Tuesday, December 28, 2010

How to do Dublin

Recently I got a message from an American couple who were coming to Dublin and wanted some advice on what places to visit to experience the city in little bites. Personally, I think this is the perfect way to see a city - you really appreciate how food connects everything we do in life, and it's such a good way to get the feel of a new place and people. As I set to work writing my reply, it occurred to me I should post it on the blog, so it can be a resource for any foodie out there looking for an inside track to Dublin's best bits. Also, my message to Misty (that's the lady's name) turned out to be the War & Peace of messages, so making a blog post out of it almost counts as work - so I don't feel so bad about spending all that time on it instead of writing reviews!

So here's my message to Misty:

Hi Misty,

Sure that's no problem- that's exactly how I like to do it!

The city centre is divided by the river into north and south side and has districts at its four corners: Smithfield (north-west) and IFSC/North docklands (north-east) and these are connected by tram. Then there's south docklands/Grand Canal basin (south east) and Kilmainham/James' Gate (south west). The middle bit includes O'Connell St and surrounding shopping streets (north) and Dame St, Christchurch, St Stephen's Green and Grafton St (south).

There's loads to see and do all over so I'll list good places to look out for in the different areas, and things you might be doing in those places.

North Side

Delish fish cake at Juno's
Smithfield has the Jameson Distillery and Chief O'Neill's tower, where you get a good view of the city. Walking further eastwards along the quays you'll come to the Parkgate St entrance to the Phoenix Park, where Dublin Zoo is. The Luas (tram) goes to both Smithfield and almost to Parkgate St - I love the zoo and the park so if there's time I'd visit there - you'll also find Juno's Café on Parkgate St which is terrific.

If you walk (or cycle using a city bike) back along the quays towards O'Connell St, you'll pass Capel St, which has interesting little ethnic food shops and bakeries, and just off it on Little Mary St is a good Chinese restaurant called Jade. The top of Capel St meets Parnell St, the entire length of which is like our Chinatown. There's loads of restaurants but the best are Sichuan House, Charming Noodles (cheap n' cheerful) and a Korean/Japanese restaurant called Kimchi at a pub called the Hop House. On Cathedral St, off O'Connell St, is another very good Chinese place called M&L. You'll also find the decent inexpensive sushi places Musashi (Capel St) and Mitsuba (Parnell St), and a nice new café Brother Hubbard (on Capel St) serving excellent coffee, homemade soft drinks and freshly baked goodies. 

Moving further along the quays towards O'Connell St you'll pass the 'Italian Quarter' or Bloom's Lane, off Ormond Quay. You'll see some nice Italian cafés and restaurants here, my favourite of which is Enoteca delle Langhe (for nice Italian cheeses and a glass of wine). Close to this on Millennium Walkway you'll find Koh, which does nice cocktails and Thai food, and also Boojum the Mexican place which does lovely fresh burritos and great house made chilli sauce. New to the area, on Great Strand Street, is Foam Café and Gallery - a quirky place that's fun to hang out in, with some nice artisanal organic lemonades and baked treats worthy of note.

Taste of Emilia
Continuing along the quays, you'll find Liffey St, which has one of my favourite wine bar/delis, Taste of Emilia - great bruschetta and boards of Italian DOP meats and cheeses, and decent wine. And also on this street is a Japanese restaurant called Ten Thousand (take-away called Kokoro beside it) which has some of the best value sushi in the city. You'll also find the Epicurean Food Hall between Liffey St and Abbey St, inside which are loads of cool food stalls - my favourite of which is Taco Taco (one of our best for Mexican street food).

If you have the time and/or inclination I do recommend The Winding Stair on Ormond Quay - you have to book and it's not nibbles (more a serious feed), but it's Irish food at it's best and one of my fav restaurants in the country. I wouldn't miss it, if possible. 

The Luas goes through the IFSC to the Point Village
If you were to carry on down towards the IFSC (Irish Financial Services Centre) and the  docklands,  you'll find loads of places down here, and it's a district well worth visiting. Ely Bar & Brasserie wine bar at CHQ is good for food or even just a glass of vino, and Enowine (or La Cuvee) and another Bar Italia are in the actual IFSC. The Harbourmaster is a pub right on the water that's worth a go just for the picturesque setting alone. 

