EUROPE: RELISHING DUBLIN

No-one knows the Dublin din­ing scene bet­ter than a local foodie.

Vacations & Travel - - Contents - BY AOIFE CARRIGY

No-one knows the Dublin din­ing scene bet­ter than a local foodie.

James Joyce fa­mously boasted that if Dublin city “sud­denly dis­ap­peared from the earth” it could be re­con­structed based on the metic­u­lous de­pic­tions in his mod­ernist mas­ter­piece, Ulysses.

Joyce’s Dublin was a drinker’s par­adise, as tes­ti­fied by just how many public houses that his pro­tag­o­nist

Leopold Bloom passes, name-checks or fre­quents dur­ing one fic­tion­alised day – 16th June, 1904. But if Joyce were to write Ulysses now, he’d want to swap out some of those pubs to re­flect the many restau­rants and cafés that jos­tle for Dublin­ers’ pa­tron­age to­day.

The Lif­fey­side city’s fa­mous drink­ing cul­ture hasn’t dis­ap­peared but it has evolved, and it has made room for an en­er­getic new din­ing cul­ture to emerge.

Bloom was a man of ro­bust ap­petites, who rel­ished tangy kid­neys for break­fast and gor­gonzola sand­wiches for lunch (the lat­ter still served in his hon­our in Davy Byrne’s pub where Joyce was a reg­u­lar). To­day’s Dublin­ers are an equally om­niv­o­rous bunch, but they now en­joy a far greater choice of eater­ies in which to sate their ap­petites, from lux­u­ri­ous gas­tro-tem­ples to street food park-ups.

“Dublin’s res­tau­rant scene has re­ally evolved so much in the last five years,” says cel­e­brated chef Barry Fitzger­ald of Bastible, one of what he de­scribes as the “owner-run, casual restau­rants with care­fully considered food and wine dot­ted across the city”.

As an is­land peo­ple with a strong tra­di­tion of glo­be­trot­ting, the Ir­ish have al­ways been cu­ri­ous of what lies be­yond their shores. Like many am­bi­tious young chefs, Fitzger­ald spent time over­seas learn­ing his craft be­fore re­turn­ing to Ire­land with a new­found ap­pre­ci­a­tion for this green isle’s ex­cel­lent food pro­duce, which he likes to let speak for it­self in dishes like cured or­ganic Ir­ish salmon with turnip, but­ter­milk and dill. “Great Ir­ish food isn’t too flashy,” he says. “It wouldn’t re­flect our personalities well if it was.”

Re­moved from the tourist trails of Ge­or­gian Dublin or Tem­ple Bar, these mod­ern food mec­cas of­ten neigh­bour some great local pubs. Across the road from Bastible, The Head­line Bar car­ries one of the city’s best draught se­lec­tions of Ir­ish craft beers.

Fur­ther down what poet Paddy Ka­vanagh called the

“stilly greeny wa­ters” of the Grand Canal, the up­per shelves of the wood-pan­elled bar of O’Brien’s of Lee­son Street in­vite ex­plo­ration of the cur­rent re­nais­sance in Ir­ish whiskey. Around the cor­ner, chef Ciaran Sweeney has gar­nered ac­claim for neigh­bour­hood ‘wine room and kitchen’, For­est & Marcy, with mod­ern Ir­ish snacks like his fer­mented potato bread, ba­con mous­se­line and cab­bage rel­ish.

Some of the city’s pubs have be­come culi­nary des­ti­na­tions in their own right. Across town, L Mul­li­gan Gro­cer in Stoney­bat­ter was one of the first to re­place Guin­ness taps with in­die brews, and to pair these with a menu that cel­e­brated small ar­ti­sanal food pro­duc­ers. Nearby in The Cob­ble­stones, traditional mu­sic played is for its own sake and not for the tourists.

Down the Lif­fey by the el­e­gant Ge­or­gian-built Four Courts build­ings, The Le­gal Ea­gle pub has re­cently re-opened as the lat­est of­fer­ing from restau­ra­teur Elaine Mur­phy and chef Ian Con­nolly, a pair of trail­blaz­ers help­ing to re­de­fine Ir­ish food. Mur­phy and Con­nolly’s col­lab­o­ra­tions in­clude The Wind­ing Stair with its Ha’Penny Bridge views and The Woollen Mills where a young Joyce worked sev­eral life­times ago. At their new gas­tropub, nose-to-tail and root-to-leaf treat­ments of

local meat and veg­eta­bles sit along­side in­no­va­tive Ir­ish potato flat­breads with var­ied top­pings. (“Think smoked had­dock bran­dade, fen­nel and duck egg,” says Mur­phy. “Think ba­con, cab­bage and pars­ley sauce.”)

Around the cor­ner, Capel Street is fast de­vel­op­ing one of Dublin’s most eclec­tic food of­fer­ings. “We love the per­son­al­ity of the street,” says Gar­rett Fitzger­ald, who runs Brother Hub­bard cafe with his part­ner James Boland. “Full pri­mar­ily of owner-run busi­nesses, it re­tains a very in­de­pen­dent spirit.”

