Saturday 26 May 2018

Grub's up: Where do the best chefs in Dublin eat?

Wine & Dine in Dublin

Chef Karl Whelan pictured enjoying a bite to eat at Locks Restaurant in Dublin's Portobello. Photo: Frank Mc Grath
Chef Karl Whelan pictured enjoying a bite to eat at Locks Restaurant in Dublin's Portobello. Photo: Frank Mc Grath

Jillian Bolger

It might seem smart to ask a restaurant critic where the best food is served in Dublin, but it’s an even smarter idea to ask a top chef.

They know about great food, and they’re also unlikely to spend their rare days off anywhere that will deliver a less-than-delicious experience.

Happily, you don’t need a chef on speed dial: we’ve asked some of Dublin’s hottest chefs to spill the beans on their favourite restaurants in the capital.

Karl Whelan of Luna

“Generally, I go out on Sunday with family and friends. Top of my list is M&L on Cathedral Street, off O’Connell Street. I’ve always liked Chinese food and it’s a good place to sit around with a group.

I’ve been going there for years and have a good rapport with the staff, so they feed us things that aren’t on the menu. They used to have a Chinese menu and we’d order by pointing. Then, we became friendly with one of the waiters and began ordering things without knowing what they were. He used to say, “Oh, you’re not going to like that,” so we’d order it!

It took years, but now they understand that we want what they eat. Their green beans are unbelievable, and the sweet and sour pork — the Chinese version, not their European one — is super crunchy and off-the-hook delicious. They have razor clams, langoustines, prawns, lobster and none of that stuff is on the menu.

I go to Locks in Portobello since Keelan and Connor took it over too. I’ve been a few times for their late Sunday lunch. The second week they opened, Kieran Glennon (head chef at Guilbaud’s), Liz and Simon (owners of Etto) and John and Sandy (from Forest Avenue) were all sitting at different tables. That speaks volumes about the place.

I like Dillinger’s in Ranelagh for brunch too. I know it’s part of the group I work for, but I’ve always liked it. They do tasty food and the atmosphere is always good.”

Kwanghi Chan formerly of Soder+Ko

“I always head to Michie Sushi in Ranelagh for sushi and to the Good World on George’s Street for dim sum. I was born in Hong Kong but grew up in Donegal. My granny lived with us and cooked all the time. She’s from north China so she’d make things like dumplings, Asian broths and hot pots. I grew up eating those kind of flavours.

I love small restaurants, like the family-run Korean barbecue on Capel Street. It’s really family-oriented and you get flavours you don’t normally find. You have a grill on the table and they bring out raw foods and pull down the little extractor around you. It’s a great experience and feels like you’re abroad somewhere, eating street food.

Despite having worked in The Cliff House at Ardmore, I don’t have a favourite fine-dining restaurant. I’d probably mix it up, though Guilbaud’s is always excellent. Forest Avenue is great too and I go to Pichet a lot for lunch. I know Stephen (the chef and co-owner) very well and find it’s very relaxing. The food is always good.”

Keelan Higgs of Locks

“We’re open six days a week and it’s slim pickings on a Monday, so I often end up in M&L off O’Connell Street. They used to do a cracking pig ear and cucumber salad. You couldn’t eat something that tastes that good anywhere! I think they changed chef but the pork dumplings are still great. It’s worth heading over to O’Connell Street for these alone.

Lee Kee on Parnell Street is more traditional. You’ll get things like sliced whelk, confit aubergine with minced pork or fried chicken bones. It’s mostly Szechuan and is really good.

Parnell Street isn’t the most comfortable place to eat but I’ll often go with my brother, who works with me, and we’ll load the table with food! It’s mostly Chinese customers, with a few Irish who’ve caught on to the good food.

If I was organised on a Sunday night, I might head for The Butcher Grill in Ranelagh. I like to eat without any formality or bullsh*t and the lads there are good craic and want you to enjoy yourself. They make a great cocktail and serve great steak without any hassle.

I’ve worked in many of Dublin’s fine dining restaurants — Guilbaud’s, Chapter One, The Green House — so tend not to go back to them. When you’ve worked somewhere, it changes how you enjoy your meal.

There’s some brilliant new places where old workmates are cooking — Delahunt and Luna — so I’d drop in there on a rare night off. Etto is great too. They all have the same vibe in common: casual, no formality and cracking food.”

John Wyer of Forest Avenue

“I like food that has been considered, that isn’t overcomplicated or overworked, and uses good ingredients. Etto, on Merrion Row, is a perfect example. Sandy (his wife, who runs front of house at Forest Avenue) and I love it. We opened at the same time as the guys there and have become good friends. They’re open on Mondays so we go quite often for a laid-back lunch.

They’ve a great team and I love their approach. The food is Italian, very simple but always done properly.

The last few months we’ve been going for dinner to Delahunt on Camden Street, which is excellent. They’re very consistent with impressive cooking.

We’ve been very impressed with Taste at Rustic too, Dylan McGrath’s sushi restaurant. We’ve been back six times since it opened, I think! We tried a few tasting menus and now we go back for sushi. The food is great, the service is brilliant. It’s the whole package really.

We also love The Cedar Tree, a very unhip place on Andrew Street. It’s been there years but no one really knows about it. It’s family-run, serving Lebanese and Middle Eastern mezze. It’s delicious, simple home-cooked food and not expensive.”

Sunil Ghai of Ananda

“I love oriental food and we went looking for a good Chinese when we arrived from India. I tried many of them before discovering China Sichuan. The owner came to Ireland the same time as I arrived here, opening in Stillorgan then later moving to Sandyford.

I actually ate there last night again! They do great flavours. Leena, my wife, comes from a vegetarian family, and China Sichuan has lots of good choices for her.

High-end, for special occasions, I love Chapter One. Everything about it is so good, and it’s always a treat.

For a casual local night out, Campo De’ Fiori in Bray does a lovely job. I live in Greystones so it’s very handy. Marco is a good chef and good guy. People always think of pasta and pizza when they think of Italian, but Campo De’ Fiori does good seafood and good soups.

I’ve been busy the last few months (getting ready to open his new north Indian restaurant, Pickle, in the city centre), so haven’t eaten there in a few months. I need to go back!”

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