There’s no doubt that after months of cold and depressing weather a little sunshine makes everything better. But is something more than that going on in Dublin? On my visit last week there was a real buzz around the city that seems at odds with the endless gloomy economic commentary we usually associate with Ireland.
One noticeable difference is the vast improvement in service quality in the restaurants I visited. Levels of service during the Celtic Tiger years left a lot to be desired and I guess when the money is flowing you don’t need to care so much about your customers. But when you have to compete for every euro of disposable income, when you’ve have learned some of the lessons of boom and bust, it alters your perspective somewhat.
Good quality food seems to be a cornerstone which is all the better given the recent scandals we have endured around horsemeat and the like. And excitingly there seem to be entrepreneurs in the restaurant sector who are embracing social media in innovative ways.
One such creative is Joe Macken responsible for Crackbird (addicted to chicken is the strapline). If you tweet a reservation request 24 hours in advance using #tweetseats and a slot is available on the tweetseats table 2 of you dine for free. The chicken is fantastic and the potato salad to die for. And it’s cheap. You’ll find it on 60 Dame Street around the corner from South William Street (which seems to be undergoing a quiet food revolution).
I was lucky enough to be brought for a meal to The Rustic Stone where Ann O Dea and I enjoyed cooking our main course on hot volcanic stones adding a lovely bit of theatre to the eating experience. The quality of the produce was again second to none and if you find the idea of having to cook something on a stone a little daunting the staff hover helpfully nearby so you don’t feel awkward about asking a question. Ann very kindly picked up the tab commenting that if we had eaten in a similar restaurant a couple of years ago she would have been adding at least another 80 euro to the bill.
You’ll find Coppinger Row on the pedestrian lane off South William Street at the back of the Powers Court Centre and another gem. Mediterranean food with absolutely fresh produce and one of the best salad dressings I’ve ever had. Friendly staff and buzzy atmosphere and again it’s light on the pocket. (I didn’t try them but the cocktails are supposed to be fantastic).
And it’s not just in the heart of the city. My mum, sister and I took a trip out to Howth Harbour where there are some beautiful restaurants. We had lunch in The Brass Monkey again fantastic service, value and quality. I had a small bowl of chowder and fish and chips for 11 euro, which is pretty unbeatable. And of course the fish is super fresh with the added advantage of a view of the trawlers moored just outside.
On my last evening I wandered into Fallon & Byrne on Exchequer Street, a combination of amazing food hall, restaurant and separate wine bar down stairs. It’s located in what used to be Dublin’s Telephone Exchange and retains the Art Deco style. Popping into the wine bar it felt all a little more New York than Dublin and the place was hopping. The walls are packed with shelves housing fantastic wines. You pick your wine and then pay a corkage charge (but I am reliably informed that if you go on a Monday you don’t have to pay that).
And of course I couldn’t leave without having a bowl of the amazing chicken wings in Elephant & Castle in Temple Bar. E&C was one of the first new restaurants back in the day when Temple Bar was being regenerated and it’s retained its attraction through the lean years. You still can’t book a table but if you rock up they will take your name and then you can wander off (usually for about 40 minutes with just enough time to enjoy a pint of Guinness) and return to the bliss of the best chicken wings in Dublin.
I have felt sad (and mad) about Ireland over the past eight years I’ve been in London. But I am glad to see that things seem to be changing and that maybe, just maybe, a corner is being quietly turned.