South Side

The north and south docklands are connected by a couple of bridges, the most spectacular of which is the Samuel Beckett bridge that went up in 2009. If you cross this bridge you can head over to the Grand Canal basin, where the fab Grand Canal theatre has just opened - it's a really cool new part of the city and you should definitely see it. Also there's nice little places on Hanover Quay and Ely HQ (the gastropub version of the wine bar in CHQ) has a heated terrace so you can sit outside and watch the swans on the water over a drink and some food - which includes burgers grilled outdoors in summer. Herbstreet beside it is also fab - I'd choose it over Ely just for the chicken wings, and you can still look at the water if you sit by the window. Across the way is a pretty good new Spanish-style café bar that does tapas, called Cafébar H, where you'll often see live tango dancing on the terrace at weekends.

Comfy couches at KC Peaches

Across the main road (Pearse Street) is KC Peaches - owned by a really nice American girl called Katie. It does terrific brunch (especially the Healthy Howth omlette or fried egg sandwich) and also really good muffins and baked goods. Just up the road The Art of Coffee does, just as you'd expect from that name, amazing coffee. And across from that is Il Valentino artisan bakery - just in case you need to buy some snacks for the road!

If you head up Pearse St back towards the centre, you'll see Trinity College (definitely go in for a look) and you'll come to the Dame St, Grafton St, Stephen's Green end of things. There's loads to do around here, especially shopping, but a visit to this area won't be complete unless you go to Fallon & Byrne on Exchequer St. It's foodie Mecca in Dublin - with a fab wine bar in the cellar where you can order cheese and paté etc, a nice deli on the ground floor where you can get food and bring it to the wine bar below, and a restaurant on the first floor. Personally, the ground floor and basement are my favourite places, I never bother with the restaurant.

Dublin Castle

Also nice to visit around this area are: Dunne & Crescenzi on Sth Fredrick St (Italian café/wine bar); the Port House on Sth William St for decent tapas (stick to the more authentic dishes). Havana on George's St also does tapas, but its great atmosphere is its real selling point; in the Powerscourt Shopping Centre there's a gorgeous little café called the Pepper Pot, which has lovely food and a yummy citrus ice tea; 777 on George's St is doing superb cocktails and interesting cosmopolitan Mexican food; and Govinda's on Aungier St (also Merrion Row and Middle Abbey St) does some of the tastiest vegetarian food you'll find in Dublin, and very cheap too. KC Peaches has a second café on Nassau St with a wine bar in the basement - this does an especially good 'Cal-Ital' style tapas menu in the evening and live jazz on Saturday nights (booking required). Finally, if you go to Dublin Castle and the Chester Beatty Library, the Silk Road café in the library is lovely. And Queen of Tarts across the road on Dame St is a venerable institution for breakfast, lunch or snacks - pastries, of course, are order of the day. And on Castle St nearby a little place called Toffoli does fantastic pizza, bruschetta and other Italian foods, with exceptionally good Italian ingredients, particularly the meats.

If you're visiting 'Georgian Dublin' i.e. around Merrion Square, Fitzwilliam Square, Pembroke Street

Beautiful food at Pearl
etc, look out for: Dax on Pembroke St (a French restaurant and café-bar), the restaurant's pricey but the café-bar does good nibbles and wines, and has live jazz on Thursday and Friday evenings; Ely wine bar on Ely Place (lovely wine bar with good atmosphere); Pearl Brasserie on Merrion Row (not so much for casual nibbles but it's a great restaurant); and Diep le Shaker on Pembroke Lane (fab Thai restaurant, also a bit fancy). If you're near Baggot St on a week-day and fancy lunch on the run, try Pablo Picante burrito bar (take-away only but great burritos)- they've recently opened a sit-down/take-away place on Clarendon Market close to Grafton Street (see my post 'Burrito Bonanza' for more details about these!) Also Mantraa is a great Indian restaurant on this street and does really good value lunch deals.

