Now that Ireland’s Celtic Tiger -- the name given to the Irish economy
as it transitioned from one of the poorest countries in Europe to one of the
richest -- is more of a kitten, some would have thought Dublin’s restaurant scene
would have followed suit. But, while the economy may have cooled, the capital’s
kitchens are heating up. Thanks to a combination of falling rents and
customers’ tightened purse strings, a wave of youthful and well-travelled restaurateurs
have moved in, bucking the trend of overblown excess and opening smaller
establishments with a decidedly more personal feel.
One of the first to open was Coppinger
Row, tucked down a side street that skirts the edge of the stately Powerscourt Townhouse Centre just
off Grafton Street, the city’s main shopping thoroughfare. Coppinger Row’s
winning formula is a buzzy, informal atmosphere and a menu that sticks to a
vaguely Mediterranean slant. Try the garlic and chilli prawns cooked a la plancha (grilled on a metal plate).
A few streets away, 777 is the city’s
first upscale Mexican joint, a far cry from the Tex-Mex that normally counts as
authentic in the Irish capital. Its owner John Farrell has proved himself an
expert at appealing to post-boom diners with his first success, Dillinger’s, an industrial-chic local restaurant
that opened on a site vacated by a Michelin-starred eatery. With a long,
communal table and a killer list of tequilas and cocktails served alongside
sophisticated renditions of Mexican staples, 777 is styled alone the lines of a
Latino speakeasy (similar to New York’s La
Esquina or London’s Bodega Negra).
A tiled wall depicts a couple in a sultry embrace. Ceviche, tuna tostadas and
taquitos, plus various meat and fish dishes cooked over a wood-burning grill, are
presented on beautifully decorated places and enamel bowls.
Two doors down, San Lorenzo’s is
another new arrival run by two veterans of Dublin’s dining scene, Temple Garner
and Gerry Crossan (they ran the closed but much-loved Mermaid Café and
boom-time favourite, Town Bar
and Grill). Tiffany-style pendant lights lend the only flash of colour in
an otherwise monochrome and sparsely decorated room. Its hearty, Italian-inspired
dishes, such as char-grilled squid with borlotti beans, change on a daily basis.
Restaurateur Joe Macken’s establishments, which offer thrifty, quality
food in hip surroundings, have also proved successful with recession-conscious
diners. His previous venture, Crackbird,
serves just one thing -- an upmarket twist on fried chicken accompanied by a
choice of homemade sauces. His most recent venture, Bear,
champions less-fashionable cuts of meat, like Argentine-inspired rosary cut
ribs and flank steaks char-grilled over an open flame.
Something of a diners’ crossroads has sprung up a short distance from the
city centre in the shadow of Aviva
Stadium, with diminutive Juniors being one
of the first to take up residence. The New York-style deli (though not a part
of the New York City-based chain) was conceived by two brothers, one an ex
stockbroker and the other a chef. It morphs into an Italian-inspired cafe by
night, serving crowd-pleasing plates of spaghetti alla vongole (with clams), pints of prawns and heartier dishes like
roast rump of lamb. There are just a handful of tables facing a small open kitchen,
while hardier souls wrap themselves in complimentary blankets to brave the outside
In 2010 the same duo opened Paulie’s Pizza just around
the corner from Juniors. Taking its cue from the age-old Neapolitan tradition,
pizzas are made from slowly proofed sourdough, San Marzano tomatoes and buffalo
mozzarella singed in an extremely hot wood-fired oven.
Across the road, the Chophouse
is a large-windowed gastro pub that serves a menu of comfort food classics like
fish and chips, and an exemplary Charolais Rib Eye steak, which has been
dry-aged for 32 days.
L Mulligan Grocer is a traditional
style Dublin pub set in the inner city neighbourhood of Stoneybatter, just
north of the River Liffey. Open since the 18th Century, its future
looked grim until it was taken over by three enterprising friends: Seaneen
Sullivan, Colin Hession and Michael Foggarty, who all had a passion for food
and drink. They kept all of Mulligan’s historic charm and supplemented it with
a seasonal menu diligently sourced from Irish producers, plus a lengthy list of
craft beers and whiskeys. The formula has been so successful that the trio recently
gave new life to another old city centre pub, WJ Kavanagh (4-5 Dorset Street; 00-353-1-873-0990).
Its menu is more inventive than Mulligan’s, but still uses Irish ingredients in
the likes of dishes such as black pudding wontons and an Asian-inspired laksa made
with locally caught mussels.
Pop-up street food markets are becoming a regular feature for the
bustling lunchtime trade. One of the best is the Mespil Village
Market, which takes place on
Thursday afternoons along the banks of the Grand Canal. Visitors can sample paella
from the Paella Guys (one
of the partners, Ian Marconi, manned the stoves in the
kitchens of London’s trendy, Moorish-inspired Moro
restaurant) and there is an array of other stalls, such as the Choux
Brothers’ lollipop stick cakes (small scale cakes on sticks) and Dave’s Wood Fired Pizza, cooked
to order in a specially converted wagon.