A selection of the best restaurants as chosen by
73 Camden Street, Dublin 2, 01-559 9028, facebook.com/ camdenexchange ¤ You could argue the craft beer + street food +cocktail formula has been done to death in the capital. And then you could tell that to a woman happily scoffing curry and cheese chips and drinking a Granny Smith Spiced Apple cocktail and see who wins…
Camden Exchange is indeed following a well-worn path. It has the exposed brick, industrial interiors, kitchenin- an-indoor-van thing down pat. But even still, it offers something a little different – and tasty to boot.
The former bank building served its time as the location for RTÉ TV series Raw. Now you can expect a tiled bar at the front, booths in the middle and a selection of wooden tables surrounding the kitchen-van down the back. The menu is short and sweet – with an impressive two-thirds given over to details of suppliers, including the Bretzel Bakery, FX Buckleys and Gubbeen. Sharing plates (¤6 each, three for ¤15), include mezze with flatbread and crudités, garlic and parsley shrimp skewers with bloody-mary dip, and some seriously tasty smoked Gubbeen cheese croquettes, which come hot and smokey and flecked with chives, oozing out of their shell and dunked in a slow cooked tomato relish. Mains are ¤8 each, or ¤10 if you want fries (you’ll want fries). They include a couple of veggie options (the crispy chickpea cake looks good), a rolled pork belly sourdough sandwich with cheese, chorizo jam and pork scratchings, or a tender, crispy chicken breast served in a bap or salad (we tried the salad) with Korean hot sauce, pickles, slaw and cashews. With 50 different craft beers, the moustache twirlers should be kept happy, and the cocktail list includes a Garden Bloody Mary (with basil and ginger), a bacon-spiced Manhattan and that tart Granny Smith cocktail (¤10) with apple and cinnamoninfused Tanqueray, elderflower liquor and cloudy apple juice. As for those curry and cheese chips (¤5) ... just order two portions.
Charlotte Way, Dublin 2, 01-402 2000, facebook.com/ DoughboysDublin ¤ Nestled on the wind tunnel at the top of Harcourt Street and Camden Street, Doughboys is a New York-style sandwich shop serving fun, incredibly filling sandwiches, soups and sides. You can take away or eat in, propped up at the wooden benches on bright red metal chairs (these always remind me of playschool).
The menu is short and sweet, with about half-a-dozen sandwiches on the go at any one time. This is fine by us, as a hungry mind does not need 50 choices – the existing lunchtime queue would never move if the list was longer. Prices range from ¤5 to ¤6.50, which isn’t the cheapest lunch option, but ingredients are fresh and the sandwiches we’ve tried are very filling. They’ve made a name for themselves in this area – which is already saturated with good lunch spots – with two of their sandwiches in particular: the meatball sub and Porchetta. The meatball sub (¤6.50) comes with fresh meatballs made daily on the premises, a rich tomato sauce with fresh basil on a crispy toasted ciabatta roll from the Bretzel bakery, up the road. The Porchetta (¤6.50) has slices of delicious roast Italian rolled pork, salsa verde, garlic and some seriously crispy crackling on a ciabatta.
We don’t work anywhere near here, but would make the lunchtime trek for that crackling alone. There’s a salad box (¤5.50) with chicken and some of the ever-changing side salads (such as Greek salad, carrot and beetroot slaw or smoked aubergine tomato cous cous). You can add soup to your order for ¤3 or a small tub of salad for ¤2.50. They serve the excellent Dublinroasted Cloud Picker coffee and Wall & Keogh teas.
NCAD, 100 Thomas Street, Dublin 8, facebook.com/luncheonettedublin ¤ Lunch in the DIT Aungier Street canteen in the 1990s usually involved cheap cups of tea, a couple of Marlboro Lights (sorry folks) and if we were feeling flush, a plate of chips and gravy. High times indeed. The students at NCAD have a much tastier option in Luncheonette – a vaulted basement café, run by artist Jennie Moran, whose light installations brighten the subterranean space. Along with Brazilian chef Wagner Dos Santos, Moran has created a cool little spot that still has the frantic starved-student mayhem during lunch hours, but is a relaxing spot in between (non students are welcome). Open from 8.30am on weekdays for breakfast (it closes at 3.45pm) the menu changes daily, but stalwarts include pound cake (it’s a tangy lemon and thyme at the moment, ¤2), a good serving of porridge with cream, roasted hazelnuts and honey (¤2) and “complicated flapjacks” (¤1.70).
Lunchtime offerings generally include a couple of sambos and a soup or salad. They’re student-friendly in budget, but a million miles from chips and gravy. There are some really interesting flavours and ideas; Azerbaijani spinach and split pea soup with pomegranate and bulgar, ¤3 (college-going Rachel would have recognised about two of those ingredients), roast free-range chicken ciabatta (¤4) or a decently sized portion of spiced brown rice and mung bean salad thinly sliced radish, pistachio and coriander (¤3.50). A lovely, friendly lunchtime spot that could teach other college canteens a thing or two.
