Greetings, hounds. I just spent a few days eating my way through Dublin and the areas surrounding, where I had the good fortune of dining at some excellent establishments, including the Winding Stair, Pearl, Roly's, and Dunne & Crescenzi. Probably the best restaurant for overall food, service and decor (in that order) I came across during this time was not in Dublin at all, but in the small town of Laragh, about 45 minutes south of Dublin at the complete dark horse, the Wicklow Heather.
The Wicklow Heather is hidden away in the Glendalough Valley of the Wicklow Mountains, close to where St. Kevin founded a monastery in the wilderness in the late 500s AD. It's still a beautiful area for hiking -- and eating, evidently! -- and a good escape from the worst of the the throngs of (other) tourists who still overrun the capital city this time of year.
We walked in without reservations at 7 p.m. and were seated promptly, though the medium-large space was beginning to get crowded. The atmosphere is that of a gentleman's hunting lodge, chock full of old knick knacks, walls hung with poems from old books, hunting implements and the like. We ordered the warm chicken and bacon salad to start, followed by butterflied rainbow trout with garlic potatoes (scalloped potatoes in the US) for me and chicken and pork served with stuffing, mashed potatoes, boiled veggies, and cranberry sauce for my dining companion. The salad was lovely, assembled from slices of moist, high quality chicken, smoked bacon, and excellent, tender greens, all perfectly dressed.
The trout was a wee bit overcooked and was supposed to have come with Mediterranean vegetables, according to the menu, but the tiny bits of vinegared red peppers and cucumbers were more a garnish on the plate than anything else. Nonetheless, there was no disguising the freshness of the fish -- and the rich, buttery potatoes that came with it were remarkable. My companion's chicken and pork dish was well prepared and moist in all the right places. The only downside was a common one at restaurants all over the country, it seems: the side of vegetables was boiled, unsalted and so utterly lackluster the buttery sauce served over top couldn't save them. (Boiling really seems to be some odd preference for veggie preparation in this country I just can't get into.) Mashed potatoes, served alongside, however, were wonderful, neither too rich nor too dry, and made of good, floury potatoes.
For dessert, we had a meringue nest filled with cream and fruit, a light confection made with such high quality cream and other ingredients that this simple dessert was elevated to something approaching divine.
The most standout part of the dining experience, however, was the truly excellent service, which really did live up to the Irish reputation for hospitality in a way we didn't experience in the more jaded capital city. Wait staff was sincerely kind and cheerful and in their pleasant presence, the stresses of the day (driving left handed stick shift on the 'wrong' side of the road down narrow country lanes!) melted away like they'd never existed.
This food and two "quarter bottles" (single serving bottles) of wine added up to 52 Euros, which felt like a bargain given the quality of food, service, atmosphere and the Dublin City sticker shock we'd so recently escaped. I hope others of you find your way, here. Sláinte!