The Port House Is Bray's Homecoming Hero – But Is It Any Good?
It's not like Bray has been in need of dramatic intervention in the area of casual dining.
Platform Pizza has a reputation as one of the most difficult places in the Greater Dublin area in which to get a seat, while The Big Dog's Galley beside the rebooted Harbour Bar serves burgers and chips that are worth far more than a 40-minute DART ride.
But then, the arrival of The Port House to Bray is about a lot more than just adding an extra string to the seaside town's bow.
After all, it was on this very site that Oliver Hughes opened up the Porter House in the late 1980s, the first in a chain that would spread its unique style right across Dublin, across the Irish Sea to London and even across the Atlantic to New York – crucially, introducing craft beer to the masses along the way.
In many ways, it foreshadowed what the Port House chain would do for tapas after its arrival in 2006, popularising what used to be a rather exotic and unusual concept for Irish diners by expanding from South William Street to Eustace Street, to Dundrum and once again across the pond to the British capital.
So in many ways, the Port House Duoro opening upstairs from Bray's inaugaural Porter House represents a homecoming for the group – and judging by the size of this Friday night crowd, it's been very much an open-arms welcome for Hughes and his team.
As with any high-quality restaurant chain, both the beauty and the drawback of The Port House is that you know exactly what you're getting once you walk in the door – not just in terms of the menu, but also the décor, which in this case is built around exposed brickwork illuminated by candlelight.
The menu – too vast and expansive to go discuss, but you can see it here – is your standard collection of cold meats, hot meats, veg dishes, cheeses and just about anything that can be served swimming in oil. The Port House doesn't innovate to excite, but rather executes to please, and this is very much reflected in the food selection.
I'm here with my parents, a savvy pair of Bray-based diners who have already sampled the joint and – somewhat encouragingly – have seemed quite keen to return ever since. They opt for the chicken paella, patatas bravas, black pudding with chickpeas and Iberian sausages between them, while I go for the chorizo on bread with the chicken salad.
My parents' orders are nailed with damning effectiveness, brought out as a group (when does that ever happen with tapas?) – the pudding and the sausages are fantastically decadent, while the patatas bravas are deliciously crunchy. The prize of the round goes to the chicken paella, though; rich, tasty, packed with vegetables and swimming in flavour. Absolutely delicious.
Things are slightly different on my side of the table, however – my bread isn't particularly fresh, and while the chorizo is thinly sliced and just greasy and salty enough to sate my appetite for all things bold, the salad is cheesy, oily and far too rich for what it says on the tin.
Treating yourself while you're eating out is one thing; being forced to indulge is quite another.
To top things off, we order the asparagus and the skewered chicken for the table – the former is wonderful, while the latter feels just a touch dry – but such is the richness of the fare on offer that there's not much room to take on any more than that.
The Port House may not do what some of its neighbours do on a weekly basis, and lure Dubliners from the city to the suburbs for a unique dining experience – but it's still a damn fine way to spend an evening if you're in that neck of the woods.
And so, we order a second bottle of wine and sit back for a catch-up amid the buzzing atmosphere. There's no pressure for the table, there's no sudden upsurge in the volume of music at 11pm, and there's nothing left to do but soak in the good vibes of a homecoming hero.