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Dublin Dining Cheat Sheet
August 17, 2017 -- Dublin dining is so trendy these days that the Eater.com Web site can effortlessly list 38 essential restaurants and not once mention any traditional establishments that comprise the backbone of good eating in the Irish capital.
Since business travelers tend not to have endless amounts of free time in Dublin to explore the latest and greatest, I thought the following cheat sheet would offer a good perspective on the reliable favorites that never fail to impress visitors. You won't go wrong eating here, I promise.
TOP TABLE: RESTAURANT PATRICK GUILBAUD
Almost 20 years ago Patrick Guilbaud relocated his eponymous, Michelin two-star dining room to one of the townhouses that comprise The Merrion, Dublin's best hotel. The move was felicitous and only increased the allure of Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud. The dining room overlooks the hotel's charming courtyard gardens and outdoor tables fronting the gardens are available in fine weather. The cuisine--subtly Celtic-influenced modern French fare--is nearly faultless. So is the service, wine list and, well, everything ... A three-course dinner will run €120 a person without wine. The prix-fixe, two-course lunch is a comparative bargain at 50 euros. Those are high prices, but this is where you come to impress a client.
WHERE DUBLIN DINES: ROLY'S
Roly's Bistro in Ballsbridge, the residential neighborhood of Dublin's movers and shakers, has been a sensation since the day it opened 25 years ago. When the financial crisis hit a decade ago, Roly's moved a white-tablecloth dining room upstairs and installed a casual cafe and bakery on the ground floor. That was an instant hit, too, and now the place literally and emotionally operates on two levels. The upstairs bistro focuses on more serious dinner fare and Roly's nationally famous Kerry Lamb pie has a flaky crust and stuffing that isn't mystery glop. There are new twists like sea bass with spinach and organic cherries. In the cafe downstairs, which operates from breakfast to dinner, there are yummy baked goods and less fussy dishes. Two-course cafe dinners start at about 23 euros. Lunch salads run about 10 euros and there is a panoply of rotisserie-based meals starting at 14 euros. A full Irish breakfast or smoked salmon and eggs runs about 12 euros. There's a deep wine list and plenty of good pours by the glass for less than 5 euros.
AS AMERICAN AS GUINNESS: SHANAHAN'S
Shanahan's on the Green makes much of its fabled location overlooking St. Stephen's Green, the leafy heart of Dublin, and its adoration of U.S presidents. In fact, one of John Kennedy's rocking chairs is displayed in the downstairs bar, which is called The Oval Office. But Shanahan's, which claims to be an "American style" restaurant, also has a serious side: the best steaks in Dublin, quality seafood (try the roasted halibut in red wine sauce when available) and a very deep wine list. You skip the "onion strings" (a huge mound of perfectly fried julienned onions) at your own risk. But avoid the overpriced and overcooked creamed spinach no matter how tempting a waiter makes it sound. Service is a mite condescending--Shanahan's draws a lot of tourists--but you can fix that with an appropriate word of warning. Expect to pay at least 80 euros a person for dinner before wine. Lunch is only served on Fridays.
ON THE GREEN FOR LESS GREEN: PEPLOE'S
Peploe's, around St. Stephen's Green from Shanahan's, was in the vanguard of modern Dublin dining when it opened in 2003. It's still satisfying diners and drinkers after this year's refurbishment. Downstairs in a townhouse, the comfy dining room, once vibrantly colored, is now a bit sleeker and a bit clubbier. The wine list is more than 150 bottles deep and there are two dozen by-the-glass selections. The food can be best described as European modern. Although it's undeniably Irish, Peploe's is named after the Scottish artist and would be equally at home in London or San Francisco or New York. A two-course lunch runs about 30 euros, but the bistro and bar are open from noon to midnight and you can order anything from a glass of wine to a sandwich to an entire meal.
SPARE AND CREATIVE: BANG RESTAURANT
When it was known as the Bang Café, kismet was your only hope for getting a table at the place now more formally named the Bang Restaurant & Bar. But the smallish space, spread over three levels, still is in demand because of a prime location (Merrion Row near Baggot Street, close to government, tourism and cultural institutions) and its creative cuisine. There's a heady and inventive mix of styles and flavors from around the world, all imposed on traditional Irish ingredients. Bang's dining rooms are spare and mostly colored white and gray. Two-course lunches start at 20 euros; à la carte dinner entrees start at about 25 euros.
PUB GRUB? TWO HOTEL CHOICES
Dubliners would have you believe that their pub heritage has expanded beyond Guinness and now includes London-style gastropubs. Be skeptical. If you go into a traditional Dublin pub, you'll get a great pint of Guinness or, for nonconformists, Kilkenny or Smithwicks. You'll even find that exotic American lager, Budweiser, which Guinness brews under license. But good food? Meh.
If you want to drink and eat well, head for the Cellar Bar. It's the pub at The Merrion Hotel and it really is in a cellar, albeit a brightly lit, arched and catacombed basement complete with charming private rooms and cozy corners. You'll be able to order passable fish and chips, creative appetizer platters and light international favorites to go with your ale. It's too pricey--at lunch, a cheeseburger and fries are more than 16 euros and quiche is 14--but the food is guaranteed to be quite edible.
Alfie Byrne's is the very model of a modern Irish pub--at least what the international guests of Hilton's sleek Conrad hotel must think is the very model of a modern Irish pub. The clientele, mostly businesspeople at lunch and globetrotter types at happy hour and dinner, belies Alfie's hip, edgy surroundings. But, zounds, the beer selection is endless, both on tap and in bottles. Ironically, there's no Guinness because the bar is owned by the Galway Bay Brewery, a craft beer operation. Food prices are a few euros cheaper than at The Cellar. Keep it simple and maybe ignore the Irish mania for Italian pastas from pub kitchens.
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