If you go for walk out near the new rugby stadium (The Aviva stadium), find Juniors café and pizza places, and the Chop House gastropub nearby on Bath Avenue does exceptionally good food.
Two good places on the South Side for beer and food are the Bull & Castle beer hall at Christchurch (a must for beer fans) and Against the Grain on Wexford St, and both have on-street seating that's great for people watching. This second location is also a night spot - although Anseo is my favourite pub down here. Then I also love the Exchequer Bar on Exchequer St, beside Fallon & Byrne, for cocktails and night life, and it also does great gastropub food. While I'm on the subject of gastropubs, I must also mention L Mulligan Grocer over in Stoneybatter - this is one of the oldest original pubs in Dublin and also happens to be one of the finest. With over 200 whiskeys and over 150 craft beers (with regularly changing draught), and some damn good grub, it's latest owners have managed to create something very special indeed for modern tastes while hanging on to all the old world charm. 

Finally, the Museum of Modern Art is in Kilmainham and the Guinness brewery is in James' Gate - a visit to the Store House at the brewery is worth a look, especially for the view over the city.

This is just a synopsis, I'm sure you'll have great fun discovering the rest! Hope you have a brilliant time! 

PS. My current fav restaurant is Michie Sushi. It's the best sushi in Dublin - the other's aren't at the races at all by comparison. It's outside the centre in a lovely village called Ranelagh - only a few stops on the Luas from St Stephen's Green, and down a tiny street called Chelmsford Lane. It's only a little nook but it's soooo worth the effort if you like good sushi, and it has that feel of a secret place. Ranelagh's also nice to see, and there's a lovely wine bar just under the Luas station called Pinocchio.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Burrito bonanza!

With a rake of new openings in the recent past, the Dubs are going Tex-Mex mad for filling cheap eats of all shapes, sizes and strength of chilli pepper hotness. Burritos are the new panini, it would seem, and with this taste-value ratio it's not hard to see why. From new takeaway bars such as Burritos & Blues and Pablo Picante to old stalwarts like Café Azteca and Taco Taco that are still doing their good hot stuff for now even keener prices, we’re loving the Dublin Mexican wave.

Burrito & Blues, 2 Wexford Street, Dublin 2

Literally just open, this funky little corner space couldn’t be more welcome in the young, happening end of town that is its new neighbourhood. Build your own burrito how you like it – with a choice of four strengths of hot sauce from mild to ‘blow-your-head-off’ salsa – or choose a house favourite such as the Silver Bullet ‘king of burritos’ with all the trimmings. Quick and tasty on the hoof or sitting in listening to some suitably delicious blues, this burrito bar won’t be long becoming a local favourite.

Pablo Picante, 131 Baggot Street, Dublin 2
Another burrito bar that opened to much aplomb last year, Pablo Picante is one part serious Tex-Mex street food, one part masked Mexican wrestler (we kid you not, check out his effigy on the walls of the establishment!) Perhaps the menacing figure represents the power of their house made chilli sauce, as demonstrated in the legendary heat of the ‘Super Picc,’ that’s reported to be hotter than most can handle. Whatever he means, the quality of the food – such as the Carnitas of slow roast pulled pork or the filling Victorio Verde veggie burrito replete with zingy house made guacamole – as well as great value prices, have people queuing out the door daily. Get there early for lunch.

Boojum, Millenium Walkway, Dublin 1

Inspired by the no-nonsense taquerias of Mexico, the young owners behind Boojum brought their take on the concept first to Belfast and now to Dublin. The idea is fast food based on fresh ingredients, great flavour and good value, and, in the words of Lady Gaga, hot like Mex-i-co! Burritos are built to order with a choice of salsas: mild tomato or corn, medium heat tangy salsa verde, or smoky hot salsa roja. The result is fresh, healthy and super tasty. Their well-known value extends to good student deals too.

Sabores de Mexico, Harcourt Street (Thursday), Temple Bar and Leopardstown Markets
“Muy Auténtico y muy bueuno! This is the first and only time I've found real Mexican food in Ireland in the last four years,” gushed one enthusiast for Gustavo and Theresa Hernandez’s authentic street food. Newly installed at the Harcourt Street food market, Sabores de Mexico has been on the Dublin market circuit for some time. Fancy a chorizo taco with frijoles refritos and homemade salsa? You’ll also find them at the Temple Bar Market on Saturdays, Leopardstown on Fridays, or further a field in Brooklodge in Wicklow on the first Sunday of every month.

Cactus Jacks, Millennium Walkway (Middle Abbey St), Dublin 1

A good value restaurant offering a range of Tex-Mex and steak dinners, including some nice coeliac and vegetarian options, Cactus Jacks is becoming a hit with Dubs and visitors alike. Possibly most striking on the menu are the prices. With an early bird offer of three courses for €19.95 including a glass of house wine or soft drink, daily from 4 to 7pm, or the three for €10 tapas deal, or the free meals for kids under 12 on Sundays, you get a lot of spicy bang for your buck.

