With St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in Dublin fast approaching, why not enjoy a post-parade dining experience away from the downtown hubbub? Just outside the centre of Ireland’s capital city are a range of fine restaurants where five Cs – classic, casual, Celtic, chic and country – sum up some of the best.
Chic: La Réserve Brasserie
Opened three years ago by French owner-chef, Jerome Fernandez, La Réserve Brasserie is located on the main street of Ranelagh, a town 15-minutes from central Dublin. With its high-ceiling, this cosy, 14-table dining room features informal furnishings combining plain wood tables, bare brick wall and classic French billboards. Jerome, originally from Burgundy but who has lived in Ireland for 20 years after working abroad mainly for the Ritz-Carlton in New Orleans and the Bahamas, brings his well-honed skills to the plate. A tasting menu is the perfect way to experience his creations.
Slices of homemade lardon bread with tarragon and parsley served on a wooden board was followed by soft, rolled buckwheat galettes filled with organic salmon and herbs with a splash of crème fraiche and a scattering of fresh crisp leaves and astringent pomegranate seeds. A delicious bowl of piping hot watercress soup with frog legs followed blending a touch of Armagnac with garlic croutons and fine shreds of fennel confit. Highlight of the evening was the coq au vin. Served in a cast-iron skittle dish, it was a tribute to the often undervalued chicken. Braised slowly in Burgundy red wine and combined with bacon, pearl onions and carrots, the tender flesh retained its flavour, oozing that special umami taste. A powerful Roquefort cheese served with pear confit, walnut crumb and sprinkles of spicy paprika and a dessert of light pistachio biscuit, dark chocolate mousse and orange salad ended what was a sophisticated feast of taste.
Celtic: The Mystic Celt
A 30-minute drive from beautiful mountain scenery, this two-floor restaurant located in Wicklow town, 25 miles south of Dublin on the coast, is owned by chef Paul Smith and his wife, Sylvia, local people who developed their cuisine skills in places as diverse as Brooklyn and Dingle, Kerry. Ambiance is rustic as befits its name, with a fire blazing in the lobby, a stone wall surround, statuettes of peat and an upstairs ceiling upstairs draped in white canvass with wood beams and sturdy wood floor and tables. The menu, in both Gaeilge and English, has a Celtic leitmotif, with sections entitled ‘Bia na Deithe’ (Food of the Gods) from the ‘Feasting Halls of Tara’ and ‘O Mhalai Mhaoiloin’ (Straight from the Barrow). A special dessert, ‘Children of Lir,’ is named after an Irish legend.
A bustling place with friendly and efficient staff, it features a comprehensive drinks menu including craft beers from the Wicklow Wolf Brewery and mead, a traditional Irish drink made from honey. Our Celtic feast began with ‘seafood symphony,’ a generous medley of scallops, crab claws and prawns in roast garlic, lemon and a buttery basil cream sauce, with a seashell as a plate decoration. My dinner companion chose Wexford duck salad: thin slices nestling on crispy cabbage laced with lemon aioli, pickled ginger and pomegranate seeds. With images of ravenous Celtic warriors returning from battle in my mind, the hefty, aged ‘mystic Gaelic steak,’ a 10-ounce Angus beef fillet, seemed appropriate, served with red onion tarte tatin, portabella mushrooms and a silky Madagascar pepper sauce adding tingles of spiciness. Chef Paul is an affable host with a flair for plate design, skills that add much to an evening’s enjoyment.
Classic: The Wild Goose Grill
With Ranelagh boasting around 40 eateries – both of the sit-in and carry-out varieties – the town has become a mini-mecca for food-lovers with one of the more established institutions being ‘The Wild Goose Grill.’ Named after successive waves of Irishmen who fought abroad in the armies of continental Europe, this two-room, 70-seat restaurant takes pride in its wine selection, as indicated by shelves laden with bottles behind a small upstairs bar and throughout the two adjoining dining rooms.
