A banker in fash­ion­able Phib­s­bor­ough

Loretta’s is full of that rare thing in the mid- range restau­rant sec­tor: per­son­al­ity

The Irish Times Magazine - - FOOD - CATHER­INE CLEARY

She scrubs up well, Phib­s­bor­ough, and Loretta’s is the newest shiny brooch on her lapel. The north Dublin dis­trict still has a tilt to its chin after be­ing named as one of the 50 coolest neigh­bour­hoods in the world in a Time Out list in Septem­ber. The news was greeted with equal amounts be­muse­ment and told- ya- so glow that a Cin­derella quar­ter was fi­nally get­ting the recog­ni­tion she de­served.

Loretta’s is on the busy cor­ner of Phib­s­bor­ough Road and the North Cir­cu­lar Road or the North Cir­cu­lar Wind Tun­nel as we grow to think of it, as it chan­nels a crisp draught through the bits of the build­ing that haven’t been sealed up tight yet.

It’s a for­mer bank on the cor­ner, all gran­ite pil­lars and big win­dows that once were hung with signs of­fer­ing home loans and credit cards. The for­mal­ity of the bank has been re­placed with the down- home decor of wood pan­elling, Amer­i­can home den style and a her­ring­bone floor.

Un­usu­ally for this kind of brown and tan decor, the light­ing is bright. I am be­com­ing the Goldilocks of restau­rant light­ing. Too dark and you need a head torch and a watch­maker’s eye glass to read the menu. Too bright and you lose the cosy feel of limpid mar­malade coloured light. Loretta’s is def­i­nitely on the brighter side of the spec­trum.

My friend is im­pressed. He’s in­stalled near the kitchen on a long ban­quette when I get blown in out of the dank dark night. They’ve done a brave thing with this great space. Su­per­pub or burger joint would have been the ac­coun­tants’ rec­om­men­da­tion for a room as big as this. But in­stead they’ve let feel­ings and mem­o­ries dic­tate the menu.

Loretta’s is the work of Amer­i­can chef Jimmy Wi­ley and is named after his aunt. It’s full of that rare thing in the cut- and- paste mid- range restau­rant sec­tor: per­son­al­ity. More din­ner than diner, Loretta’s is the work of some­one who’s cook­ing his favourite dishes from the heart; big gutsy plates of Amer­i­cana with all the Ital­ian, French and south­ern in­flu­ences that make up what we think of as food from the other side of the pond.

There’s an al­most pink chicken liver mousse piped on to small doorsteps of soft brioche and sprin­kled with candied wal­nuts and golden raisins mac­er­ated i n white port. We’re on t he sweet- savoury- sweet riff that’s a cou­ple of steps down from marsh­mal­lows on the yams, but it works re­ally well. I have the oys­ter mush­rooms on toast, which are great, flecked with pars­ley and piled in a gen­er­ous mound with lines of Parme­san fondue squeezed over it be­fore it ar­rives. There are chunks of aubergine rel­ish un­der all the mush­rooms, which have a lovely chut­ney tang. I’d have gone heav­ier on the rel­ish but that’s the only quib­ble.

The Amer­i­can bis­cuit is to Ir­ish eyes some­thing we would only ever call a scone. Here it’s a but­ter­milk ver­sion, crumbly and freshly made with a melt­ing cen­tre of honey jalapeño but- ter. I pre­dict this bis­cuit served with Loretta’s fried chicken and a corn and fen­nel salad will never leave the menu, or if it does it will have to be given a guard of honour and car­ried out in a box. It’s a keeper; chicken breasts are flat­tened into escalopes, bat­tered in a lightly spiced coat­ing and fried. The corn and fen­nel salad is a great lemony fin­ish to the dish. Com­bin­ing chicken a nd s a l a d un­der t he l i d o f t he honey- jalapeño but­tered scone makes for a truly sat­is­fy­ing mouth­ful.

Gerry’s sea trout is de­scribed as “cured” on the menu and then fried in a thick juicy fil­let dot­ted with olives and pil­lowy but­ter­nut squash gnoc­chi, which makes for a rib- stick­ing fin­ish. By the end of the meal it’s clear they’re still putting things to­gether.

“I am the dessert menu,” our lovely server says be­fore recit­ing a list of desserts that make it sound like all the think­ing went into the savoury op­tion. A brownie and ba­nana split are fine. The split is served with so much ice cream, piped cream and squeezy bot­tled choco­late sauce that it’s a strug­gle to find the ac­tual piece of fruit hid­den un­der­neath. My kids would love it.

When we men­tion the force- five draught whistling in from the North Cir­cu­lar, we’re told it’s on the list of jobs to be at­tacked with a seal­ing gun the fol­low­ing day.

Loretta’s is a space that will draw a crowd and feel more set­tled into it­self, not to men­tion warmer, when it does. It’s a place to sit back and look out the big win­dows at the pass­ing traf­fic and en­joy a dis­trict rein­vent­ing i tself through small busi­nesses wear­ing their hearts on their sleeves.

Ex­tra, ex­tra

If you like spot­ting Ir­ish Times folk in the wild, Póg on Tara Street has been de­scribed by one as be­ing like the un­of­fi­cial staff can­teen. It’s a cheer­ful soup and salad place where both the soup and the sal­ads are very good. Póg, Tara Street, Dublin 2.

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