Cortina’s, The Pembroke District , Dundrum Town Centre, Dublin 14

More delicious and filling Mexican food, this time as an oasis in the retail jungle that is the Dundrum Centre. This recently opened restaurante offers everything from Mexican style tapas and sandwiches to starters and mains. Salsas such as mango, lime and chilli and salsa de mole are made in house, and the smoky corn chowder entrada is a popular choice. These folks know their achote from their agave, just beware cocktail offers that may not be all that they seem.

Cafe Azteca, 19 - 21 Lord Edward Street, Dublin 2

This cheap and cheerful Mexican café has been pleasing the crowd for some time now, with its simple and great value snack food based on good ingredients – to which its evening cookery classes can attest. That’s right, Café Azteca not only serves up great tomales, pozole and taquitos, it also gives lessons on how to make them. Now open late from Thursday to Saturday, look out for its huevos rancheros wrap with fresh homemade salsa for breakfast.

Taco Taco, Epicurean Food Hall, Liffey Street Lower, Dublin 1
It’s hard to beat the value of a Taco Taco taco. When it comes to fast food, this is hard to beat all round. Service is friendly and the food is delicious, with more Mexican snack foods than you can shake a stick at, from tostada (corn tortilla fried in oil) to mollete (Mexican style crusty roll with refried beans and filling), sincronizada (filling between two tortillas) to grilled chicken torta (deep fried tortilla with chicken filling including fresh green tomatillo salsa), and all the usual suspects too. It’s no wonder regulars describe themselves as addicted to Taco Taco. With this kind of deliciousness available this cheaply and conveniently, it wouldn’t be hard.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Food for the soul

Being a blogger and foodie facebooker (I did just make that up) I meet people with different interesting connections to food. For instance there's Chris, or Soul Man as I like to call him, the founder of Dublin's only major soul festival. I wasn't sure at first how I could play any part in his magnum opus - the festival he dreamed up for our fair city, now in it's fourth year - but turns out there's a space for food and foodie-ism just about anywhere. Makes sense I suppose, when your aim is to enrich the soul. Food has always been up there with music as an agent of those same heady, evocative properties.

So after a few not brief meetings at various Dublin cafés and coffee shops - discussing music, food and everything else you can fit into the space of several cappuccinos - me and the Soul Man came up with the idea of a 'Soul Food Trail' or the 'Soul Food Restaurant Trail,' as it's turned out in the end. The basic premise was to see how many restaurants, cafés, gastropubs and so on would get involved in the festival: playing music, dressing up their space, but most importantly, having a signature 'soul food' dish on the menu for the duration. We hoped for other acts of participation too, like perhaps having special offers for festival-goers or giving away dinner vouchers as prizes, as part of the promotion of the festival. But the key thing was the soul dish, as the real point of engagement between music and food for the week that was in it.

Naturally, times being tough 'n all, people were less willing and/or able to deviate from the daily business of surviving (for many, according to strict budgetary plans), but there was also a surprisingly good turn out for the trail, in spite of things. This upped the ante somewhat, so we thought: what could we do to drive our participants to greater heights of creativity, to really push the food experience of the festival to the level we were hoping for?

Of course - and I know I'm biased - Bridgestone was the obvious catalyst! And Bridgestone being Bridgestone, they (John and Sally) couldn't resist the notion of such a sensory mélonge and, well, just the plain ol' thought of 'soul food.' So now we had a contest on our hands, making it the task of the Bridgestone judges to find the 'Best Soul Food' before the end of the week.

As the week of the festival approaches, we have no idea what to expect and the highest hopes for this unusual event, most of all of seeing the potential for something even grander next year. On a personal note, I'm just dying to see this great mix of food and music, tourists and home crowd, and the whole cultural shooting match in full swing!

It's also got me thinking quite deeply about what 'soul food' means to people? I like to think of it as a very broad term that could take on as many meanings as the imagination can allow, as long as it's edible and touches the soul in some way or other. The comfort food you reach for every time you need a happy injection. Or complex creations by a talented artist that make you close your eyes and think about it until you drift away to some other place. Or just something you make because the smell takes you back to another time in your life to which attaches some warm feeling or nostalgia you seem to need, explicable or not.

