Dublin’s restaurant scene is a bit of a good news/bad news situation. The good news is that the economic boom in Ireland in the early 2000s brought with it a new generation of international, sophisticated eateries. The bad news is that even though the boom is long over prices in the leading restaurants are still more than you’d pay in many other places in the world. A combination of high taxes and a bit of nouveau riche over-enthusiasm among restaurateurs has the combined effect of making dining out quite expensive. Luckily, you can get a cost break from the city’s many cafes and tearooms, which offer sandwiches and hot lunches at more reasonable prices.
If you go to Dublin expecting to find plenty of restaurants still serving traditional Irish food, you will be disappointed. Dublin is far too chic, and Dubliners far too sophisticated, for the Irish stew, soda bread, and shepherd’s pie they grew up eating. The very food you cannot escape in the Irish countryside, you cannot find in most Dublin restaurants. The only place to find this is in the city’s traditional pubs which still serve plain, hearty Irish food, and as an added benefit, it’s certainly much cheaper than the restaurants.
Wherever you eat, portions will be generous, especially in pubs. With its coastal location, it’s not surprising to find so much seafood on offer in Dublin, in particular smoked salmon and oysters are favourites and are usually consumed with a Guinness!
There are three Dublin eateries that I can recommend.
Considered a Dublin’s institution, Bewley’s offers a take out deli, a short menu cafe, a breakfast and lunch dining hall, a coffee and pastry mezzanine, a seafood restaurant, and a cafe theatre all rolled into one. The restaurant has three levels that are filled most of the time. When you go there admire the beautiful decor — the large stained glass windows, large portraits of serene looking women, and high back red velvet banquettes. It’s not that the food in Bewley’s is outstanding, but the coffee is excellent, the tea is good, the pastries are fine and the pasta and pizzetta are acceptable.
Established in 1840, Bewley’s Café had a special place in the affection of Irish people. Bewleys on Grafton Street was always a great meeting place for everyone. It changed hands amid much public debate in 2005 but, despite renovations, it has somehow retained its unique atmosphere together with some outstanding architectural features, notably the Harry Clarke stained glass windows. The popular Café-Bar-Deli chain has taken over most of the seating area now, but the coffee shop at the front remains serving breakfast, teas and coffees in the heart of Dublin’s main shopping area.
The Queen of Tarts at 4 Cork Hill on Lord Edward Street is a small laid-back patisserie-cum-café. It is the sort of place I enjoy. It has bagels and croissants for breakfast and ham, spinach and cheese tarts. There are Greek salads and all sorts of sandwiches for lunch, and delicious cakes baked on the premises to keep you going between times. It opens Monday to Friday 7.30am to 6pm, Saturday 9am to 6pm and Sunday 10am to 6pm.
The Bank Bar & Restaurant is in a beautifully restored Victorian bank building in the heart of Dublin City. The interior, which was once the main banking hall, is a stunning example of grandiose Victorian splendour displaying an extraordinary ornate setting.
The building is a great specimen of Victorian commercial architecture designed in 1893 by William Henry Lynn when the site was turned into a branch of the Belfast Bank. Before that, the Great Britain Mutual Life Assurance Company traded there from 1876. Before that again, it was a Watch & Clock Manufacturer, a Department store (Reside & Co.) and originally Bigwoods Wool Emporium.
The property remained an essential pillar of Dublin’s banking sector until it was acquired at public auction in 2001 by the leading Dublin publican, Charlie Chawke. The Bank on College Green opened as licensed premises in 2003 after an investment of circa €6 million and seven months careful restoration work
The interior, which has strict preservation restrictions, is both stunning and remarkable, displaying all the vestiges of power and affluence of a great financial institution. In particular, the materials of construction, the mosaic tiled floor, the carved stonework and the extraordinarily ornate interior make this building one of the undisputed jewels of the Victorian Age.
The building is famed for its stained glass ceiling, mezzanine balcony and fine plasterwork and cornicing and all these features have been lovingly restored and are now integral to the stunning effect of these extraordinarily beautiful premises. You cannot fail to be impressed.
We were blown away by the setting and the food almost become secondary but we enjoyed what we ordered and we thought the value was good. We discovered that The Bank offers several food options and is a firm favourite with local corporate figures, thespians and tourists. Open from 10am, the Bank is a popular meeting place for breakfast meetings or to sit over a coffee and a fresh croissant.
From 12– 3pm, a table service carvery lunch is served offering hot meals and gourmet sandwiches. Their selection includes a classic prawn cocktail, Beef and Guinness Stew, Cajun Spiced Chicken Fillet on Ciabatta loaf.
From 5pm, the Bank offers a popular A La Carte menu. Dining is made all the more enjoyable with a table on the mezzanine level from where we enjoyed a great view of the building and the crowd below. This is the place to be.
For more information on Dublin see Experience Ireland an ebook available at www.amazon.com/kindle then search Len Rutledge.