Long gone are the days of hmm-ing and haw-ing over whether to go to “the Italian” or “the Indian” for dinner on a Saturday night; the problem right now is trying to choose between the 40 or so really, truly super restaurants in the city centre.
Which let’s face it, is probably the most wonderful problem anyone could ever have. When I first started eating out in Dublin after moving up from Meath in 2011, I thought the restaurants in town were the most cosmopolitan thing I’d ever seen.
After legging it to New York for a year and coming back in 2014 though, I was seriously disappointed with the food options in the city. Everything seemed so bland, so unadventurous, and g’luck trying to eat out after 10pm.
But within the last 12-18 months, I’ve noticed a real change in Dublin’s dining options. The restaurant scene is the most exciting it’s ever been – and it’s only getting better.
Exciting restaurants, big and teenchy tiny, are popping up all the time
The new wave of restaurant owners and up and coming chefs are to thank for all the yum meals we’ve eaten of late. From the giant 6,000 sq ft Token in Smithfield, a bar, restaurant and games arcade all rolled into one, to the tiny little beaut that was Rogue pizza – a pop-up pizzeria in a laneway in Ballsbridge (it went a bit too rogue and has been forced to go mobile, if you fancy a pizza party), the list of charming restaurants in Dublin is endless.
People are taking over unused spaces in the city, and completely transforming them. With the rise of Instagram and travel, Dubliners are no longer content with eating the same old slop. We want what London has, what New York has, and why shouldn’t we?
I don’t know if it’s a newfound brazenness that’s come off the back of getting out of the recession, but restaurant owners seem a lot more willing to just jump in and take the risk lately, and it’s really paying off.
While the desire to stay on-trend has led to some slick spots, more and more restaurants are getting back to basics with amazing results
I admit that a lot of places look slightly the same. Brushed raw metal and exposed brick walls with deconstructed desserts? We get it, you wish you had a bistro in Brooklyn. The places that will last the test of time though, are those that are really focusing on the food.
Local, Irish ingredients and down-to-earth customer service will always be a winner. Firm favourites Bastible and Delahunt source incredible produce and combine it with clever plating. Cod with purple sprouting broccoli, brown shrimp & tamarind will make you fall in love with fish all over again.
Some of the best places to eat right now are found on the outskirts of the city centre, and personally I love a good neighbourhood vibe. Bibi’s Cafe in Portobello is like stepping into a country farmhouse that’s been styled by Anna Wintour, with fresh food to boot. It’s all in the menus, and quite often the trick is the less options the better: you know that each dish has been absolutely perfected.
New styles of cooking and unusual ingredients at value prices means the city has had to up its game
The arrival of Hang Dai last year was one of the best things to happen to Camden Street. Mindblowingly cool decor with authentic Hong Kong food and a big splash of creativity, it’s been in action over a year and is still the coolest restaurant in town. It was so different to anything in Dublin, and showed that we really want to experience the real flavours of the world, and not just watered down Irish-ised versions.
Early bird menus are back with a bang, and the rise of the tasting menu has brought some quirky ingredients and combinations that most people wouldn’t usually order on an evening out. Richmond’s Tuesday Tasting menu (five course for €36) is one of my top picks, and I’d eat lunch blind in Assassination Custard in full trust that every single bite would be perfection.
Chefs are competing against a lot of talent in a relatively small pool, and know that they have to really push the boat out if customers are going to come back again and again. This sort of atmosphere always leads to some spectacular places to eat.
The city might be small, but our restaurants are slowly but surely becoming fierce mighty. With so much buzz and amazing grub in Dublin right now, I guarantee you this is only the beginning of the restaurant revolution. Grab a fork, and dig right in.
Header image: (L-R) Assassination Custard, Rogue Pizza