This strongly Italian small plates restaurant is slicing through the cut and thrust of Ranelagh's hospitality scene
This place is popular and if you don't believe me I'll show you my booking email which flew into my inbox roughly three months before the dinner in question. By dinner, I mean 3.30pm, a twilight time between lunch and dinner and the only available time we could get a weekend booking without kicking it into another month. Turns out it was so good I'd consider eating there at other twilight times, like the time between coffee and breakfast or the hours in between doom-scrolling scrolling and sleeping.
Set the Scene
As someone who lives in a less-than-serviced part of the city for hospitality, I've looked on at the seemingly never-ending list of openers in the R-trifecta of Ranelagh, Rathmines and Rathgar with quite a bit of jealousy and a pretty audible growl of hunger. The cut and thrust of hospitality in Ranelagh is nothing short of prolific, but with all that choice comes a lot of competition. A spot that consistently stands out on Ranelagh's main street, a street packed with incredible restaurants, bars, cafes and fast food eateries, is the gleaming white front of the practically angelic-looking Host.
What's it like inside
In direct rejection of the starched linen tablecloth and polished silver cutlery of yore, Host appeals to a more young professional kinda diner. Scrubbed wooden floors, blinding Arctic white painted walls, the bones of this place are paired back to the point of utilitarian but softened with lit candles and bunches of flowers that look like they've been gathered from your mam's garden. It's not a massive space, but the high ceilings and enormous double-fronted windows give it a spacious, light and grandiose feeling. The open-plan kitchen adds to the whirling flurry of servers ferrying small plate after small plate to the informal table plan, made up of banquette-style seating and more traditional tables. We got the coveted spindly stools by the shelf-like window table, the perfect to watch the comings and goings of Ranelagh from, plus made you feel all the more grateful for getting a seat given the number of people peering in and looking at the menu tacked outside in squinty anticipation.
After a decade in London, husband and wife team Chloe Kearney and Niall McDermott opened Host in September 2017. Kearney worked in fashion while McDermott worked in the gastropub The Draper’s Arms and relaxed Italian Boca de Luca in Soho. The pair returned to Dublin and with the help of ODOS Architects the space on Ranelagh's main street which once occupied a former clothes shop, was given an open-plan kitchen and the dining space we now love today.
With a menu that would fit into even the slimmest of wallets, it's certainly brief. Seasonal, ever-changing with a fiercely strong Italian rub, updated with a bit of modern Irish plating and gra for sparsity. It enacts that menu format that can rub some people up the wrong way, opting for the very top-line ingredients, including no processes or supplementary info on what you are going to be eating.
The beauty of Host is that all you have to think of is what main and sides you want and they take care of the rest, in a beautiful hybrid tasting menu where you only have to choose the most important bit. We kicked off with a teeny tiny portion of focaccia with an even more diminutive bowl of peppery olive oil that you truly only get in Italy. Before the ingredient of the year burrata arrives in an enjoyably un-influencer-y manner- chopped up- avoiding the no-doubted dreaded shot of the knife piercing into the milky interior. This came with undoubtedly the last of the Summer peaches (as attested by the hardness of one or two of them) topped with shredded basil. These are base ingredients that never fail, alongside the slices of Italian ham, which did seem to be a little redundant when they came after everything else and the bread and olive oil had been gobbled. Next onto the pasta courses of their undoubtedly signature dish of a fat pumpkin cappellacci, served in a burnt-buttery sauce with candied walnuts and sage, followed by the failsafe menu item ragu with great big chunks of rendered meat and chewy homemade pasta. We opted for the flame-cooked rib-eye with an incredible light balsamic glaze, served with whole roasted romanesco broccoli served on a harissa and almond sauce topped with flaked almonds, and fried crispy potatoes with garlic aioli, which occupy the beautiful hinterland between roast potatoes and thick cut chipper chips. Finished up with a baked basque cheesecake with homemade Maraschino cherries, which was the only slight downside of the meal the cheesecake was a touch wet in the middle.
It was undoubtedly one of the best meals I've had in Dublin for a very long time. The meal undulated and flowed with the beauty that can only be done during a languid Italian family meal. Designed to be enjoyed with the time and attention that it deserves.
Serving up Estella beer and a short wine list, made up of a constantly changing selection from small, natural winemakers. We went for a bottle of the house red, which is usually risky business but the jump between first and second on the list was a bit too steep for me, luckily enough the youngish wine was surprisingly full-bodied.
Coming in at 68pp sharing a 600g rib eye with a bottle of wine hitting around the €35 mark, with a 20% it came in as €100 each. A bit of a premium lunch but one we'll remember for a long time to come.
Warm, charming and natural, tables were wiped, water bottles were continually filled but we were left to ourselves with a low-fuss ease. You get the feeling that the team can read their diners very well, and can tell if they are up for a chat or have a long-overdue catchup (like I did). The chat and charm came at the exact right time.
I anticipated Host to be solely filled with well-heeled young professional couples (which to be fair there were quite a few), but there was more of a mix than I was expecting, with a couple of smaller friends and family groupings. You get the impression that this was a bit of a long-anticipated dinner, and judging by the number of people who were attempting to walk in, everyone was pretty appreciative of getting a seat at the proverbial table.
A polished, relaxed and quality dinner, one of the best I've had in Dublin in a very long time, I'll be recommending this place till I'm blue in the face.
Where can you find 'em
Host can be found on 13 Ranelagh, the best way to follow them is Instagram.