It is still possible to get a plate of bacon and cabbage and a glass of Guinness in Dublin, but why would you when the alternatives are so inviting (and, let’s face it, you could cook that at home)? Well, one reason might be that it’s the only thing you can find for lunch. The city’s wonderfully diverse eating out scene seldom kicks off until 5pm – particularly the case for its newer, more talked about restaurants. Dubliners eat and restaurants close early, particularly under current restrictions (more on that below*), and like other cities facing staff shortages, many Dublin restaurants are closed on Monday and Tuesday too. Add to that the fact that some of the hottest places to dine are based in the city’s neighbourhoods and, if your time is limited, you’ll need to plan your eating carefully.
There’s been a transformation of the wine scene
Hand in hand with the modern Irish food revolution, there’s been a transformation of the wine scene – that’s according to veteran restaurant critic Tom Doorley, who has been reviewing restaurants in the city for almost 30 years. ‘Twenty years ago, most restaurants had a predictable wine list where you’d know where everything was coming from. Suddenly there’s been an explosion of people trading up and breaking free of the tyranny of the sub-30€ price point,’ says Doorley. ‘Wine service is delivered with missionary zeal by young people with an encyclopaedic knowledge of small producers. I find it very refreshing,’ he adds.
As elsewhere, that’s translated into a boom in natural wine, which you’ll find well represented in cutting edge restaurants and wine bars like Note (below) and Loose Canon (which also does a fine cheese toastie). But tasting menus and accompanying wine flights are popular too, served with such engaging charm by those young somms that you won’t feel remotely pressurised. Fine dining is relaxed dining in Dublin.
Where to eat in and around Dublin
If you lived in the centre of Dublin, I suspect you’d be in Uno Mas every week – not least because it’s both central and open for lunch (from Thursday to Saturday normally). It’s more than a tapas bar – even though it does the Spanish classics like croquetas and tortilla so well – and there’s some really imaginative cooking, such as a brilliant snack of potato crisps and mussels in escabeche. Add to that a terrific Iberian wine list, including an impressive selection of sherries and vermouths, and you’d definitely want to be a regular.
6 Aungier Street, unomas.ie
As in other capital cities, natural wine is definitely on trend in Dublin and this stylish new wine bar is a good place to enjoy it. There’s an impeccable by-the-glass list featuring natural wine royalty, like Lapierre and La Stoppa’s glorious Ageno, and a much longer list by the bottle includes a good selection of grower Champagnes. Food was confined to charcuterie and other nibbles when I visited, but they were planning a fuller menu.
26 Fenian Street, notedublin.com
Ireland’s seafood is second to none and Michael’s is the place to enjoy it. It’s a hugely jolly place on the outskirts of Dublin where the locals go to have a good time. The seafood platters are epic, but you may also be tempted to dig into the Glenarm Shorthorn steaks. Share and leave room for both. Oh, and don’t go if you’re allergic to ‘80s pop. Like I said, it’s a fun place.
57 Deerpark Road, Mount Merrion, michaels.ie
Mae is the most personal of this selection, a really charming, small restaurant above a wine shop with whom chef-owner Grainne O’Keefe collaborates on the list. There’s a fixed-price, seasonally inspired menu, but it’s not in the least bit fussy or ‘fecky’, as food writer Tom Doorley would have it. A nice touch: you get a choice of knives with which to eat your main course (Iberico pork with anchovy, date and confit potato, the night I was there). Order the well-chosen wine flights – it’s worth it.
53 Shelbourne Rd, Ballsbridge, maerestaurant.ie
The most widely acclaimed restaurant in town right now, under its new chef Mickael Viljanen – who hard-to-please Sunday Times restaurant critic Marina O’Loughlin (who praised the restaurant to the hilt on her recent visit) described as ‘a chef at the peak of his powers’. This is serious, intricate cooking, which should elicit gasps of admiration. People fly in just for lunch. The place for your big meal out – if you can get a reservation.
18-19 Parnell Square N, Rotunda, chapteronerestaurant.com
allta Winter House
A temporary restaurant on top of a car park doesn’t sound that promising, but there’s a huge buzz about allta Winter House, which followed on from a successful summer pop-up last year. Chef Niall Davidson used to cook at the much-acclaimed Nuala in London and produces a strikingly original 12-course menu cooked over fire. Go before he finds somewhere else to pop up.
Level 5 Trinity Car Park, Dame Lane, alltawinterhouse.ie
Not many chippies make a feature of their wine list, but Fishshop’s runs to an amazing 13 pages including 10 Chablis, eight Aligotés and a whole page devoted to Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey. While you’re mulling over which fish you want them to fry for you, you could tuck into some oysters or cockles with chorizo and sherry. A popular haunt with the restaurant industry on their day off.
76 Benburb Street, fish-shop.ie
* Please note: at the time of writing, Dublin restaurants have a strict admissions policy with evidence of vaccination or proof you have recovered from Covid in the past six months – and restaurants must close at 8pm.