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Ireland report, part I (Dublin)


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Restaurants & Bars U.K./Ireland

Ireland report, part I (Dublin)

Beth Pizio | | Apr 3, 2002 06:14 PM

My husband Peter and I were in Ireland from 3/20 to 4/1, first in Dublin, then traveling northwest to Kilcar in County Donegal and finally going west to Coleraine in Northern Ireland before returning to Dublin for the flight home. This post is about the Dublin portion, and hopefully within the next few days I'll get around to writing up the Donegal and Northern Ireland portions.

In Dublin we stayed at The Parkway B&B, 5 Gardiner Place (01 874 0469). Seamus is the owner, and he's a doll. A full Irish breakfast (tiny glasses of lousy orange juice [typical for Ireland], cereal and milk, white toast, 2 pieces of bacon, 2 sausages, 1 egg, tea or coffee) was served every morning. (You could also get beans and Irish brown bread on request.) Meat was not the highest quality, but was certainly edible. Rooms were small but cheap (E44 a night for a double w/ shared bath). We were on the unfashionable side of the river, but Dublin is small enough that walking everywhere was no problem.

3/21-- Lunch: RED HEN in Temple Bar, on the main street that runs perpendicular to the Liffey (can't find it online, sorry). We had stumbled into Dublin on the red eye, and while it was morning there, it sure felt like 3 am to us. Most places were not yet serving lunch, so we stumbled into this place mostly because it was open. P got a full Irish breakfast (which in this case included black and white pudding and fry bread as well as eggs, toast, bacon, sausage, tomato and mushroom). Pretty tasty. I ordered an egg mayonnaise and bread, thinking I was going to get an egg salad sandwich. But no. I got a sliced egg, a HUGE mound of mayonnaise, a heap of potato salad (made, in the Irish way, with floury potatoes, so that it's really just potato mush rather than potato cubes), a heap of macaroni salad, some pickled beets, some shredded carrot, a few stray lettuce leaves and cucumber slices and two slices of Irish brown bread. Peter got the better end of the deal on that one. Inexpensive-- entrees are about E5.

Dinner: STAG'S HEAD pub (1 Dame Court off of Dame Street, 01 679 3701). This was recommended in World Food: Ireland as the best pub grub in Dublin. P got fish and chips (very good) and I got hamburger with onion gravy and chips, which I expected to come on a bun. But no. It was just two hamburgers, gravy and chips. Despite again not getting what I expected (are we seeing a theme here?), it was very good. Burgers were hand-formed, chips were great (in that mushy Irish way) and the gravy was deeply flavorful. If I had it to do again, I would have ordered my burgers rare, but I'll know for next time. This was good, honest, filling food, and we washed it down with Guinness. (Interestingly enough, locals I spoke with had never gotten food at Stag's Head. Some of them didn't even know they serve food.) Inexpensive-- entrees are about E7.

3/22-- Instead of lunch, we had hot drinks and scones at the TEA ROOMS in Phoenix Park (01 671 4431) prior to exploring the zoo. I had just had tea for breakfast and went for a macchiato instead. The woman at the counter confirmed my request four times, then took out some kind of manual to teach herself how to make my drink. Peter said (smirking a bit), "Guess people don't order that much." "No one's ever ordered it before," she replied. It wasn't bad, actually. And the scones were quite good. Inexpensive.

(I highly recommend the zoo, by the way. You can get incredibly close to most of the animals, yet they still have spacious habitats.)

Dinner: CHAMELEON (1 Fownes Street, Temple Bar, 01 671 0362). I read about this Indonesian place here and had wanted to try the Rijstaafel, so we ordered Rijstaafel 1 and Rijstaafel 2 and split them. We got about 20 little dishes to share, most of which I don't remember all that well. Overall, I would give it a B. Some dishes were very tasty (one vegetable dish in particular was terrifically sour), some were merely okay. The greens in the gado gado were kind of brown and limp. Great atmosphere, though, and friendly service. Moderate-- I think we paid about E50 for the whole shebang, including drinks and tips.

