51 Elmwood Ave., Ranelagh, Dublin 6, 01 497 9163, ¤¤ There’s intimate restaurants, and then there’s Brioche, where you’ll not only know what your neighbours are having for dinner, you’ll know the intimate details of their lives and can score them on their table manners. But if you put your blinkers on, it’s a lovely spot. It serves French tasting plates (they recommend two to three per person) such as seared Thornhill duck breast, celeriac purée, and cherries or bacalhau style fillet of hake, red pepper ragu. Wines by the glass are good value and you can’t beat the warm, buttery brioche you get on arrival.
60-61 Parnell Street, Dublin1, 01 872 8318, hophouse.ie ¤ Korean food is all the rage these days, but the Hop House was serving it before your granny could say Kimchi. It’s all a bit crazy, with noise from the bar next door spilling through to the restaurant, but it’s the only place to go for authentic Bibimbap (a hot stone bowl filled with rice, assorted vegetables, Gochujang chilli pepper paste, slices of marinated beef and a raw egg yolk). Their flashing disco pitchers of Korean beer are worth the trip alone.
LEMON CREPE & COFFEE CO
60 Dawson Street, Dublin 2, 01-672 8898; 66 South William Street, Dublin 2, 01-672 9044, lemonco.com, ¤ Many moons ago, as I queued in Lemon, a man wandered in off the street looking for lunch. “You mean you put meat on pancakes?” he roared, “Are you mad? Nobody’d eat that.” And off he stomped in search of some carvery... How wrong he was. Irish people are mad for a crepe, and Lemon’s are still some of the best in town. The Club (streaky bacon, roast chicken breast, tomato and dressing, ¤6.95) and the veggie Power Plus (buttered nutmeg spinach, cheddar, garlic butter mushrooms, creme fraiche and garlic mayo, ¤6.95) are a delicious, and filling – a triangular take away dinner. We’ve yet to try the Pepperoni Calzone but anything that mixes pizza and pancake gets the thumbs up around here.
15 Capel Street, Dublin 1 01-532 80 68, musashidublin.com Unit 2, Burton Hall, Custom house Square, Mayor St Dublin 1 01-55573 73, ¤ Dublin’s best sushi restaurant broke our hearts when it opened in far too small a room on Capel Street a few years ago. No bookings, scant space, you had to elbow your way in to try their delicious Ebi Tempura Masago rolls, slivers of spicy tuna or sashimi selection named after Japanese flowers. Thankfully its newer, larger sister restaurant in the IFSC makes it easier to access this taste of Japan. And the quality of their delivery menu is excellent, recreating the restaurant experience, even if you don’t have the cute Japanese furniture at home.
13/14 Cathedral St, Dublin 1, (01) 874 8038, mlchineserestaurant.com ¤ Claiming the spot as Dublin’s “most authentic Szechuan restaurant”, M&L has garnered a cult following thanks to its seemingly endless list of tasty, MSG-free dishes. Fans speak in hushed tones of the “Chinese-language menu” that (most likely doesn’t) have extra specialties on it. No matter, the English language one offers delights such as braised seabass in hot and spicy sauce and steamed razor clams with rice noodles. The spicy beef is about 50 per cent chilli – only for the brave of constitution.
17 Camden Street Lower, Dublin, 01-405 2222, neon17.ie ¤ It’s a real bone of contention, the optimum technique with which to pull the biggest ice cream cone. Hours of rowdy research have gone into it (and an old Saturday job pulling endless cones for tourists may have gone unmentioned). Neon brought this all on themselves of course, with their clever idea of giving you a free, empty cone with every meal and letting you loose on their ice cream machine. Gimmicky, yes. But free ice creams do not a Thai restaurant make, so just as well their food is as much fun. Fast, spicy Asian favourites of noodles, curries, soups and wok-fried dishes, plus an excellent, explosive duck larb salad for just ¤6.50 (the ice cream comes in handy afterwards)
1 Denzille Lane/26 Fenian Street, Dublin 2, 01 6629649, probuswines.ie, ¤ Although technically a wine bar and craft beer store, Probus does a roaring trade in soakage. This triangular spot has high tables and some communal benches inside, surrounded by a distinct air of chaos – but that’s part of the charm. The deli counter serves decent sandwiches and salads (from ¤4 and up), with hot specials every day (the chorizo stew is a winner) and excellent pizzas in the evenings for ¤12. The air dried beef pizza is a perfect reason to stay for another glass of red. On sunny days you can bring a chair, wine and food outside and lord it over the pint-drinkers at The Gingerman pub across the road.
SCIENCENCE GAGALLERY FLUX CAFÉ
Science Gallery, Naughton Institute, Pearse Street, Trinity College, Dublin 2, 01 896 4091, sciencegallery.com ¤ An excellent spot for lunch or early dinner, the ground floor of the ever-evolving Science Gallery is a buzzy, vibrant spot. Many of the exhibitions spill over into the café, which you reach by passing through the gift shop – avert your eyes or prepare to spend. Instead, you can opt for a variety of sambos, platters, salads and soups. Best option is the stewp (no we’re not stewp-id, that’s how they spell it), a hearty hybrid of stew and soup – and only ¤6.
TERRA MADRE CAFE
13, Bachelor’s Walk, Dublin 1, (01) 873 5300 terramadre.ie, ¤ Food – and machismo – flown direct from Italy, Terre Madre calls itself a café, but it’s a lot more than that. In a blink-and-you-miss-it tiny basement room on the quays, it serves authentic Italian dishes made with Lardo di Colonnata, Campofilone egg pasta, Porchetta carpaccio and Terena Ascolana olive oil. We may once have ordered the Sicilian caper sprout bruschetta for starters and then again for dessert…
7 Poolbeg Street, Dublin 2, 01-6798705, thevintagekitchen.ie ¤ Yet another tiny restaurant that it’s nigh-on impossible to get a table in, but when you do see what the fuss is about. Some of the best value cooking around, the lunchtime small and large plates cost just ¤5 and ¤10 but many of the “small” plates are full meals in themselves. There’ll be no afternoon slump with the spiced seafood chowder or the risotto of pancetta, pea, chili & parsley. At night, the menu comes at ¤25 for two courses, again great value. They have house wine by the glass or you can BYOB, and you can bring your own vinyl to play on their record player. Groovy
THE WOOLLEN MILLS
42 Ormond Quay Lower, Dublin 1, Ireland 01 828 0835, thewoollenmills.com ¤ Calling itself an “eating house” was right on the money, because you’ll over-order here and still lick the plates clean. In a well-restored old mill building with great views of the Ha’appeny Bridge, we hope the outdoor terrace remains as hospitable in winter. Curried crab claws are delicious, the ham hock, baby potato, black pudding and poached egg is a steal for ¤14.
7 Castle House, South Great Georges Street, Dublin 2, 777.ie ¤¤ We’ve known this place to be called 666, so devilishly strong are its margaritas, but if you focus on the food, and stick to the specials (Taco Tuesday: two taquitos for ¤4; on Sundays, dishes cost ¤7.77), this is one of Dublin’s better Mexican restaurants. Try the soft shell crab taquitos, yellowfin tuna ceviche and Mexican-style sweetcorn, served with cheese, pasilla chillies, salt and lime. And go on, maybe one of those margaritas… just one mind.