The most affordable tasting menu in Dublin can be found tucked down a back street near Government Buildings
It's never wise to opt in for titling things in this game, but unfortunately in an industry that kneels at the all-important ruler of SEO, engagement and the algorithm. Claiming things to be the 'best' or 'cheapest' any manner of superfluous descriptors, typically pays off with views, with clicks and reach. The problem with this payoff means that when you say something is in fact great no one really believes you, the words ring cold and are just part of a patchwork of hashtags and flashing words on a screen. Sometimes there are incredible meals that deserve to be shouted about, and the hope is that the message is believed and the words received.
Set the scene
Set down a backstreet off Stephen's Green, a pretty unknown judging by the number of Mercedes after Tesla doing laborious U-turns, after seemingly convincing themselves that if they turned right they could find a shortcut. After work and at the weekend it's a sleepy part of town, typically populated with suits who pound the pavements, set back from the crush of Baggot Street and the flurry of people in transit at the Green. The RHA gallery is in a brutalist building, which brands its name in deep-set granite, showing a permanence that one would have to cut it away to remove it. Rows of modern art set on its perfunctory white pedestals can be seen through the closed gallery gloom. The paired back quality of the building is seen in Margadh itself, with large glass doors that you have to throw your body behind to open, great poured concrete pillars and walls of glass, it's a modernist dream interior, stripped, shined and polished back to its rawest form. Decorated with all the trappings of a restaurant that know what they are doing, wines displayed on handmade shelves, specials written on rough brown paper ready to be ripped away once the day ends, homebrews and ferments gurgling on high.
What's it like inside
Shape can't be ignored in this space, it stands as a proud rectangle, fronting the entrance of the gallery. The kitchen is tiny, probably more befitting the cafe which inhabits the space during the day. What struck me was the clever use of space the staff's backpacks were slotted on shelves beside the wine fridge, in a set-up that would make Ikea execs sit up and take note for their next showroom. But none of these restraints are put on the dinners, the opposite in fact, the spacing is remarkably generous.
Many might remember the RHA gallery cafe, beloved of earthy sandwiches, oozing globs of hummus and piled high with charred Mediterranean veg. A calming relaxed place, of which that silent purposefulness of the gallery had seemingly seeped through, nothing was rushed everything was considered. This brand of Spanish-Mod Irish cuisine comes from the people who brought us Mamó, this space was opened by Jess D’Arcy and Killian Durkin following the success of the original store-come-cafe Margadh in Howth. The food industry was rightly shocked by the closure of the original spot, but my worries were nicely assuaged by a staff member who said they would be "trying something different there".
The phrase "tasting menu" can elicit some sighs and groans at this stage, they are a concept beloved by some and despised by others both with fair arguments to be made in favour or against. There is a novelty to sharing the same plate as the person you are eating with, a stress that's removed from ordering "the best" thing as you all get the same, a joy in trying things you never normally would order. I've had some of the nicest flavour combinations and flourishes of dishes at tasting menus and I've also been presented with plate after plate of beetroot. It's rare to glance at a menu and be excited by every item on the itemised list but with Margadh that happened. It was a joy-filled menu, spiked with surprises like the kick from the ceviche Kingfish served with thinly sliced tangy kumquat, and the unctuous prunes rehydrated with Armagnac served with cinnamon-laced vanilla tart on a delicate pastry. Preserved firey green chillis skewered alongside potatoes, grilled meaty octopus, with a layer of lardo on top gave the Basque culinary delights an enthusiastic nod alongside the length of Cantabrian anchovy toast with a waxy lemon aioli. The flavour of the year, burrata was in attendance served roughly cut and softened almonds which could have been cut a little finer and given a touch more butter.
Anyone expecting to be only handed a natty-only list will be pleasantly surprised as the comprehensive list covers a lot of bases. From skin-on orange wines to more familiar names that come with a bit of twist, we went for an Albariño which fizzed with CO2 on exiting the bottle and calmed down in the glass to become a punchy mineral number. They also have a decent wine-by-the-glass selection, helpful for anyone wanting to dance around the list.
Coming in at €46 per person this has to be one of the most affordable and best-quality tasting menus on the go in Dublin at the moment. There are options to add to the menu either before or after, with half a dozen oysters or rounding it off with a cheese board. The wine list is decently priced for Dublin, with the lower points covered with nice entries, and a large number of wines coming in between the €30-40 mark which is appreciated and a bit unusual nowadays when with restaurants of this calibre you are typically expected to blowout at the €40-50 range.
In one of the hardest times to retain staff in Dublin, Margadh has managed to keep superstars on their books. Personable, knowledgable and interesting people who are passionate about the Margadh project and love it to its core. The kind of people you might expect to be wandering around the RHA gallery anyway. We felt well looked after, with some of the best of Irish-hands-off clinger-free personable service around.
Imagine your mam's friend who has had a second career as an artist.
Don't make a U-turn when you head down this street, with a genuinely exciting menu of quality ingredients Margadh is well worth prioritising. You'll be blue in the face recommending this tiny slice of arty heaven as soon as you go.
Where can you find 'em
Margadh can be found in the RHA Gallery on 15 Ely Place, the best way to follow them is Instagram.