I am REALLY looking forward to seeing 'soul food' in all its forms next week, and hope the trail becomes a fixture, as the festival itself has now become. On that note I'll part with a 'soul food' dish of my very own, which contains two of the most evocative aromas for this foodie - roast chicken and cinnamon §:) (Dublin City Soul Festival 27 - 30 May 2010, www.dublincitysoulfestival.ie)

Caroline's Spicy Barbecued Chicken

One whole chicken
Olive oil
Chilli oil
2 cloves garlic (minced)
1 tsp cinnamon
Small pinch nutmeg (freshly grated)
Sprig fresh thyme (picked)
Good hot pepper sauce, to taste (such as Piri Piri, I love Smoked Tobasco)
1/2 tsp chilli powder
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp sweet paprika
1/2 tsp dried oregano
Good squeeze of lemon
Sea salt (Maldon's my fav)
Black pepper

I prefer to roast the chicken before grilling, for that essential roast chicken aroma, but the recipe can be cooked from scratch on the bbq (just be careful to cook it all properly).

1. Massage the chicken with generous amounts of olive oil, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, then roast slowly until cooked and juicy (get a good quality bird to ensure best results).

2. Once cooled, remove the legs (as drumsticks and thighs), wings, breasts, oysters, and any other good bit you fancy, and place in a large bowl of some sort. The carcass can be used for stock.

3. Sprinkle the chicken with all the other ingredients, as evenly as possible, as well as some more sea salt and black pepper and toss (very carefully to keep the skin in place) to ensure it's all well coated. Cover and allow to marinate from anywhere between 2 and 24 hours.

4. Finally, when your barbecue is ready, put the chicken on the grill until it's nicely charred and the garlic and spices have had a chance to cook. (I find using a grilling basket makes life a lot easier for turning so many small bits - and it means it all gets done evenly). Serve sizzling hot with lemon wedges, and make sure to eat the crispy fat and get the chilli oil all over you face!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

What makes them special?

You know those cafés which, by and large, you don't notice? They're sometimes quaint but mostly nondescript, sometimes bearing intriguing titles or frontage a good deal fancier than the bill of fare inside turns out to be. They quietly do their daily trade below the radar of journalists and food writers, which for the most part is understandable.

Their ubiquity around Ireland seemed to accompany the burgeoning of the economy through the last decade, as indeed 'coffee to-go' and deli counter food - cornerstones of the modern foodservice and convenience offering - came to symbolise a new culture of 'cash-rich and time-poor' consumerism. Their standards seem to reflect the needs of their customers and their value for money perhaps a little more so nowadays than in the past. But in general they have one thing in common: homogeny.

And yet, on the rarest of occasions, you will happen upon one that seems to be of a different breed. On first appearances, it may seem the same, perhaps owing to the presence of chicken tikka and tuna mayo, or other such regulars of the standard deli. But then something about it sets it apart, and what that is only some people will appreciate.

I recently stepped into one of these 'special' coffee shops, just next to Patrick's Cathedral of all places. Almost instantly I began to wonder, 'what makes this special?' Is it little details in the decor or atmosphere - on this occasion, filled with the scent of cinnamon buns that were baking in the smallest imaginable oven - or perhaps the way they toast the bread, under an old fashioned grill?

Is it the way they make good old fashioned scrambled eggs, without the addition of cream or chives, but cooked moist nonetheless? Is it the way their coffee is unexpectedly good? Or is it the way their steady stream of regular customers flit easily in and out, occupying their favourite nooks and rattling off their usual orders to staff with whom they have a comfortably friendly relationship?

Truth is it's all of the above, but most of all, it's the owners of the business who give it its je ne sais quoi. Love, that is. Love of food, love of good service, love of the place. The most refreshing thing about 'it' when you do come by it is its authenticity, because it's something that can't be faked. Those little details that make a place special arise from a person's genuine interest in what they're offering, and a genuine love of what they do.

Bite of Life on Dublin 8's humble Patrick Street is full of love! Established in 1997 by husband and wife team Jorinde and Conor Moynihan, its small, simply furnished interior is more than well-equipped to give as much pleasure as some of the most popular brunch spots in town. What could be more perfect than Saturday morning with the paper, in the window seat next to the cosy log fire, watching the world go by while enjoying a breakfast of simple pleasures and the smell of freshly baked, homemade buns?

