cheap, popular, trendy, veggie options), seems to have become a victim of the recession as the building is for sale. Taxi drivers tell me the city has become much quieter since the boom times with fewer people going out.
Bewleys (Intermediate A), 78/79 Grafton St
The most famous cafe in Dublin, it’s a good place to come for a tea and cake break when shopping Grafton St, but it can be very crowded. They do a pretty good Irish breakfast here (B), although next time I want to try the one at Avoca below. Both places only serve breakfast in the mornings before 11.30.
Avoca Cafe, 11-13 Suffolk St (Intermediate A)
The second floor cafe in this home wares shop is a great place for lunch when you are around Grafton St and want an alternative to the overated Bewleys.
On this occasion I had the Duck Liver Pate with Pistachio and Apricot with charred bread, cornichons and apply chutney, which was fantastic to look at and very tasty (A), if a bit too much (share it), with a refreshing glass of Elderflower cordial. The surroundings are bright and modern and the service is excellent and very camp!
The other floors are full of kitschy homewares I wouldn’t let through my front door. However they do have a great deli in the basement which I’m sure I’d shop in all the time if I lived here. They have a good bread selection and as far as I’m concerned, Irish brown soda bread is some of the best I’ve ever eaten. Why can’t we make it like this in the UK?
On the deli tip, you might want to put your head into Sheridan’s Cheesemongers which is also just off Grafton St at 11 South Anne St. They have a big continental selection but lots of local cheeses that you could take home. All Irish dairy products are excellent as well.
Burdocks Fish & Chips, (Elementary C), two branches at Liffey St and Werberg St.
The Dub’s most famous, but not necessarily best chippy. According to the roll of honour on the wall, everyone from Mick Jagger to Edith Piaf have ‘sampled’ their chips.
Personally I think this means they probably sent a bag round to the stage door every time someone famous was in town because they aren’t particularly good in my opinion. I’ve had better in Sheffield which is as far away from the sea as you can get in the UK. I had a hangover lunch of Lemon Sole (B) & Chips (C) with a can of coke which cost a hefty €9 .
Irish ingredients are great but the food gets a bit bland for the more adventurous palate and after a few days of eating potatoes I personally could murder something completely different. Fortunately as a capital city, Dublin has a lot of ethnic restaurants where you can get a change from the norm, although none of these has scored more than a B with me.
Montys of Kathmandu (Intermediate B), 28 Eustace St, Tel. 01 670 4911
This Nepalese restaurant has had plenty of awards and rave reviews over the years, including being listed in 2002 as one of Ireland’s top 100 restaurants and best ethnic restaurant in Dublin. The food is pretty good and seems authentic enough though I’ve never been to Nepal. It’s very similar to Indian cuisine but with a Chinese influence. On this occasion I had the regional speciality of Chicken Sashlick, a kebab served with a curry on the side (in my case Gorkhali, made with coriander, ginger, garlic and lots of chilli) which was pretty good (B+). With a raita, pilau rice and a lager, the bill came to about €30, which is a lot more than I’m used to paying.
Yamamori Noodles (Intermediate B) 71-72 South Great Georges St
One of my favourite meals ever is a bowl of Kimchee Cha-Syu Ramen (noodle soup with slices of roast pork and fermented chilli cabbage) with a rack of fried Gyoza dumplings on the side and a cold beer. I find it hard to resist whenever I see it on a menu because it brings back so many happy culinary memories from the time I lived in Japan. It’s a true fusion dish of Chinese noodles made in a Japanese style, topped with Korean pickled cabbage.
Seeing it here on the Yamamori Summer Menu as part of a €25 set, I found it impossible to keep walking. The Scallop & Prawn Gyoza which were delicious (B+) but sadly the Ramen and its bitter tasting pork broth just did not cut it (C). The boiled egg was fridge cold and there was far too much bamboo shoot, one of my least favourite ingredients. After eating the pork and the noodles, there was very little to enjoy.
The other stuff I got (Miso Siru beanpaste soup with kelp and diced tofu, a pint of Heineken and a slice of Bannofi Pie) was ok but nothing special (B) and brought the total bill to €30. The service is friendly but the whole set up feels very false with Chinese waitresses dressing up in Kimonos and putting chopsticks in their hair. Two visits were enough. God I miss Japan!
They also have a sushi shop on Lower Ormond Quay, just by the Ha’penny Bridge but I have no idea if it’s any good.
Il Barccaro (Intermediate B), 9 Eustace St, in Meeting House Square in Temple Bar.
A slightly pricey but fairly authentic Italian with an atmospheric cellar with long rooms and some tables outside. There are lots of other Italian restaurants, probably all fairly decent as they have to cater for the hordes of Italian tourists who won’t eat anywhere else.
Overall then Dublin is a hard place to be eat well and get by on a budget. There are plenty of good restaurants serving up top-notch food (particularly modern cuisine) but you’ll need plenty of disposable to enjoy them. Good value-for-money places do exist but you have to hunt them out. Or you could just live on Guinness and oysters!