There are great restaurants in Dublin, and there are the great Dublin restaurants. Dubliners have had a history of being rapscallion, rebellious, and authentic. They respect the little guy, are anti-establishment, and are passionately and true to themselves. Great Dublin restaurants, in our opinion, are the ones that perfectly encapsulate this city’s pluck, poetry, and grit. Below are the restaurants that, in our opinion, keep the sneaky spirit of the old Shmoke alive.
The Winding Stair
No one place better captures Dublin’s romance. Walk up the creaky, twisty flight of stairs over a used bookstore, enter into the higgledy-piggledy sunbathed space, and dine on dishes that are sonnets of the Irish land – braised Wicklow boar with pickled plum, smoked haddock with silky cheddar mash. We love and are frequently tempted by the regular menu, but the creative, ever-changing lunch/early bird menu is often too tempting to miss. Score a table near the window, where you can gaze over the picturesque Ha’Penny bridge and the sparkling Liffey below, as pretty a view in the rain as it is in the sun. When they’re on the Winding Stair menu, get the deviled lamb kidneys. Also the butter and whiskey laden bread and butter pudding is one of the modern Irish originals – a boozy, soufflé textured, unapologetically decadent take on a childhood classic.
40 Ormond Quay Lower, North City, Dublin, (01) 872 7320
When Andrea and Stephen opened Pig’s Ear in 2008, they wanted food that was delicious, contemporary, but also honest, for honesty is quality most prized in Dublin.
There is no pretension at their restaurant, just locally sourced Irish cooking, straightforward and ravishing. As its name might suggest, you may want to go into the meat when you are at the Pig’s Ear – chicken and ham hock terrine, pork belly barbecued until soft and sticky. Earl Grey cured salmon with trout caviar (from county Kilkenny) is sparkling and surprising. The shepherd’s pie is justly famous, velvet soft lamb shoulder braised in red wine for most of the day, resting under its mashed potato blanket. New season lamb with cepe mushrooms, white garlic and mint is the essence of the Irish in early spring. Desserts are adult tweaks on nursery treats and as befits Ireland, a lot of it is creamy — vanilla cheesecake with a Hobnob biscuit crust and popcorn infused pannacotta.
4 Nassau St, Dublin 2, Ireland, (01) 670 3865
Here is where you will get food if James Joyce dared to dream extravagantly– pig’s tail stuffed with bacon, lobster, and lime and mustard fruit, and charred mackerel with oysters. Of the canonical fine-dining restaurants in this city, Michelin starred Chapter One is, in our opinion, the most Dub. For one, it is because chef and owner’s Ross Lewis decided to open this restaurant north of the Liffey, where the city is more raw and more real. Located at the bottom of the Writers’ Museum, where in the former home economics classroom of a girl’s school, Chapter One provides dishes that are generally sublime. Occasionally there is a miss, as should be expected in a kitchen that continues to experiment twenty years after it opened. Then there is Chapter One’s service, which is impeccably Irish – a perfect front-of-house with plenty of cheek, craic, and charm.
18-19 Parnell Square N, Rotunda, Dublin 1, (01) 873 2266
Because the Dublin food scene requires a spunky, social-woke member among its crew. Fumbally is a community café that serves locally roasted coffee and a greenmarket sourced menu that always includes a daily special inspired by how they were feeling that day.
The specials, as is the regular menu, are from locally sourced ingredients and are playful as they are delicious. An example is their vegetarian “Full Irish:” oat and alexanders cakes with buffalo ricotta, sorrel salsa, McNally’s tomatoes with wild garlic capers, green bean and seaweed pickle with black garlic potatoes. Don’t worry meat eaters, Fumbally has got you covered, with melt-on-the-tongue pork belly and savoury lamb, all from animals that lived happy and died humanely. On Wednesday nights, Fumbally hosts dinners, and guest chefs have included raw-food queen Katie Sanderson and culinary magician Takashi Miyazaki.
Fumbally Ln, Merchants Quay, Dublin 8, (01) 529 8732
It’s hard not to get caught up in Pickle’s heady excitement. For the past decade Sunil Ghail has been bringing on the heat and sophistication with his Indian-Irish cuisine, first with the hyper-elegant Ananda (whose premises in Dundrum is still definitely worth a visit), and now with Pickle on Camden Street. Pickle is truer to Sunil’s personality – youthful, funky, bustling, and with flavors that go pop.
Sunil is from Gwailor in the North of India, the city of music and also of street food. The menu in Pickle is part street food, part Sunil’s childhood culinary memories, but also Irish in its produce and its ethos. The flavors excite and prickle without punching you overtly. Bombay curry scallops are delicately flavored but the fried noodle beds on which they perch are delightfully reminiscent of packaged ramen from student days. Lamb and bone marrow curry is the perfect comfort food for a grey and rainy day. Score a table in the back next to the kitchen, where you might get blessed with the banter with Sunil and his crew. The pickles – from which the restaurant gets its name – are in jars all over the restaurant, and they are from his granny’s recipes. The mango is his mammy’s favourite, and you absolutely must try the shrimp.