THE MEETING HOUSE
Meeting House Square, Temple Bar, Dublin 2, 01 670 3330, themeetinghousedublin.com ¤¤ Occupying the long, tall dining room best known to Dubliners as the home of Eden (and latterly its offshoot Nede), The Meeting House opened without much fanfare late last year. It was obviously saving its energy for the party it was throwing inside. This is a brash, loud place to eat. They’ve completely revamped the cool, laidback décor of Eden days. Now it’s very dark, the polished concrete has been painted red and black, with lots dramatic artwork and a DJ is ensconced in the middle of the action. There’s a bar upstairs – a Google party is in full swing on the night we visit – and there are lots of people partying in the smoking area outside. The food is a mishmash of Burmese, Japanese and southeast Asian cuisine. It’s served in large tapas-style portions. We’re told two or three per person will be ample. They’re ¤9.99 each, or there are offers for three (¤27), four (¤35) or six (¤49). There’s lots to choose from – the vegetable tempura is excellent: wafer thin batter, with asparagus, beetroot, tender stem broccoli and a citrusy ponzu dressing. A prawn curry is mild, with lots of vegetables; Yellow-fin sashimi tacos are served in hardshelled tacos, and while the tuna isn’t actually sashimi, it’s good and the tamarind dressing was tasty. A crab salad is the only dud. It’s poorly seasoned, with strips of mango that added nothing but a slimy, watery finish. Best are the Burmese pork ribs, which disintegrate off the bone in a rich, sticky sriracha sauce – some of the best ribs any of us has tasted in Dublin. Sides include brown rice and some heavily soyed wok-fried greens. This isn’t a spot for a quiet tete a tete – but for a group looking for a party atmosphere with some tasty plates and cocktails (try the lychee and lemongrass sour) it’s a good bet.
162 Parnell Street, Dublin 1, 01-8783165, phoviet.ie ¤ A small Vietnamese restaurant on Parnell Street , this place specialises in pho – a popular street food consisting of a light broth, rice noodles, chicken or beef (though you can often get vegetarian and seafood options), with vegetables. The pho offerings at Pho Viet share the same light stock, and
you add beef (¤8.50), chicken (¤8.50) or prawns (¤10.50). The beef is a hearty option, with a choice of four cuts of meat (you choose three, or all four for an extra ¤1). They include slices of brisket, rare sirloin steak, flank steak or meatballs. The meatballs are small, dense and firm, nothing like their Italian namesake, while the brisket has been slow roasted and is melt-in-themouth. The flank can be tough, but the sirloin is a good option. Each bowl comes with a plate of extras, such as mint leaves, lemon wedges, extra chillis, bean sprouts and coriander, and you mix until you’ve found the taste that suits you best. Banh Cuon (¤7.50) a Vietnamese pancake made with rice flour is filled with prawn, pork and mushrooms and then fried like a crepe. For a burst of fresh, crunchy goodness, try the Goi cuon (¤4 for two) a healthier version of spring rolls, transparent rice paper roll served cold stuffed with chilled prawn, pork, vermicelli noodles, mint and veggies and served with a tangy dipping sauce. The chicken wings (¤7) are potent and very tasty – a liberal dose of tamarind in the sauce sets them apart from the better known American chicken wings.
THE SUMMIT INN
Thormanby Rd, Howth, Dublin 13, 01-832 4615, thesummitinn.ie ¤ Everything tastes better after a good hike by the sea and nowhere is this truer than at The Summit Inn in Howth. Perched on top of – you guessed it – the summit of Howth Head, this is a popular spot with walkers who’ve taken the cliff path from the village, on the way to the Baily Lighthouse.
Always packed on sunny days, the best seats here are at the outdoor tables, facing the sunset and with a view down to the coast. The menu here is unashamed pub grub. And after hiking up the cliff path, you’ve earned a bit of stodge. Hot and spicy chicken wings (¤4.95, or ¤8.95 for large) arrive out on tables by the tray load to crowds of happy tourists. Huge portions of scampi and chips (¤11.95) and fresh cod and chips (¤14.95) are served with a decent side salad – good seaside fare.
There’s a pleasant surprise in a good Greek salad (¤9.95) – large chunks of feta with leaves, tomato, red onion and olives with two dressings. Best when we visit is the cast iron pot of fat, juicy wild Irish mussels (¤10.50), in a creamy garlic and white wine sauce, served with nutty brown bread to mop up all the juices. Washed down with a pint of Guinness, there may be no finer way to spend a sunny Dublin evening before the trek back down to the village.
60 Ranelagh, Co. Dublin, 01-491 3436, taphouse.ie ¤ The former Russell’s pub in the centre of Ranelagh had a complete makeover about 18 months ago, emerging as (yet another) craft beer house. It’s been doing well though and remains a busy spot in the centre of the village. Service is excellent, however it’s painfully dark here in the evenings, with mood lighting that just made us moody. Using your mobile to illuminate the menu is taking “atmosphere” a little too far. What we did decipher on the menu included sliders (¤4 each, three for a tenner), small plates for¤9 including pil pil prawns on ciabbata, meatballs with tomato sauce, baby back ribs and slaw. Big plates (all ¤12) include a good looking fishy ramen; fish tacos were good with very large pieces of fresh haddock, barely coated in a light batter with spiced salsa in soft flour tortillas. Kev’s mussels (and not Kev’s muscles) were served with lots of rosemary, habanero and sake (¤9). A little dry but we sopped up as much of the sauce as we could with some leftover bread. The hit was a po-boy; the much-mangled New Orleans sandwich of fried prawns in a soft roll with tomato, lettuce and mustardy mayo (¤12). This was very good – huge, perfectly cooked prawns, a light, spicy batter and fresh salad, with a bowl of well-seasoned apple, fennel and red-cabbage slaw on the side. Almost worth losing your eyesight for.