The food is simple: perfectly scrambled eggs and toast, with a choice of smoked salmon or bacon if you're feeling so inclined; perfect porridge with honey and banana; fresh homemade cakes and confections; and an array of homemade soups, salads and sandwiches on bread from Blazing Salads. And good coffee.

There's nothing to stand out and grab your attention in the humble offering at Bite of Life, and perhaps nothing special in its homely space or cheerful yellow exterior. However, if you also have a love of food and those things which people like Jorinde and Conor Moynihan appreciate deeply, you too will see what's special about their café, and those other gems that share the same love.

Review, 9th February

Bite of Life
Café and juice bar
55 Patrick Street
Dublin 8

T:01 4542949

Open Monday to Friday 7.30am to 4pm, Saturday and Sunday 10am to 4pm
Caters for offices (platters), ring before 11am to order. Free delivery.

Monday, February 8, 2010

And all for a tenner!

Speaking of all things cool and in the vicinity of Camden Street, I had to write to you about Green Nineteen, just in case no one else has. This place has become a hot spot and even hard to get into on a Tuesday night. Not surprising for a cool little eatery doing good food and all mains at 10 quid! And what a cocktail list too; a mint julep which comes in an icy cold metal cup, or the zingy Mexican Green, a blend of Tequila, Marachino Liqueur, pressed apple juice, fresh chilli and bitters. On my last visit I chose something called ‘All business’ (given it was a week day and that) which was a berry delicious concoction finished off with fresh raspberries and mint – very healthy!

The food is also something to write home about, most of all because of the great value. The chicken supreme with mushroom and tarragon cream and lemon zest mash, adorned with a tasty selection of roast root veg, is a very generous portion for the price. And yum-looking, and wolfed down by one fellow diner. A bargain at €10, although no indication of the chicken’s provenance and no clue from our server. The menu does indicate that all beef cooked in the restaurant is 100% Irish.

The grilled seasonal veg sandwich on brown toast with smoked Gubeen and Irish leaves was a very tasty and filling lunch, but ironically possibly a little expensive at €8.50. However, I do get it. High cost items like the cocktails, sarnies, cheese boards etc (which personally I really enjoyed and which cost the same at other venues) may be what allows Green Nineteen to offer its fab main courses at such a low price. And as I’ve mentioned, without moving more mark-up onto the rest of the menu than consumers will find elsewhere.

The atmosphere is relaxed and funky, the cocktails are grrr-eat, and all in all, this is a genuinely good idea. So I count myself lucky to have Green Nineteen, and long may it satisfy our need for lovely hearty food at a keen price, accompanied by decadent cocktails.

Review, 15th August 2009

Green Nineteen
19 Camden Street Lower
Dublin 2

T: 01 4789626

Email: management@green19.ie

Open Monday to Saturday from 10am to 11pm, and noon to 6pm on Sunday. Doesn’t take reservations for early sitting i.e. until 4pm, then kitchen closes until 5pm. Booking for evening is possible however, and advisable.

Le pichet, s'il vous plait

Owners Stephen Gibson and Nick Munier describe their new venture as ‘a modern take on the classic bistro,’ which is fair enough. Modern incarnations of classic dishes such as citrus cured organic salmon, avocado, salmon wasabi crème fraîche and soy and mirin dressing (€9.00), and mackerel, brick pastry, horseradish, shaved fennel and
beetroot vinaigrette (€7.00) certainly live up to the reputation.

Having visited last Sunday I think ‘an Irish take on the classic bistro’ is an equally apt description. Despite their complicated sounding titles, it’s clear that quality fresh, produce is the cornerstone of all dishes at Pichet, presented in suitably unfussy fashion so as to allow diners to appreciate them.

Pichet bears the hallmarks of experienced restaurateurs. Although open only three months the operation appears to run like a well-oiled machine; the interior is well thought out and well finished, the service is friendly and professional, the menu is concise and appealing from top to bottom, and the wine list – as the bistro’s name implies – allows plenty of options by the glass, 250ml or 500ml pichet, and bottle. They also have beer and stout on draught behind the bar which serves as a deli counter during the day.

