At breakfast in the Dylan hotel, Dublin, our waiter asked in his eastern European brogue for my order. I responded with a request for soda bread, butter and a cup of the strong Barry’s tea, which is blended in Cork. He returned, smiling, with the first two items, a pot of hot water and a sachet of wild berry tea. Something had got (charmingly) lost in translation.
As the hospitality business in Dublin has boomed, it has attracted many young workers from the rest of Europe. Over the same period, Irish restaurateurs and chefs have written their menus to reflect the quality of their country’s increasingly excellent produce.
The result today is great Irish food often transformed and served by the new polyglot Dubliners. Indeed, when we climbed the steep stairs to the first-floor restaurant of The Pig’s Ear we received a very welcoming reception from a Sardinian waiter and a Polish waitress.
Everything else about this excellent restaurant is quintessentially Irish. Its name; its chef, Stephen McAllister, and its manageress, Katrina Murphy; the two white Aran sweaters hanging by the door; and the view from the windows, which overlook the sports grounds of Trinity College.
The Pig’s Ear lunch menu is short and well priced at €19.95 for three courses, each packed full of flavour. Cured salmon, a staple starter on so many fixed-price menus, came here in two thick slices, placed vertically and surrounded by buttermilk curd, with thin slices of crisp apple and beetroot. It was delicious.
So too were our main courses. A duck pie revealed not just how to deal intelligently with duck thigh meat but also, by giving credit to its author, the Victorian cookery writer Mrs Beeton, how much oomph the combination of Worcestershire sauce and anchovy contributed to its overall flavour. By contrast, a fillet of hake was light and charming, the fish rendered moist and elegant by the adjuncts of samphire, capers and an almond butter.
The next day I had lunch at The Greenhouse, where Mickael Viljanen, the Finnish chef, is cooking. My waiter at The Pig’s Ear confirmed this was a good choice: “I had a great meal there last week,” he said enthusiastically.
Viljanen made his name in Ireland at Gregans Castle in the Burren, a three-and-a-half-hour drive west of Dublin, before he was lured to the capital by restaurateur Eamonn O’Reilly. O’Reilly obviously has an eye for a good location because The Greenhouse now thrives on a corner site once home to a bistro, very close to the Lord Mayor’s residence.
My female guest described the interior as “swanky by Dublin standards” although we were both somewhat disconcerted by the amount of net curtain between the two sections of the dining room.
I, however, could not have been happier with the fact that we were subsequently led to table 14, which offers a direct view into the kitchen. Sam Smyth, the highly regarded Irish journalist, then joined us so the craic flowed as I watched the chefs.
As our waiter served the Italian ciabatta and I took in a wine list that sensitively offers six reds and six whites by the glass, we ordered from the lunch menu that offers two options for each course.
From the deftness of the two starters and the promptness with which they were served, the menu seemed initially to offer great value at €30 for three courses. Slow-cooked eggs with potatoes and trompette mushrooms were particularly appealing, while a terrine of chicken, foie gras and ham was first class with a small knob of cep butter to spread on the brioche as a thoughtful addition.
Then the meal began to slow down. There was far too long before our next courses: cod with a pumpkin glaze and a cleverly worked half of a roast partridge with Jerusalem artichokes, given a lift by the addition of peppery nasturtium leaves. But while we waited, I couldn’t help noticing a chef calmly preparing scallops for the evening.
This delay, followed by an even longer one before our desserts, meant we had to leave before the latter arrived. This chef is talented but he needs his restaurateur to ensure his customers get to the finishing line faster.
The Pig’s Ear
4 Nassau Street,
+353 1 670 3865,
+353 1 676 7015,