Brunch at Taco Taco: 'The portions are humongous. Enough to satisfy the Homer Simpson in all of us'
Taco Taco, 14 Dame Court, Dublin 2. (083) 449 9584, firstname.lastname@example.org
Dublin has taken to brunch with a vengeance over the past few years. Grown-ups head to the Cellar Bar at The Merrion, and jazz fans gather at The Shelbourne. But the 20- and 30-somethings bring their hangovers to South Great Georges' Street and its environs, and tackle them with serious cocktails and the kind of food that they don't eat on workout days.
Two of the most popular venues are John Farrell's 777 (call it 'triple seven' rather than 'seven seven seven' if you care about getting the details right), a sibling to his Super Miss Sue, Dillinger's and The Butcher Grill, and San Lorenzo, where the chef is Temple Garner.
Back in the heady days of the boom, Garner and his business partner, Ronan Ryan, had Town Bar & Grill on Kildare Street, a magnet for politicians, celebrities, and the city's good-time boys and girls. It was the nearest thing to Chiltern Firehouse that Dublin has ever seen. And the food was great.
One of the newest entrants to the weekend brunch fray is Taco Taco, run by the same team as San Lorenzo, Garner and front-of-house man, Anthony Remedy. Located on the entrance level of Odessa on Dame Court, it describes itself as a pop-up, although my guess is that it will stick around for a while, or at least until the taco trend has been replaced by something else. People seem to like it.
There's a 'no reservations' policy, so we pitch up just as the brunch service is starting at 11am on a Sunday. By the time we leave an hour later there is the beginnings of a queue; I'd imagine it gets pretty busy later on.
At a time when every two-bit restaurant is banging on about its sourcing and the seasonality of its menu, the terroir of its turnips, it's almost refreshing to come across one that doesn't.
At Taco Taco, neither the menu nor the website says anything about where the ingredients come from, except to note that their black pudding comes from Kelly's, which is indeed something worth shouting about. That may not be important when your immediate priority is stuffing carbs into yourself as fast as possible to assuage a hangover. But at all other times, if you care about the quality of the food that you eat, it really does matter.
As it transpires, Taco Taco does source responsibly - the eggs are free-range, the chicken is Irish, the beef comes from craft butcher Pat McLoughlin and the seafood from Wrights of Marino. Their 100pc maize tortillas are made for them by Lily Ramirez of My Mexican Shop.
They buy Irish wherever possible. But I only know this because I emailed the next day and asked them.
So much of the pleasure that we get from food is in our heads, that it's a mistake for the information not to be visible to customers. Except for this shortcoming, the menu reads well and feels of the moment.
The portions are humongous, the plates piled high enough to satisfy the Homer Simpson in all of us. (The menu even includes a 'Homer's Brunch' option, including poutine fries - a dirty, dirty dish originating in Quebec that you really don't need in your life.)
The Breakfast of Champions is a San Lorenzo staple and features the same sausage and streaky bacon and the aforementioned Kelly's black pudding, grilled tomato, smoky black eye beans, fried eggs and home fries. It's the full Irish with a twist, and our only complaint is that the home fries are pale and flabby when we'd have liked them golden and crunchy.
Hawaiian shrimp popcorn cocktail comes with a char-grilled pineapple and green chilli salsa, terrific sweet potato fries and sriracha mayo. Sriracha, a hot Thai chilli sauce, is the condiment du jour and you will find it on menus everywhere, although in NYC, where the trend started, they have now moved on to harissa. (Please try and keep up.) It's our favourite dish.
The French toast stack is pretty good too, let down only by some flaccid streaky bacon in amongst the crisp slices. Jerk chicken brunch tacos have a proper kick to them, while the crab cakes are substantial and the asparagus that accompanies them has good flavour from the char-grill.
Avocado on toast is let down by rubbery char-grilled halloumi that has lost the lovely melting quality that the cheese has when it first comes off the heat. The Taco Taco kitchen is not alone in finding this hard to achieve.
The poached eggs that feature in several of the dishes are not great. Perfect poached eggs defeat many a home cook (me included), but we still want and expect a restaurant to pull off that perfect combination of firm white and a runny yolk that's hot and just starting to harden around the edges.
The bill for five of us sharing six plates, with a few soft drinks and coffees but no alcohol, is €94.10 before service. I'd prefer to see smaller portions and more attention to detail in the kitchen.
On a budget
Baked ham with devilled eggs, classic coleslaw, watercress and skinny fries is €9.95.
On a blowout
The char-grilled 8oz striploin steak with home fries, two poached eggs and hollandaise, plus a side of smokey black beans, followed by San Lorenzo's Nutella chocolate cheesecake (a dessert that has acquired legendary status), washed down with a couple of Brunch Sour cocktails, would bring the bill for brunch to €53.40. That's a pricey cure.
The high point
Be sure not to miss the sweet potato fries.
The low point
The food was not hot enough.
7/10 value for money
Whispers from the gastronomicon
Food festival season is in full swing, and this weekend it's the turn of the Connemara Mussel Festival which takes place in the village of Tullycross. As well as food demos and plenty of good eating, there are displays from the Curley School of Dancing. Local food writer, Máirín Uí Chomáin, has written the definitive mussel recipe book, Irish Mussel Cuisine, which includes recipes from chefs around the country, and is available locally and online from the festival website, priced €8. Mollusc-avoiders can feast on a pig on a spit and boxty. connemaramusselfestival.com