Recently, I’ve come to the conclusion that we all need to start going to restaurants more often on weeknights.
Tuesday happened to be my only free evening in the past week, and I decided to give Darwins – the steak restaurant on Aungier Street – a try. It's a fairly high-class restaurant and a multiple award winner, with exquisite steaks sourced from a single farm and cut by an on-site butcher, a massive wine list, and, generally, a price tag that would mean “special occasions only” for most of us. (Dinner for two from the standard set menu with a bottle of wine would cost around €125.)
On Mondays and Tuesdays, though, Darwins has their pre-theatre menu on offer all night – on which three courses, including a selection of their steaks, cost only €24.95 per person. Special occasions are great, but getting two meals in one of the city’s best restaurants for less than €50 is even better.
To start, my friend and I had the risotto and the calamari. The paprika spiced baby calamari rings were delightful, prepared with a thin, flaky breading and served with a creamy garlic and smoked chili aioli.
I basically inhaled the entire plate in about ninety seconds. In addition to tasting great, they also make for what I think of as the perfect starter – light enough not to fill you up before your main course, and low-maintenance enough that you can finish the dish without having to compromise conversation.
My housemate’s starter was excellent, as well. A garden pea and barley risotto with sun-dried tomato and zucchini vinaigrette, this dish is a smaller version of one of Darwins’ many vegetarian mains. The barley gave it a satisfying heartiness, and the various accoutrements made each bite different to the last.
One of the restaurant’s owners had seated us and taken our order, and she had mentioned that, as a vegetarian herself, she took pride in the restaurant’s vegetarian menu. It was easy to see why after tasting this dish – even in a starter portion, this was a better vegetarian main than what several restaurants in town are serving up.
For the main course, we each ordered steak. Darwins offers six steaks on their standard menu, and their two cheapest offerings can be found on the pre-theatre menu for no additional charge. (One of their most expensive options, the premium eye fillet, can be substituted for a €10 surcharge.)
I had the New York strip loin, ordered medium rare, and my friend opted for the rib eye (below), which she ordered medium.
These were completely top-notch steaks. They were both generous portions, served with a small side of probably the creamiest mashed potato I’ve ever eaten and our choice of sauce.
My friend paired her rib eye with Barolo jus, a red wine sauce that paired just fantastically with the steak, reining in its juiciness with its slightly thicker texture.
I ordered my strip loin (below) with garlic butter, which, while a well-done standard steak accompaniment, I regretted slightly after tasting the off-the-charts delicious Barolo jus.
Since the steaks are the star of this restaurant, there isn’t much done to them, with the meat and the chosen sauce left to do all the work on their own. The result is, with no question, a grade-A meal, but does require one caveat.
Darwins cooks their steaks exactly as their stated steak temperature guide suggests, and their guide keeps steaks very red. My friend’s medium looked precisely like an average restaurant’s medium rare, and my medium rare was red all the way to the edge.
My steak was significantly rarer than I prefer, but it was cooked as the temperature guide suggested – I simply hadn’t taken the time to notice that the guide keeps things fairly rare. Know that the guide’s description will be exactly what you get, and you should have no problem getting the perfect steak for your tastes.
We finished with the brownie for me and the “deconstructed cheesecake” for my friend. Neither of these dishes was totally remarkable, but they were both very tasty and, given their modest portions, a nice way to end the meal without making ourselves sick.
Though I was kicking myself a bit for my steak order, my friend and I had two great meals at Darwins and an even better experience. The waitstaff – including the co-owner herself – were friendly and attentive, the newly renovated section we were seated in was a beautiful space that could compete with any of Dublin’s trendier locales, and the price for the pre-theatre menu just can’t be beat.
The food was great on a Tuesday and, I’m sure, would only be greater still when drawn from the full menu on a Saturday. From what I got on the pre-theatre menu, I’m confident that the food at Darwins is worth every last penny of the €49pp menu price, too.