3/23-- Lunch: LEO BURDOCK'S (2 Werburgh Street, 01 454 0306), proclaimed by World Food: Ireland to be the best fish and chips in Dublin. We both got hake and chips. Simply delicious. Fresh, fresh fish with a thick crust that stayed crispy through the entire meal. Fries were great as well. This was also the meal that introduced me to Club Orange soda (see What's My Craving board). Imagine my surprise when instead of the normal, neon-colored, sickly-sweet drink that bears no resemblance to any fruit, I find great orange flavor and bits of pulp between my teeth. (And in Ireland, no less, where orange juice still mostly comes from a can.) This place is takeout only, but the grounds of Christchurch Cathedral across the street make a great picnic spot. Highly recommended. Inexpensive-- E6 each, including drinks.

Dinner: INDIAN TANDOORI (14 Dame Street, 671 9488). It wasn't our first choice. It wasn't even our second choice. But it was open and had available tables and we were hungry. We started with vegetarian spring rolls (this is Dublin, a place where Chinese restaurants serve curries and Indian restaurants serve spring rolls), chicken tandoori, lamb balti, a mixed vegetable dish I can't remember the name of, Chef's special rice, aloo paratha, Indian beer and chai (which we had to ask for three times before they would believe that we really wanted spice tea and not regular tea). Everything was okay but sort of tame. (Though I think we earned the waiter's respect immediately by getting rice instead of chips-- we were, as far as we could tell, the only people in the whole restaurant who didn't order chips.) The chicken was unexpectedly tender and good, the special rice was extremely tasty and the rest was just sort of eh. Don’t get the aloo paratha. Blech. Inexpensive-- we spent E40, but we over-ordered.

3/24-- Lunch: BEWLEY'S (I swore it was on Grafton St, but I can't find a listing). Peter wanted to try this because it's such an institution. We had the afternoon tea spread for two-- chicken and egg finger sandwiches, scones with cream and jam, and a variety of sweets. It was very tasty, but we're suckers for afternoon tea, so keep that in mind. Anyone, though, would appreciate the people watching from the mezzanine level, though the air-headed servers are certain to annoy. Moderate/Expensive (at least the parts with wait service were-- there's a self-serve cafeteria on the ground floor that's probably less expensive)-- I think we paid about E40.

Dinner: THE PORTERHOUSE (16 Parliament Street, 01 679 8847), one of only a few microbreweries in Ireland. It was packed, but we managed to find seats. We started with the beer sampler, which allows you to try miniature portions of all the beers they make themselves. (It's not on the menu, but luckily we knew about it from Let's Go. And one sampler is more than enough for two to split.) All interesting, but the highlights were the Plain Porter and the Wrassler's. The Plain Porter is like Guinness, only better, and the Wrassler's is the thickest, densiest, maltiest beer I've ever tried. People who call Guinness a meal in a glass would call Wrassler's a banquet in a glass. The most unusual beer they make is the oyster stout. An interesting drink for sure, but not something I would go out of my way for. They also have an excellent selection of bottled beers from around the world.

The food at Porterhouse was quite good. I got half a dozen oysters to start, and they were outstanding-- huge and fresh, and they flinched when I squeezed on lemon. Then I got the Irish Stew, which was very tasty. Peter got Beef in Stout, which was also good. We ended with a plate of Irish cheeses, none of which really impressed. Inexpensive-- 2 pints, one sampler, 6 oysters, 2 entrees and one cheese plate cost only E45.

That night we went out to hear some trad at O'DONOGHUE'S (15 Merrion Row, 01 676 2807). Tiny place, but the music was great. They pour a good pint, too.

Skipping ahead to 3/31-- Our last night in Ireland was spent in Balgriffin, just south of Malahide (a posh northern suburb of Dublin). We were there because it was close to the airport and we had an early flight and a rental car to return. Our B&B was Belcamp Hutchinson (Balgriffin, 01 846 0843), a house with gorgeous grounds (including a fountain and resident ducks and cows) built in the 1700s, beautifully maintained and elegantly decorated (no overly flowery, frilly, kotchke-filled rooms here). It feels, in every way, as though you're an honored guest at an English country estate.

