The best Irish restaurants to eat in this year
Restaurants are quiet in January, and it's still a month during which many of those who work in the industry take a holiday, travelling in search of inspiration for their menus for the year ahead. Chefs and restaurateurs who won't be going anywhere, though, include those planning to open new ventures over the coming weeks.
If the focus of new openings in Dublin over the past couple of years has been the area around South William Street, the shift towards Portobello was well underway by the end of 2015. Locks and Bastible are just two of the new arrivals in the area, and Camden St in particular looks set to become even more of a Mecca for food-lovers in 2016. Delahunt is already there of course, as is Camden Kitchen, but Sunil Ghai of Ananda expects to open his first restaurant, Pickle, before the end of the month. The builders are putting the finishing touches to the premises now, and Ghai says that Pickle will serve traditional Indian food with the focus on local produce and seasonal ingredients. The style will be casual and the emphasis on flavours and freshness, with dishes mainly from the north of the country, in the vein of Masala Zone and the multi-award winning Gymkhana in London, where Ghai's brother, Rohit, is executive head chef.
"I always wanted to do something like this in town," says Ghai, "it's my dream project. There will be a few dishes that will be very new to the Irish palate."
I for one am hoping that the menu includes plates along the lines of the signature goat curry spiced with fenugreek (with the option of added goat's brains) that is one of the highlights at Gymkhana; that'll sort the professionals from the amateurs.
Also opening on Camden St during the first half of the year is serial restaurateur, John Farrell, the man behind Dillinger's, The Butcher Grill, Super Miss Sue, Luna, and 777. Farrell describes his latest venture as 'a Chinese version of 777'. This sounds like good news and, knowing Farrell and the fun that he has putting his interiors together, the restaurant will look fabulous. Farrell takes his research seriously and he's been spending time in Hong Kong by way of preparation for the opening. No word yet on who the chef will be, or a name for the restaurant.
Anyone who's ever ended up in the Gig's Place at the end of a long night will already be familiar with the premises of Richmond, which opened just before Christmas. Owned by Russell Wilde, who used to manage The Butcher Grill, it looks set to fill a gap in the market for casual, inexpensive bistro food. I'm looking forward to trying it soon.
Just up the road, on the corner of Spencer Street South and South Circular Rd, and open since November, is Little Bird, a yoga studios and café with the menu put together by Ballymaloe graduate Alison Creed. Go for a wholesome breakfast or healthy lunch, and (relatively) guilt-free sweet treats.
Back in the city centre, Denise McBrien, who used to be FOH at Pichet, is overseeing the long-awaited opening of the revived and refurbished Bewley's on Grafton St. There's no date for this yet but one would guess that they'll be aiming to be open before St Patrick's Day, and the almost-three-week school holidays that will follow it because Easter is so early this year. Also in the city centre, Andrew Rudd of Medley is planning to open a café and bistro on Fleet St.
Over the canal on Upper Leeson Street, John and Sandy Wyer of Forest Avenue have taken over the premises that were formerly home to Rigby's for a second venture, with a more casual food offering. Donegal chef Ciaran Sweeney will be in the kitchen, and there'll be a long counter at which customers will sit. After eating at Sweeney's residency in Forest Avenue last month, I can't wait, and I'm hoping that his fermented potato bread will be on the menu. And, of course, his signature tarts.
Out in Blackrock, The Market Canteen has changed hands. Heron & Grey have taken over and launch their new menu this month. An unprepossessing location has not proved a hindrance here in the past, and I'm expecting good things of the new proprietors: Damien Grey, an Australian chef who's worked at Chapter One, and Andrew Heron, most recently working on the floor at Luna, who'll be in charge of front of house.
Meanwhile, James Sheridan and Soizic Humbert, who did run The Market Canteen, have just taken off their first Christmas in years and are all fired up to open a new venture near their home in Celbridge in the spring. Their concept in Blackrock was hugely successful, so I'd be surprised if they don't stick with something similar - a no (or very little) choice menu featuring Sheridan's modern take on classic French-style cuisine and a short but well-conceived wine list.
Also in Kildare, this time in Sallins, Nicola Curran and her husband, Josef Zammit, will open their Two Cooks restaurant by the canal at the end of the month. Both Curran and Zammit are chefs, Zammit most recently in the kitchen at the popular Brown Bear, where he has been for the past six years, while Curran has been teaching at Cooks' Academy. They'll have a downstairs bar area serving small plates and a full restaurant offering upstairs, with about 45 covers.
Curran describes the menu at Two Cooks as "seasonal, modern European, with a casual laid-back ambience". She worked at The Ledbury in London, and Zammit at Tom Aikens, and both came to Dublin to join Dylan McGrath when he opened Mint in Ranelagh. Between them they have serious form, and Sallins residents are in for a treat.
Back in Dublin, Katie Gilroy of the popular Urbun café in Cabinteely is opening a new venture in Sandymount in the coming weeks. Expect a more extensive food offering than at Urbun, and for the new restaurant to be open in the evenings as well as during the day.
And after much speculation as to who would be taking over the former Walter's premises in Dun Laoghaire, it's been confirmed that it's not Platform Pizza, but rather House, the club for grown-ups on Leeson St, serving a user-friendly range of tapas and sharing plates.
Chef JP McMahon is hoping to open a fast food restaurant sourcing organic and free-range ingredients directly from farmers, and is in the midst of a Kickstarter campaign to fund the start-up, which he hopes will be in Dublin, "somewhere with high footfall". McMahon tried to get the project off the ground before, but it foundered, he reckons, because it was pitched at the middle market rather than at the lower, fast-food end. At the Food on the Edge chefs' symposium that McMahon organised in Galway earlier this year, Daniel Patterson, who has recently stepped down as the chef at his two-Michelin star restaurant in San Francisco, Coi, spoke about his work on Loco'l, a fast food collaboration with Los Angeles chef, Roy Choi.
McMahon says that Patterson inspired him to reinvigorate the concept for Farmer, and he launched the funding campaign with his partners, including Ronan Byrne of Friendly Farmer chicken fame, within a couple of weeks of FOTE. The intention is for Farmer to be a chain rather than a stand-alone restaurant, which is an exciting prospect. And if that's not ambitious enough, McMahon, who already has three restaurants in Galway, says that he has ideas for a dozen more. Someone give that man a chill pill!