Sunday 18 March 2018

Etto: From construction to restaurant award in eight months

Etto, Merrion Row
Etto, Merrion Row
Aideen Sheehan

Aideen Sheehan

FROM working in construction to owning an award-winning new restaurant in eight months.

It has been a busy year for the couple behind Etto in Dublin, which scooped the prize for Best Casual Dining at the Irish restaurant awards.

Liz Matthews was working as a project manager in the building industry, converting buildings in London into homes for millionaires, when she and her boyfriend Simon Barrett got a yen to come home and start their own restaurant.

Simon had worked in restaurants for years and, just hitting their thirties, the pair decided the time was right to come back to Dublin and set up their own place together.

Now open just eight months in Dublin’s Merrion Row, Etto is a restaurant and wine bar with a touch of Italian.

It has been wowing critics and the public alike with its prosecco on tap, a choice of 100 wines and seasonal menus.

Liz and Simon both work front of house, while old friend Barry Fitzgerald – formerly head chef at Michelin-starred gastropub the Harwood Arms in London – provides the culinary expertise.

Simon described the menu as “definitely having Italian inspiration” but also showcasing great Irish ingredients such as rump of lamb.

Signature dishes include veal sweetbreads with nettle tea and bonemarrow or mussels with nduja – a Calabrian spreadable sausage, while there’s also lunch specials such as a meatball and mozarella sandwich with soup for just a tenner.

Liz said it was a big change of career for her but joked she was probably of most use bringing her building skills into play during the set-up phase.

“We used to work crazy hours when we were in London, and we still work crazy hours, but at least we see each other now because we’re working them together,” she said.

Kilkenny, meanwhile, claimed two of the top prizes at the Irish Restaurant Awards, with acclaimed eaterie Campagne taking the best restaurant award and the Lady Helen at Mount Juliet winning best hotel restaurant.

Dingle was crowned the Top Foodie Town of Ireland for promoting its culinary credentials through food festivals and farming markets as well as great restaurants.


Neven Maguire, of MacNean House & Restaurant, added Best Chef in Ireland to his long list of accolades; the Chop House, in Dublin 4, won best gastro pub; while Fallon & Byrne, in Dublin 2, got the award for the best wine experience.

The awards are based on public nominations, with over 19,000 votes cast on in recent months, followed by a stringent second phase including a mystery guest visit and judging by an awards academy.

RAI president Padraic Og Gallagher said that there had been a huge increase in public voting this year for the awards highlighting the quality of Irish restaurants.

“The Irish restaurant scene is vital to the economy, employing 64,000 people and generating revenue in excess of €2bn per year,” he said.

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