Hidden Down A Side Alley, You'll Find One Of Dublin's Absolute Best Restaurants
Little Jerusalem is hardly a hidden gem... but it's still undersung
In 10 Words
Ethnic cuisine, quite possibly the best in Dublin. Just go.
You probably don’t know Wynnefield Avenue in Rathmines – it’s the quiet side street down the side of Slattery’s, the sort of narrow road that you could easily cross without looking for traffic if you weren’t particularly focused on what you were doing.
Little Jerusalem is the (little) sibling of Jerusalem on Camden Street, which we’ve praised on these pages before – a mix of Lebanese and Palestinian cuisine that’s probably better known to D6 residents for its takeaway offering than this sweet little sit-in location.
It’s a Saturday evening, and knowing the diminiutive size of this place I make an effort to book in advance – you can do this online, however in attempting to reserve a seat for 8pm I’m informed that only walk-ins are accepted at this time of the evening.
That’s news to the waitress when we walk in the door, however, so phoning may perhaps be a more advisable option if you’re looking to secure yourself a table.
It’s a proper mixed bag in here tonight. Across the aisle from us, two forty-something couples debate the ins and outs of modern life, their volume going up as the level of wine in their bottle goes down.
A young couple enjoy what looks to be a first date near the door, while two old pals tipsily catch up behind us – despite the booming atmosphere at the outset of the night, bolstered by the Middle Eastern music, the place is cosy enough to catch snippets of conversations from all corners of the room.
“If a motorcycle crashed through the window right now, I wouldn’t be all that surprised,” Aisling tells me. “We’d be those extras who turn their heads in shock during a James Bond chase scene.”
She’s right, too; this is one of those ethnic restaurants that transports you right out of the silent suburbia of Rathmines and into an altogether different continent.
Dark red shades, blistering heat from the kitchen that sits alongside the dining area and the aforementioned music are all enough to make you feel like you’re right in the middle of a Middle Eastern Bazaar.
Okay, so the Bond reference might be a bit of a leap… but let’s go with it, yeah?
It’s an extensive one, with a lot of items that may be somewhat unfamiliar to those new this type of cuisine; it might be an idea to take a read of the menu before you head along, or you may starve to death reading through the descriptions.
I start with jawaneh shawarma – deliciously flavoured chicken on the bone, that’s a bit hard to pick apart and perhaps too fatty for a starter, but worth the effort for the taste.
Aisling opts for the falafel and hummus, which is to this kind of restaurant what eggs benedict is to a brunch joint. Little Jerusalem, it seems, can certainly deliver on the basics; the bread is thin and airy, the hummus is thick and the falafel steers clear of the ultimate sins of its kind: being dry and flat-tasting.
For the main, I get the mashawi mushakal – a mixture of charcoal grilled lamb, chicken and lamb kofta, served with taboulleh salad, shredded lettuce and (more!) hummus. Aisling goes for the kofta mashwiye, which is a spice lamb burger served alongside chickpeas, rice and a tomato and cucumber salad.
The mashawi is very meat-heavy – only order it if you’ve had a nice green salad for lunch – but the diversity and intensity of the smoky flavours is absolutely sublime. The chicken is the pick of the lot for me, acting as a conduit for the wild range of tastes whereas the lamb somewhat dominates them, but that’s purely a matter of taste.
Meanwhile, the lamb across the table is not dominating the palate in quite the same way; the spices are much more to the fore, and the garlic sauce is needed to calm things down a touch. These are simple flavours brought out in a most effective way, and the results are just phenomenal.
Food doesn’t get much better than this.
There’s not much room for dessert after all that, but the mamoul bil tamer – two small cakes with date fillings, served without cream or any other distractions – are just about manageable. A sweet offset to the flavour festival from earlier in the evening, and not too bulky; perfect.
Little Jerusalem is BYOB – we bring a bottle of Bordeaux, and it contends rather nicely with the strong flavours on show here. If you’re looking to stay off the booze, the homemade lemonade is made with what tastes like rose water and served with a sprig of mint. It’s a sugarbomb, but a damn tasty one.
The benefits of BYOB are never more apparent than when the bill arrives. €56.35 for two courses each of the most sublimely flavoured food in the city, as well as a shared dessert and lemonade?
The good kind of ludicrous.
It’s relaxed, and if you want attention you may have to turn your head and pointedly make eye contact – our mains sit in front of us for quite some time after we’ve finished, and “Would you like to see the dessert menu” is replaced by “Can we see the dessert menu, please?” – but the food comes quickly, the interactions are friendly and there’s absolutely no hurrying anyone out the door.
We sit on one side of the chest-height partition separating the dining area from the kitchen, and when our mains our ready, the chef leans over and places them straight on our table. That probably sums it up, really.
I’m almost hesistant to say it, because it’s a small place and I don’t like sharing my things (I was an only child until my sister came along; it never goes away, you know). But this place is an absolute must-visit for anyone who loves flavour, atmosphere, value or all-round top-notch dining experiences.
Just book it right now, and go there. What more can I say, really?