Buckle Up: 'Food is universally very good- a little taste of Melbourne in Sandymount'
6A Sandymount Green, Dublin 4. (01) 260 5976
Buckle Up bills itself as 'a little slice of Melbourne in Sandymount Village'. I walked past it a couple of times over the summer and it appeared to be just that - its outside terrace crowded with shiny, happy people drinking coffee and eating avocado toast.
I'd heard that its weekend brunch was good, and that you'd have to be prepared to queue for a while if you wanted to get a table. Rather than go for brunch, though, we went for dinner. There's only so much you can write about eggs and avocado toast, after all, no matter how good they are.
There was no difficulty booking a table at short notice for dinner at 8.30pm on a Saturday night. In the city centre, that would be impossible. As it turned out, there was only one other table occupied while we were there and we would have been able to walk in without a booking. I gather that dinner is a relatively new departure for the restaurant, and that the owners are keen to grow the evening business, so these are early days.
Buckle Up occupies the space that was once Itsa4, the Kemp sisters' foray into the restaurant as opposed to café business. It's a long, narrow stretch of a room and the interior design does it no favours in terms of creating a welcoming environment, conducive to lingering over food and wine. Marble-topped tables and hard, black metal-framed chairs (yes, there are seat pads, but the aesthetic is cold) don't help. The room may work well during the day, but it's not enough to turn the dimmer switch down, light a few candles and hope for the best when it comes to turning a café into a restaurant.
Anyway, enough grumbling about the lack of comfort and ambience, what about the food?
The menu is short. Very short. Between five of us, we were able to cover it in its entirety, bar desserts. That's not a bad thing, in fact, it's the opposite - especially at the start, when the numbers of people eating are low and the kitchen needs to keep a sharp eye on food waste.
And the food is universally very good.
Sticky apricot chicken wings - the chicken is free-range, for which thumbs up - with a watermelon, cucumber and mint salad are plump and tasty, and the portion is generous. The batter on the calamari is light, and the chilli and lime aioli has plenty of ooomph, while the char-grilled peach and Toonsbridge mozzarella salad is a perfect late-summer plate, the leaves dressed with a walnut pesto that elevates the dish beautifully.
For main courses, there's hake with celeriac purée, pistachio pesto and baby courgettes, the dish flavoured with za'atar, that Middle Eastern blend of thyme, sumac and sesame seeds. The fish is perfectly cooked and it's a plate that would not be out of place in a restaurant that takes itself much more seriously than Buckle Up.
A small fillet steak with chimichurri is also cooked just right, and the fries that accompany it are good too, as are the sweet-potato fries and herby new potatoes that accompany other dishes.
Burgers come with Applewood smoked cheddar - we added optional bacon - and although they are cooked more than we would like, that's not the fault of the kitchen, their hands are tied. We're not sure that the thick slice of grilled pineapple on the burger brings anything to the party - they are pretty good without it - but perhaps it's a Melbourne thing.
Even the beetroot burger is good. Made with organic beetroot, it's wrapped in lettuce and features some of that trademark guacamole and a yuzu dressing that cuts through the earthiness of the beetroot. It's a dish to make a vegetarian very happy indeed.
We share a 'Gold-digger's Sundae', which is exactly how you might imagine it: cream, ice-cream, nubs of brownie and honeycomb with puddles of salted caramel, chopped nuts and even hundreds and thousands (it's been a while). The espresso martinis that we order as alternatives to dessert are under-powered; they need the coffee element to be way stronger.
The bill for five, with two bottles of €35 Malbec, six cocktails (these are charged at a 'two-for-one' happy hour deal) and a couple of soft drinks, came to €283, including service. The waiting staff are charming.
Buckle Up is a sibling to Urbun in Cabinteely Village, which also does excellent daytime business but does not open at night - so it may be that there is simply a learning curve to be scaled when it comes to what makes a room somewhere people want to spend their evenings.
In any event, there is proper talent in the kitchen here, so it behoves the owners to figure out a better way to showcase it.
7/10 Value for money
On a budget
The cheapest mid-week breakfast option at Buckle Up is the BFG — bacon, fried egg and guacamole in a bap —
On a blowout
The char-grilled peach and
mozzarella salad, followed by fillet steak with salad and sweet-potato fries, with Eton mess to finish,
accompanied by a bottle of Nietro Old Vine Garnacha (€40) would come to just over €120 for two before service.
Food that delivers above expectations, friendly staff.
Buckle Up doesn’t feel like a night-time restaurant.
Whispers from the gastronomicon
From the West comes word that chef David O’Donnell is opening his new restaurant, Dulse, in Barna this weekend. O’Donnell was known for his work with local artisan suppliers when he was behind the stoves at the Ardilaun Bistro in Galway’s
Ardilaun Hotel, so expect a menu that’s focussed on the seasonal bounty of the region, which will include plenty of wild Irish game over the coming weeks. Among the suppliers to Dulse is Ronan Byrne, aka The Friendly Farmer, whose chickens have something of a cult following in these parts.