Refuel: Sean Mac D's ****
69 Harold’s Cross Road, D6.
Who among you doesn't long to have a decent pub within crawling distance of your house? I live so close to Sean Mac D's, I can hear the kegs being delivered, but I did not dare to dream that this recently gentrified watering hole could have morphed into that elusive thing of beauty: my very own local. After 11 years in Harold's Cross, I'd given up on the idea. It was simply too big an ask.
Here's the thing about revamped pubs in Dublin's older, inner suburbs: they fall over themselves in an attempt to give the apparently more erudite blow-ins what they think they want.
They gently nudge the old-timers out, by hanging a gastropub sign above the door and replacing Guinness with some dubious microbrew called Witch's Tit. The telly comes down, the prices shoot up and, if you don't like it, there's a carvery around the corner that has Sky Sports on a billboard-sized telly.
It's difficult to be all things to all people, but Sean Mac D's is big and brave enough to give it a shot. For peace- seekers, there's a quiet space in the front window that's furnished with armchairs and low tables, and there are shelves stacked with paperbacks and games.
Further in, out of earshot, there's a reasonable-sized telly. Beyond that, there's room for a removable stage -- expect comedy, an acoustic set, or a DJ. Out the back, there's a large terrace and smoking area. Music-wise, an iPod was shuffling between soul, folk and pop. Original, interesting and well-framed Irish artworks decorate the walls.
And yes, when you look behind the bar, those nudes of Brian Cowen on the pot are the very ones that hung briefly and illegally in the National Gallery of Ireland.
The barman knows when to talk and when to not, and the Guinness, according to Ui Rathaile, is probably one of the best pints in Dublin. And he should know.
I was more interested in the food. The menu is varied and ambitious. Starters range from the fashionable -- wild game terrine with spiced apple chutney -- to the populist -- chicken wings with hot sauce and blue cheese dip.
There are three substantial-sounding salads, and some freshly baked focaccia sandwiches stuffed with everything from mozzarella di bufala to seared beef and horseradish mayo.
Main courses include an 8oz ribeye with Bearnaise and chips, Sligo sea trout with shrimp and pea risotto, and proper Irish stew made with lamb, in onion and barley broth with spuds and root veg. It comes with homemade soda bread, and costs just €8.
You know the feeling when you go abroad and read the prices on a menu and you think to yourself, 'We're being ripped off in Ireland'? Well, that's how I felt looking at Sean Mac D's menu -- except I didn't have to leave the country.
The implausibility of a menu that reads so well (intermittently as gaeilge) and costs so little -- kids under 12 eat for free -- filled me with suspicion that Sean Mac D's was promising way more than it could deliver.
In a rush of patriotic zeal, I kicked off with Saléad na hÉireann (€6.95): a bowl of roughly shredded fennel and rocket leaves jumbled with sweet, salty chunks of torn ham hock, and crunchy triangles of cinnamon-spiced black pudding, topped with segments of boiled egg and dressed with a wholegrain mustard vinaigrette. Its success hinged on distinct flavours and contrasting textures. Individually, the ingredients were excellent. Collectively, they sang in harmony.
Our second starter, haddock and cod fishcakes, were just as good: crisp, golden balls of faintly smoked fish, with just enough pillowy mash to bind them, and scallion to add a pungent, grassy edge. They came with lime mayonnaise, and red onion and mixed pepper salsa. Another steal at €5.95.
It being Sunday, there were two roast specials: beef or lamb. We tried the beef -- four or five rich flavoursome slabs of meat, that could have been pinker for my taste, but that's a minor quibble. It came in its own slick, syrupy gravy, on a cloud of buttery mash, with green beans and carrots, so sweet they could have been pulled from the ground that morning.
My burger was a monolithic construction -- again, I would have preferred it pinker, but there's food safety inspectors to satisfy. Nevertheless, the juice and flavour prevailed and the meat managed to hold its own beneath a layer of pungent goat's cheese.
Sharing the fat, salty chips with Ui Rathaile quickly descended into a how much do you love me challenge. Turns out I love him four chips -- and myself, a good deal more.
Desserts, which we didn't try, are of the brownie and fruit-crumble variety -- though the range of ice cream is exotic. Ui Rathaile rounded off with another creamy pint, while I had a long, smooth Americano.
Sean Mac D's isn't pretentious or aspirational enough to call itself a gastropub, yet it's the closest I've come to one in this town.
It serves bib-and-tucker grub at hairshirt prices, and you'll rarely come across staff who care so much about whether or not you enjoy your meal. I couldn't be more thrilled to have it as my local.
TYPICAL DISH: Ribeye with chips
THE DAMAGE: €42.40 for two starters, two mains, two pints and one coffee
ON THE STEREO: iPod on shuffle
AT THE TABLE: All walks
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