We were impressed before we’d ordered a thing, and even more so when they obligingly brought my fellow eater his required balsamic vinegar and olive oil for dipping the fresh, crusty bread. After long deliberations (always a good sign when the menu is relatively concise) I opted for the Castletown Bere crab, chorizo mayonnaise and sour dough toast, and mussels and clams à la Grèque (€12.00), and cleared my plate. The crabmeat was fresh as a daisy and dotted with the tiniest bits of chorizo, which when combined with the creamy, yellow mayo was melt-in-the-mouth to the last bite. While the mussels and clams in their chilled herby tomato base gave a nice little taste of something else, just for interest.

The salad of crispy hens egg, Serrano ham, baby leeks, and caper vinaigrette (€7.00) also disappeared without a trace, as did the small pichet of rosé we to chose to accompany the first course (La Vie en Rose, VdP des Collines Rhodaniennes, Domaine du Monteillet, France 2007, €10.25).

The mains were equally hard to choose for all the delicious-sounding options, but we did at last decide on the certified Hereford 10oz ribeye, (from Peter Hannon,
Co Armagh), béarnaise sauce, watercress salad, and chips (€26.00), and the confit suckling pig with puy lentils, Toulouse sausage, sauerkraut, and Dalkey mustard (€20.00). Despile my best efforts, I could not stop myself from finishing off the molten suckling pig and trimmings, the meat topped with generous slabs of salty crackling. And the steak was deemed to one of the best we’d seen in a Dublin restaurant – and I must also mention that the chips tasted as though they’d been cooked in a good quality fat, staying delicious to the end of dinner.

To go with the second course, I had chosen a glass of Barbera d’Alba, Prunotto, Italy 2007 (€8.00) which proved to have been so popular that night they’d run out. So I went with a tasty pinot noir instead (Lake Chalice Estate, Marlborough, New Zealand 2007 €9.25), which worked perfectly with my suckling pig. My lad, being his own man, chose Sauvignon Blanc ‘Reserva’, St.Digna, Miguel Torres, Chile 2008 (€5.75) to go with his steak – each to their own!

Seeing as I’d been so bold over dinner already we shared dessert (€6.00); a yummy puff pastry tart filled with caramelised apple and topped with banana ice cream (although it had said vanilla on the menu, the surprise substitution did it for me). And next time I vow to be a beast and try some of their other creations, such as white chocolate cheesecake with passion fruit jelly and raspberries.

Pichet really has it all. By day it’s a nice little deli serving sandwiches, soups and pastries, as well as wine to takeaway. Then by night it serves up exceptionally good food for very reasonable prices, in cosy yet modern bistro ambience with great service. I haven’t a bad word to say about Pichet, it’s a star and one of the food highlights this year. According to Stephen Gibson they’ve been doing very well since they opened, booking out each weekend, so I have every confidence the bistro has what it takes to endure – it’s one of the few places delivering on the name ‘bistro’.

Review, 23rd September 2009


Café, bar/wine shop and restaurant
14 – 15 Trinity Street
Dublin 2

T: 01 6771060
Email: info@pichetrestaurant.com

Open Monday to Friday from 8am to 10.30pm, Saturday from 10am to 11pm, and Sunday from 12pm to 9pm

New pub for the old corner

It was high time something opened in the prime spot at the Central Hotel on Dublin’s Exchequer Street. Fallon and Byrne and Ukiyo reside across the street, Odessa, Shebeen Chic and the Stag’s head occupy the far end of Dame Court and, of course, let’s not forget the Library bar above it. This corner has been sorely in need of something to complete the area, and something good too.

Well it seems the perfect solution has just landed right in it. The Exchequer, which opened on Halloween weekend, is everything we could hope for from a modern Irish pub. By day, and evening, the kitchen turns out an assortment of gastropub fare, based on quality Irish produce and artisan ingredients. By night, its talented bar staff offer up an impressive range of beers and unique cocktails not to be found anywhere else.

The brainchild of partners Ian Tucker and Peter Rock (son of Dickie), The Exchequer describes itself as a gastropub – quite literally, as it includes a dictionary definition of the word on its website: “A public house which specialises in serving high-quality food.” I would venture to define it further however, as a quite distinctly ‘Irish gastropub,’ one which makes a conscious effort in every way to appeal to a new generation of Irish gastronauts – and socially and environmentally aware to boot.

