Review: 'With natural wines and cheese toasties to die for, Loose Canon is the master of simple pleasures'
Loose Canon, 29 Drury Street, Dublin 2; loosecanon.ie
It's traditional for the first restaurant review of January to be of the healthy, abstemious kind of establishment that we all associate with post-Christmas self-loathing and recrimination. I'm sure that you're familiar with the type of place that I have in mind. Perhaps you too find it hard to get excited by the prospect.
It's also customary for new year reviews to focus on pocket-friendly experiences; there are few whose bank accounts are in robust shape in these early weeks of the year.
The place that I've chosen to review this week may not be an obvious fit for the former category, but it's as gentle on the wallet as can be. So I hope that you'll forgive this half-break from tradition, and let me introduce you to a little gem that may have passed you by in the flurry of new restaurants that appeared towards the end of last year.
Loose Canon opened last summer, at the Drury Street end of the George's Street Arcade, in what was the former Appassionata flower shop. On sultry summer evenings it became the perfect place to stop off on the way to or from dinner, for a glass of something interesting from its selection of natural wines. I don't think that there was anywhere to sit back then, but the crush felt vibrant, something new for Dublin.
In Paris, many wine bars now are 'natural', and it was while working there that Brian O'Keefe got the idea for Loose Canon. Brian and his business partner, Kevin Powell, also run Meet Me in the Morning on Pleasants Street, which has to be one of the best cafés in the city, with a menu that focuses on produce from the organic McNally Family Farm in North County Dublin. The pair also have Reference Coffee next door.
Natural wines are made with minimal intervention, hand-picked and then fermented using the natural yeasts that occur on the grapes. Because the wines are unfiltered, they tend to be vegan-friendly. (Many conventional wines are filtered using isinglass, which derives from fish bladders.) As with all wines, there are good and bad versions; some can be pretty funky. They are rarely dull.
At Loose Canon, there are always half a dozen or so wines available by the glass. The staff are friendly and knowledgeable, so it's an ideal place in which to dip a toe into what can seem like an intimidating world if you're starting from scratch. On one occasion, we drank glasses of the Du Grappin Bagnum Gamay, one of the new generation of wines in a bag. On another, a bottle of the Foulards Rouges, Octobre, a 90pc Syrah, 10pc Grenache blend, full of juicy red fruits and with an ABV of just 11pc.
Accompanying the selection of natural wines are toasties, made on Le Levain bread and filled with cheese and other deliciousness that changes daily but might include felicitous combinations such as smoked mozzarella and Gubbeen chorizo, sobrasada (cured pork sausage from the Balearics) and washed rind cheese, and goat's cheese with beetroot crush.
You might think that a toastie is hardly a food experience worth writing about, and indeed this is often the case. (I ordered one in a café in Dublin airport a few months back that was singularly vile - plastic cheese, unripe tomato, rubbery bread.) But at Loose Canon, the toasties are a thing of beauty, made with fabulous ingredients and so gargantuan that really one between two is plenty; they tend to cost between €7.50 and €9.
In the evening, there are sharing plates of cheese and Irish charcuterie from producers such as the Wooded Pig in the Boyne Valley, where engineer-turned-farmer, Eoin Bird, uses proper free-range rare-breed pigs to make salamis of true quality.
On my last visit to Loose Canon, two toasties and a bottle of wine between three resulted in a bill of €51 and a truly joyous food experience, one that I'll be repeating regularly in the year ahead. As it's also a shop, you can buy cheese, charcuterie and wine to take home too.
ON A BUDGET
A grilled cheese toastie - big enough for two - costs well under a tenner.
ON A BLOW OUT
The only way that you could spend a lot of money at Loose Canon is by drinking oodles of wine.
THE HIGH POINT
Loose Canon is charming and unpretentious.
THE LOW POINT
There aren't always enough stools for everyone who wants one.