Jimmy Wiley's new restaurant in Phibsborough is named after his aunt. I'm hoping that perhaps the American chef is related to Loretta Lynn, the Kentucky-born country music singer-songwriter whose autobiography, Coal Miner's Daughter, was made into the film starring Sissy Spacek. That Loretta is known for an oeuvre that includes songs such as Don't Come Home A Drinking (With Lovin' On Your Mind) and You Ain't Woman Enough.
Phibsborough has a touch of the village that time forgot when it comes to restaurants, with a few honourable exceptions. Angela Ruttledge's Woodstock, set up by her mother, recently celebrated its 25th anniversary, and Two Boys Brew is a more recent addition. But until now there hasn't been a big, bustling brasserie-style neighbourhood restaurant. Loretta's, with its crowd-pleasing, down-home menu is set to fill that gap.
Located in a corner building once occupied by a bank, the smart interior fit-out puts us in mind of some of the Press-Up Group's venues - Angelina's in particular - but I'm surmising that the budget here wasn't comparable; we spot a few cleverly deployed Ikea light fixtures. Little hints that some choices were made by the man that we can see cooking in the open kitchen across the room and his family endear the place to us. I can only imagine the bravery that it takes to open a big, proper restaurant such as Loretta's at a time when there is a chill wind blowing through the industry, and dire mutterings about the number of restaurant closures that we will see come the new year when the increased VAT rate is applied.
On the evidence of our meal last month, though, Loretta's is going to survive and thrive. At the early dinner sitting on a Saturday night, there's a happy mix of families, couples and groups of friends. Sunday brunch is already popular with restaurant folk, who rate the green chilli pork butt.
I don't know what to expect from a starter of Nashville Hot Oysters. It turns out to be a trio of deep-fried oysters each served in its shell on top of a thick puddle of a brown butter and bone marrow sauce with more than a hint of horseradish. I'd have liked the oysters hotter, so that they would have melted the sauce a tad, but the flavours are dirty fabulous. Oyster mushrooms with Parmesan fondue and aubergine relish come on sourdough that's soggy rather than crunchy; temperature is again an issue but it's properly tasty. Skeaghanore duck salad is a gorgeous composition of colour, texture and taste, with delicate slices of breast, ember roasted beets, violette mustard and beet ash, and a powerful kick lurking in the background.
Although there's scant provenance information on the menu, our upbeat waiter assures us that Jimmy wouldn't use anything other than free-range chicken for the fried chicken, which comes with a grilled corn salad, buttermilk biscuit and sweet pickled jalapeño honey butter. I'm debating between this and the Wicklow venison and black bean chilli and end up regretting my choice of the latter. The chilli lacks depth, although the cornbread that accompanies it is buttery and delicious. Beef and pork ragu with tagliatelle feels like a dish that's been rushed, as if the meat didn't get the long slow simmer that it needed in order for the alchemy to happen. Striploin steak with carrot top chimichurri, burnt onion and excellent house-made chips is a 'does what it says on the tin' dish, and none the worse for that. The meat and its execution are impeccable. Side salads are over-dressed and commit the heinous crime of containing unannounced raw red pepper.
To finish, we share a huge slice of American-style baked cheesecake - light and not too sugary - topped with raspberry compote, with the welcome pop of a few sour blueberries. It comes with way too much sweetened cream, but otherwise it's a winner.
With a couple of bottles of water, a soft drink and three glasses of the house Sangiovese, the bill for three comes to €150.50 before service.
ON A BUDGET
At brunch, a 30-second omelette with mushroom ragout and Parmesan costs €7.
ON A BLOW OUT
Start with the Nashville hot oysters, have the dry-aged Angus striploin for your main course and cheesecake for dessert and you'll be looking at a dinner bill of €95 for two before drinks or service.
THE HIGH POINT
A family-run restaurant with a very nice vibe to it.
THE LOW POINT
Some tepid dishes.