Doreen, the owner, will serve breakfast at any hour in order to ensure guests get to the airport on time in the morning, and she provides great maps of the town of Malahide (including restaurants) and of the route from her house to the airport. She's also the only person in Ireland who gave me decent directions. (Actual transcription of someone directions to their B&B: "Go through the village to the factory. Then go up until you're over the bay. We're the big house on the side of the road." HUH? It doesn’t help that, outside of Dublin, there's not a single street sign anywhere in the Republic.)

The breakfast at Belcamp Hutchinson was easily the best I had in Ireland, and very close to the best I've ever had (top honors, though, still goes to Chez Madeline on the Olympic Peninsula in Port Townshead, WA). The orange juice was fresh squeezed (almost unheard of in Ireland). There were fresh mascerated berries and fresh custard to top them with on the sideboard. Waiting on the table were hard boiled eggs (still hot), rolls of excellent ham, several different kinds of bread, four homemade jams, and a fantastic selection of Irish cheeses (eight in all, I believe). Even the cereals on the sideboard were upscale (a barely sweet granola with expertly dried strawberries, for example).

Doreen gives you just enough time to fill your plate and wonder whether you've got enough room to sample everything before she comes out and asks if you're ready for the hot breakfast. The hot breakfast includes eggs any style, bacon, sausage, mushrooms, tomatoes, black pudding, white pudding, fried bread, toast and tea or coffee. If I had any plans to live in Ireland, I'd call her up and ask her where she buys her meat. It was incredible. Even the black and white puddings were scrumptious, and I'm not normally a fan.

The only downside is the price: E130 per night, ensuite (all rooms there are ensuite). Still, it was worth it for a single night's splurge, especially considering that the airport is 10 minutes away. If you've got money to burn, it would be an excellent base from which to explore Dublin, since the city center is only 20 minutes away.

(Note: we ate lunch on 3/31 in Northern Ireland, so that will be covered in the next part of the report.)

We ate dinner that night in Malahide at SIAM THAI RESTAURANT (Gas la Malahide, 01 845 4698), in part I think because I had really wanted to eat Thai in Dublin and didn't get the chance. We both had tom yum gai to start. Surprisingly, it was absolutely delicious-- sour and salty and quite spicy, with generous amounts of fresh lemon grass, lime leaves and galanga. So my hopes were high for the entrees, but I was disappointed. We both opted for duck dishes-- I ordered crispy duck with crispy noodles in tamarind sauce, and Peter got duck in red curry sauce. The first dish was certainly crispy, but way too sweet, and the second dish was also overly sweet, and not even interesting textually. Somehow in both dishes the duck managed to be tasteless. I'd go back in a heartbeat for that soup, though. Moderate/Expensive-- we spent about E60.


Things we loved in Dublin: Stag's Head, Brazen Head and Porterhouse pubs, Leo Burdock's, Dublin Zoo, Viking Splash Tours (a totally cheesy tour, but how can you resist an amphibious vehicle?), Christchurch and St. Patrick's Cathedrals, Jameson tour (be sure to volunteer at the end for the whiskey tasting), St. Stephen's Green, Trinity College (and the Book of Kells), the Archeological Museum, the Georgian architecture.

Things we could have skipped: Guinness tour (except the view from the Gravity Bar-- don't know if you can get up there without paying, though), Dublinia (though it definitely had great kitsch value).

Things we wanted to do but didn't have time: visit Ceol Traditional Irish Music Center, pet the tame deer in Phoenix Park, see Dublin Castle, taste cheeses at the Big Cheese Co. off of Dame St., see more museums, visit more suburbs.

Restaurants we wanted to try but didn't the chances: Bangkok Café (106 Parnell St., 01 878 6618-- recommended here and in the NY Times' recent article on Dublin); Tea Room at the Clarence Hotel; the restaurant (forget the name, but it's got a number in it) on Parnell St. below the Dublin Writer's Museum (menu looked great, with lots of fresh game).