As we’re about food, I must draw attention first to the menu, which deserves some consideration. It gives plenty of choice – although not easy ones as it all looks good – but it doesn’t overreach and consequently, doesn’t overcharge. For starters I chose the Doran’s smoked chowder with potato and leek, at €4.95 a bowl. I always consider this dish to be a good benchmark and The Exchequer’s version, laden with tasty fish and seafood in the shell, over-delivers on price. We also sampled the potted Clogher Head brown crab with soda bread, severed with organic leaves (€8.95) and that was equally praise worthy.

In subsequent conversation with proprietor Ian Tucker, we learned that almost everything on the menu is sourced in Ireland and locally as possible. Gold River farm in Co Wicklow supplies the organic leaves, meat comes from O’Malley’s in Limerick, and all fish and seafood is supplied by Doran’s in Howth – mostly from Carlingford and some from the west of Ireland – and 100% from sustainable sources. This principle is followed through on the menu with the choice of battered ling ‘fingers’ as opposed to cod or haddock. And it’s actually a bestseller, as ling’s light texture lends itself well to frying in batter, not to mention its lower price.

The Exchequer is also a supporter of Irish artisan food producers, using Silke Cropp’s Corleggy Farmhouse goat's cheese in its warm roast organic beet salad, with prune and walnut relish and organic landcress (€11.95), and Desmond cheese from Sheridan’s Cheesemongers in its slow-cooked crispy duck salad with poached duck egg (€8.50). In addition, all air-dried meats and other charcuterie is supplied by James McGeough in Connemara, and the organic ice cream – apart from the delicious house-made stuff – comes from Tipperary Organic Ice Cream.

As I said, the whole menu looks really good! Back to our own selections on the night we visited, I went with the bowl of steamed cockles and West Cork’s Roaring Waterbay mussels (€11.95), which comes in a lovely white wine broth. My companion meanwhile scoffed the chargrilled rib of beef, champ, roasted shallot and red wine jus (€17.95), which was amply hearty to stand up to a pint, if you were that way inclined. All was yum, the plates went back spotless.

To it wash down, there is a selection of around 30 beers by the bottle, 11 special cocktails in addition to all the standards, and a very decent range of wines by the glass or bottle. In spite of it being a Tuesday, I couldn’t resist a list as tempting as this, so opted for a fragrant Basil and Elderflower Collins (€9) for an aperitif (heir cocktail menu is conveniently divided into starters, mains and afters), a glass of Kremser Kremsleiten Riesling (€8) for the starter, a Diva Chenin Blanc (South Africa, €7.25) to go with the cockles and mussels, and then finished with a Mr Exchequer (€9), a fab blend of bourbon or rum with clove syrup and angostura bitters.

All the cocktails are original recipes from multi-award-winning mixologist Darren Geraghty, who was overall winner of the first-ever Irish Open cocktail competition and is competing for Ireland in the forthcoming world championship contest. At €9 his creations put the €12 and upwards offerings of other not-too-far-away establishments to shame.

So finally, we rounded off our dinner with The Exchequer jelly and ice cream. (€4.95), which was served with autumn berries and homemade amoretti ice cream, and the chocolate platter which contains a sumptuous chocolate ganache tart, chocolate fondant, white chocolate mousse and organic chocolate truffle ice cream (€9.95). The platter is actually intended for two people to share, which makes it extremely reasonable price-wise, but if you’re feeling indulgent I advise you to go for it, you can always take the leftovers home. And the tart is great for breakfast with coffee….yes, I did just admit to that!

All pastries and ice cream, save those from Tipperary Organic Ice Cream, are made by The Exchequer’s own pastry chef Isabella, formerly of Thornton’s restaurant.

There’s nothing bad you can say about this new gastropub that has just blazed a trail into Dublin’s city centre. This is the pub we’ve all been crying out for and hope to see a lot more like it. It’s clear from their operation that its owners are genuinely into food and good old-fashioned Irish hospitality; they’ve just repackaged the Irish pub for today’s audience. So lets hope it succeeds and shows the rest how it’s done.

Review, 18th November 2009

The Exchequer
3-5 Exchequer Street
Dublin 2

T:01 670 6787

Email: info@theexchequer.ie

Open for lunch and dinner Monday to Saturday, brunch and roast dinner on Sunday. Full late bar at weekends