Neigh­bour­ing busi­nesses in­clude a cheap-as-chips Ital­ian trat­to­ria staffed by Filipinos, Chi­na­town restau­rants beloved of Dublin’s Asian com­mu­nity, a bak­ery that of­fers Jewish chal­lah bread along­side award-win­ning brown­ies and a hot new ‘crab­shack meets Hawai­ian poke bar’ serv­ing one of the best se­lec­tions of Ir­ish oys­ters going.

This colour­ful di­ver­sity wasn’t al­ways a given. Back in 2006, UK celebrity chef Gary Rhodes opened a 300-seater res­tau­rant just off Capel Street that typ­i­fied a breed of over-priced restau­rants primed to mop up the easy money swill­ing around the Celtic Tiger cap­i­tal. When these pur­vey­ors of medi­ocrity be­came the gas­tro­nomic ca­su­al­ties of the re­ces­sion, their clo­sures made way for a rise in value-fo­cused casual din­ing gems like Brother Hub­bard. A decade on, Fitzger­ald and Boland’s cafe is ex­tend­ing into that same 300-seater space, which has lain dor­mant since the de­par­ture of Rhodes.

The pair ini­tially took in­spi­ra­tion from the owner-op­er­ated cafe cul­ture of Mel­bourne, where they worked for a year, as well as from their trav­els in the Mid­dle East. But to­day they are just as in­spired by the vi­brancy of the con­tem­po­rary Ir­ish food scene. “I love the re-em­brac­ing of traditional foods, tech­niques and in­gre­di­ents,” Fitzger­ald says. “We’ve seen it with the re­dis­cov­ery and in­no­va­tion tak­ing place within our cheese-mak­ing tra­di­tions, craft beer, bread, butch­ery and so much more. We are hon­our­ing our tra­di­tions while also in­no­vat­ing and push­ing the lim­its. It is a very ex­cit­ing time to be in­volved in food.”

That ex­cite­ment finds di­verse ex­pres­sion through­out the city. The best fine-din­ing des­ti­na­tions sur­vived the re­ces­sion, places like the Miche­lin-starred Chap­ter One where poetic dishes like ‘Flavours and tex­tures of Ir­ish milk and honey’ are de­serv­ing of the res­tau­rant’s lit­er­ary set­ting un­der the Dublin Writ­ers Mu­seum. But even at Miche­lin-starred level, there has been a shift to­ward the re­laxed in­for­mal­ity so nat­u­ral to the Ir­ish – and in­deed Aus­tralians.

“But even at Miche­lin-starred level, there has been a shift to­wards the re­laxed in­for­mal­ity so nat­u­ral to the Ir­ish – and in­deed Aus­tralians”

Last year, Aus­tralian chef Damien Grey made quite the stir when his 24-seater res­tau­rant, co-owned with Ir­ish som­me­lier An­drew Heron, won a Miche­lin star within 10 months of open­ing in a flea-mar­ket in the coastal vil­lage of Black­rock. While it’s not self-con­sciously Ir­ish, Grey de­scribes his food at Heron & Grey as “a re­flec­tion of what’s happening in Ire­land: which is food that is pro­gres­sive, chal­leng­ing, ad­ven­tur­ous, ex­per­i­men­tal at times but, at the end of the day, also com­fort­ing”.

Mean­while Aus­tralian chef Mark Senn of Vegin­ity is wow­ing crit­ics with in­ven­tive ve­gan food served from a truck parked in a no-frills Por­to­bello ware­house, where weekly themed menus ex­plore cuisines as di­verse as Ethiopian, Chilean and Sri Lankan.

But it’s not all frill-free set­tings, with a re­cent up­surge in din­ing rooms to get glammed up for. Places like the Man­hat­tan-in­spired Luna, where the wait­ers are dressed by the city’s top tai­lor. Or Hang Dai where West Cork duck is trans­formed in an ap­ple­wood-fired oven pur­pose-built after a recce trip to Bei­jing and served in a racy room in­spired by Blade Run­ner. Or the zany Alice’s Beach-Hut in Won­der­land set­ting of Urchin, an up­beat bar serv­ing crack­ing cock­tails and creative small bites like the sig­na­ture ‘ed­i­ble cocktail’ of Ir­ish sea urchin.

What­ever your par­tic­u­lar ap­petite, you cer­tainly won’t go hun­gry in Dublin, a city where the famed hos­pi­tal­ity of its public houses is now matched and com­ple­mented by the cre­ativ­ity and en­ergy of a vibrant res­tau­rant scene. •

Open­ing im­age: James Boland (left) and Gar­rett Fitzger­ald (right) of Brother Hub­bard cafe at the heart of Capel Street’s vibrant scene. This page, from be­low: Line-caught mack­erel tartare, cu­cum­ber, horse­rad­ish and saltine crack­ers from Bastible, ©...

Left, from top: Skeaghanore Duck from West Cork roasted in Hang Dai’s pur­pose-built oven; Mine­strone broth with ox­tail tortellini at Luna Res­tau­rant © ter­rym­c­don­agh.com

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