The Old Spot, 14 Bath Avenue, Ballsbridge, Dublin 4. Tel: (01) 660-5599. theoldspot.ie
However hot this D4 location might be, we left the latest addition to the area, The Old Spot gastropub, feeling that €90, with service, seemed pricey for two courses involving a burger and the cheapest bottle of vino.
The Old Spot is the latest venture of brothers Paul and Barry McNerney, who don't appear to have put a foot wrong since first opening the popular Juniors Deli & Cafe nearby, in 2008. The siblings followed it up two years later with Paulie's Pizza and Barry's Bar, just around the corner.
To me, The Old Spot, in the former Lansdowne Bar, is more of a restaurant with a bar. A gastropub is really where you can eat casually throughout the premises, whereas here it is very much a distinct restaurant area, separate from the smaller bar through which you enter, and which only served nibbles.
Checking in at the restaurant desk, we noticed a nice long banquette along the wall, but also a central area filled, canteen style, with tables for two, quite close together, where one man was dining. "Dear God, don't tell me she is going to put us at a table for two just beside him," I muttered to Himself, as the waitress led the way. She was. "Could we not sit somewhere to the side?" I said, thinking to myself that they were never going to fill all of those banquette tables on what was a Monday night.
I was right.
Out of the corner of my eye, I could see someone behind a bar staring at us, when a voice from the check-in desk behind us said, "Table 8". Take it from me, however, this is not the table to ask for, unless you are drinking pints or have one of those 'urgencies' they talk about on TV!
We trundled on to Table 8, which was beside the toilet door at the back of the room, with the Dart rolling overhead. The table was in what looked like a pair of vintage train carriages with high, winged-back seating, upholstered in tartan, which was too low for the table.
"Do you have an early bird menu?" I asked the waitress. "No, we only opened on Friday and we'll see how it goes," she said.
Starters (€8-€11) included pressed rabbit, ham hock and foie gras terrine, and scallops, samphire, guanciale (cured pork cheek) and melted onion sauce. Brendan had West Coast crab cakes (€9.50) with sriracha (chilli) mayo, radish and cress, and said "you can actually taste crab - they are delicious". I had Girolles, chicken livers and sage on toast, which was tasty, if very expensive, at €9 for two chicken livers, which are cheap as chips.
We found it difficult to select mains (€15-€28) with sides at €4. Veal Holstein, I was told, was milk-fed veal imported from France, which I don't eat, as it is a cruel industry. "Iberico pork flank, crispy belly" was "served pink" and that put Brendan off. I, too, still prefer pork well cooked. A New York striploin was pricey at €28, so Brendan went with the "house-ground" cheeseburger and fries (€15). He enjoyed it, but what can I really say about a burger?
I had a "big bowl of seafood Marseille style" (€22), which I could hardly see in the low lighting. There were pieces of monkfish, potato, mussels and a couple of prawns but, as a dish, it was about as close to Marseille as Ballybrack. The bland, tomato-y base tasted just like plain passata, and the aioli, like a well-known commercial mayonnaise. The cheapest wine we could find on the list was €24, a Ruedan Protos Verdejo Bianco.
There was a constant procession from the front bar, down through the restaurant and past us, into the toilets - with one man going in and out three times! On the wall in front of us was a vintage La Slavia Biere sign and above it, on a shelf, a train. It suddenly brought to mind an old World War II Ingrid Bergman movie, set in the Alps, from where she and her lover were trying to escape by train. As yet more toilet-goers steamed by, I too wanted to flee!
Passing on puds, with bottled water (€2.90) and optional service for the pleasant waitress, our bill was €90.40.
99 Monkstown, Co Dublin. Tel: (01) 280-199, gogginsbar.com
Style: At the heart of Monkstown Village, Goggins Bar is now doing good-value gastropub grub. Menu choices range from fish 'n' chips to daily roast sandwiches, through calamari, rib-eye steaks, burgers, and pasta
Price: Mains, €12-€22
Try: Monkfish scampi with tartar sauce and skinny fries, €16
Wine: From €20
Main Street, Cong, Co Mayo. Tel: (094) 954-5620. facebook.com/pat.cohanbar
Style: The legendary pub from the 1952 movie, The Quiet Man, has been revamped into a great gastropub, focusing on traditional Irish dishes, using quality local produce
Price: Mains, €12-€22. 'Little People's Menu', €6.50
Try: Slow-braised lamb hotpot, with vegetables, herbs and creamy scallion mash, €16
Wine: From €20
6-8 Bridge Street, Ringsend, Dublin 4. Tel: (01) 668-9360. oarsman.ie
Style: Mentioned in Joyce's Ulysses as Tunney's, The Oarsman retains its 200-year-old bar counter. Ben Gorman, formerly of the Mermaid Cafe, is cooking here. Sharing boards, salads, mains and weekend brunch
Price: Mains, €12.95-€24.95
Try: Roast hake with crushed new potatoes, parsley, fine beans and cherry tomatoes, €16.95
Wine: From €22