43 Camden Street Lower, Saint Kevin’s, Dublin 2, (01) 555 7755
L. Mulligan Grocer
Before there was Dublin hipster, there was L. Mulligan’s, tucked comfortably on the premises of a Stoneybatter old man’s pub. Many up and coming restaurants have tried to imitate L. Mulligan’s since. At Mulligan’s was you first found carefully curated whiskey and beer flights; menus printed in typewriter font; beautiful pub food that was deconstructed and then put back together without pretense; and food on boards and slates. But when you come to Mulligans, you come for the food and the drink, which even without the flourishes, remain unparalleled. Dig into mussels and chips, deep-fried, crumbed lamb bacon, Irish cheeses, and some of the best Scotch eggs on the planet. Finish with nectarine crumble with warm custard and cinnamon ice cream. And then there’s the drink. Colin and Seaneen, the founders, and the Mulligan staff, have a passionate, encyclopedic knowledge about beer and spirits, especially whiskey. Colin brews his own beer, called the Brown Paper Bag project, Seaneen makes whiskey and gin, and more than one L. Mulligan alumnus, like YellowBelly beer’s Declan Nixon, has gone on to make trails in the eating and drinking community.
Fond of whiskey? L. Mulligan recently opened a whiskey shop in the city centre, curated by the Mulligan experts – L. Mulligan Whiskey Shop, 13 Clarendon St, Dublin 2.
18 Stoneybatter, Arran Quay, Dublin 7, (01) 670 9889
O’Connell’s in Donnybrook
Nestled in the leafy, posh Donnybrook suburb, and run by the most private of Darina Allen’s family, O’Connell’s maximizes traditional Irish cooking at its most exquisite. Fish of the day pulled from the Atlantic seas and basted in sweet butter, and roasted vegetables (particularly the winter squash), which are the salty sweet, earthy epitome of Celtic terroir. Potato gratin flecked gold with Irish cream, roasted sides of beef, and the chicken, fragrant with thyme and covered with crisp skin. Grandma’s gravy simmered for three hours, and perfect, fluffy chips. Moreover, the space is breathtaking, old fashioned dark wood panels and seats mixed with large airy windows which makes it feel like a cross between a pub and a cathedral. Service is patchy, but enthusiastic. It’s where the people in the know go for their Sunday lunch.
18 Stoneybatter, Arran Quay, Dublin 7, (01) 670 9889
Gerry’s Coffee Shop
A feed, for those of you who don’t know, is as fundamental to Ireland as James Joyce and Joseph Connolly; it is a hearty meal served like your mammy would’ve made There are no courses, and it is always accompanied by a steaming, strong pot of tea. Also, a feed is eaten before the sun goes down, and as such, Gerry’s Coffee Shop closes at 2 PM. Tucked in Montague Street, this cheery, no-frills space is perhaps the best place in central Dublin for a feed. Students, journalists, workers, GAA hurlers fueling themselves before a match, and the local gardai (police) come here for the full fry-up in the morning or roast chicken, lasagna, shepherd’s pie, and possibly a massive plate of sliced turkey and ham with mash and veg. Here, at Gerry’s, the tea is strong and hot, the prices are modest, and the gravy is copious. Also the mash is creamy, and ham and turkey can’t be beat, and the fry up is one of the most satisfying and aesthetically pleasing (fried eggs with yolks the color of the sun, sausages done a bronze and toast to a crisp gold). Come here if you want something fast, filling, and also a glimpse of the real Dublin going about its business.
6 Montague St, Dublin 2, (01) 478 3524
Ireland is an island surrounded by cold gorgeous waters, its seafood is sublime. Fish Shop, located in the buzzing Smithfield neighborhood, is the place that showcases the bounty of Irish seafood at its best (brill and bream, razor clams, oysters, and langoustines) by combining it with Irish produce in a mind-changing way. Also it’s one of the best values in the city. There are tempura oysters, line caught mackerel and baby fennel, slip sole and dilisk butter, razor clam and coriander. It’s also the best value in the city – at 39 euro for a four course menu in a bare-bones but cheery space across the street from the hip Dice Bar. Wine is carefully curated and modestly priced. Plus there is a fish and chip shop where you can get a 14 euro glass of Chambertin.
6 Queens Street: (01) 430 8594, 76 Benburb Street: (01) 557 1473
Husband and wife John and Sandy Wyer were two of the first chefs in this country to cook exactly what they wanted, and when they wanted to do so. Open four days of the week, many people consider Forest Avenue to be the most perfect restaurant in the city. Its ever-changing menu, with items like agnolotti with smoked eel, carrots and scallop roe, suckling pig and parsley root, and rhubarb with white chocolate and sheep’s yogurt, culls from what is in season and what is foraged. The food’s simplicity, the non-intrusive service, and the modest decor underscore how relentlessly well conceived everything is. John changes his menus every week, with two options per course, supervises every detail on the line, bakes his own bread, and Queens, NY native Sandy (she speaks with a brogue) oversees pastries with equal fanaticism. Expect your meal to be peppered with surprises as John and Sandy see fit – a petit four, a trio of seasoned butters, a sliver of duck pate on a piece of bread or a wriggle of oyster infused Chantilly cream. At 55 euros for five courses, it continues to be one of the city’s very best values.
8-9 Sussex Terrace, Dublin 4, (01) 667 8337
The food at Luna is like a Martin Scorsese movie dressed up in couture – high end charcuterie, Piedmonte truffles in season, silken hand rolled noodles, marbled, aged rib eye steaks the size of your head, magnums of Barolo. What makes this retro Italian-American excess Dublin, however, is its staff. Luna is managed by Declan Maxwell, who, when he was at Chapter One, brought craic to fine dining. Luna is the best, most impeccable in Dublin service. Refined but cheeky, Declan (himself a Clare boy with a passion for the GAA) the best Irish psychotherapist who reads your every mood. Come for the pasta, stay for the chocolate mousse and Sicilian pistachio sponge cake on the dessert cart, but get a grappa and linger for Declan, the Luna staff, and the banter.
2-3 Drury Street, Dublin 2: (01) 679-9009 (ext. 2)
Written by Mei Chin