An elegant atmosphere reigns with ash-gray walls, polished wood flooring, a low ceiling and subdued illumination from wall spotlights and table lamps. In honour of the restaurant’s name, an amuse-bouche was smoked goose breast with mango and pear pearls. Be that a starter of scallops or pigeon breast (my companion’s choice), expectations were surpassed. The thermidor sauce caps and smooth, foam-like potato beds that sandwiched the scallops complemented the seafood, so popular for its subtle flavor. The tender slices of pigeon, slightly pan-cooked on a bed of spelt risotto and cranberry sauce, blossomed within a balanced blend of nuttiness from the barley beads and sweetness from the fruit.
Rump of venison as a main came as three thick coins of pan-seared meat on a bed of spinach and red beetroot, well balanced in taste and texture, while my companion opted for goose breast with green beans, wild mushrooms, fresh fig and red wine jus. Homemade pecan pie with cardaman and ginger ice cream and a light New York cheese-cake was enough. Sheerin Wilde, an engaging conversationalist and sommelier who paired every course with consummate skill, contributed to a most delightful dinner.
Country: Clodagh’s Kitchen
Having gained a reputation as a celebrity chef both in Ireland and the US, Clodagh McKenna struck out with this her first stand-alone restaurant, located in the coastal town of Blackrock, six miles south of Dublin centre. Located a stone’s throw from the Irish Sea beside a major shopping centre, the décor is casual, with no fuss, plain white chairs and tables, as well as booths with soft, cushion seating. Seating space inside the front entrance means guests can enjoy pre-dinner drinks in comfort while the restaurant area, several steps above, consists of two spacious rooms separated by a partial brick façade. Muted tones of grays and whites, simple white chairs and tables and booths with soft, cushion seating and large bell-shaped lamps hanging from a ceiling crisscrossed with metal piping form help convey an overall sense of hominess. The short menu, prepared by Sicilian chef, Giuseppe Galvano, and his Irish colleague, Georgina Collier, features three starters, five mains and three desserts. Notable are the Oriental twist given to the starter of chicken wings, oven-roasted not deep fried and glazed in a sauce of honey and ginger, sprinkled with chives, chilli and spring onion. Dipping sauce of Cashel Blue was enriched by crème fresh and lemon. Highlight was the aubergine parmigiana, comprising buffalo mozzarella, wild garlic pesto and fresh mint instead of the traditional basil. The eggplants were well-roasted and generously layered with flavorsome tomatoes and melted cheese. That’s being said, the crab cakes came a close second, rich with meat and served with guacamole, tomato salsa and a light dill mayo. In addition to breakfasts, lunches and dinners, Clodagh’s also hosts regular cooking demonstration evenings.
Casual: Peperina Garden Bistro
Design simplicity is the hallmark of the bright and airy Peperina Garden Bistro opened two years ago in the Rathmines/Ranelagh area of south Dublin. Housed in a long, low-ceilinged room with expansive windows overlooking the main street, the restaurant features broad-beamed flooring with a mix of metallic and wood tables. Light bulbs dangle from red cords that weave themselves intricately around the ceiling while decorations include shelves filled with potted plants and ornamental wall plates. Several steps separate the front half of the dining room from the rear, which features a glass ceiling dome, with an open terrace beyond, with pots of various herbs, used by the chef. The menu is inspired by south-America (‘peperina’ is an Argentinian mint plant) but simplicity and natural produce remain its core values. Co-owner Evan McAuliffe hails from a family of restaurateurs and launched this first venture with his Argentinian partner.
Our opening gambit was flat mushrooms and chorizo soup with homemade wheaten bread served quaintly on wooden platters followed by roast thyme and garlic chicken with herby crisp potatoes and grilled, 20-day aged, rib eye steak served with hand-cut chips and chimichurri (a south-American salsa). The earthiness of the mushrooms was enlivened by the chorizo’s spiciness while the steak was well seared on the outside but rare inside, retaining its inherent tenderness. An informal venue, Peperina Garden Bistro is a comfortable place for family and friends to meet in a casual setting.