5 Dublin Restaurants to Check Out For a Thoroughly Irish Experience

From www.justluxe.com, by Sean Hillen
5 Dublin Restaurants to Check Out For a Thoroughly Irish Experience

Dublin is full of great dining options, but sometimes something a little quieter and quainter is in order, making it necessary to branch out. But how do you narrow down the options? Well, we look for the five C's—classic, casual, Celtic, chic and country—and these fine restaurants happen to encapsulate them all. 

La Réserve Brasserie Photo Credit: La Réserve Brasserie
Chic: La Réserve Brasserie

Opened three years ago by French owner-chef Jerome Fernandez, La Réserve Brasserie is located on the main street of Ranelagh, a town 15 minutes from central Dublin. With high-ceilings and a cozy, 14-table dining room, the establishment features informal furnishings that combine plain wood tables, bare brick walls and classic French billboards. Originally from Burgundy, Jerome has lived in Ireland for 20 years after working abroad—mainly for The Ritz-Carlton in New Orleans and the Bahamas. The tasting menu is the perfect way to experience his well-honed skills and creations.

La Réserve Brasserie Photo Credit: La Réserve Brasserie

During our visit, slices of homemade lardon bread with tarragon and parsley were served on a wooden board. They were followed by soft, rolled buckwheat galettes filled with organic salmon and herbs with a splash of crème fraiche, and a scattering of fresh crisp leaves and astringent pomegranate seeds. A delicious bowl of piping hot watercress soup with frog legs followed, blending a touch of Armagnac brandy with garlic croutons and fine shreds of fennel confit.

La Réserve Brasserie Photo Credit: La Réserve Brasserie

The highlight of the evening was the coq au vin, which was served in a cast-iron skillet dish and served as a tribute to the often undervalued chicken. Braised slowly in Burgundy red wine and combined with bacon, pearl onions and carrots, the tender flesh retained its flavor, full of that special umami taste. The meal was finished with a powerful Roquefort cheese served with pear confit, walnut crumb and sprinkles of spicy paprika, and a dessert of light pistachio biscuit, dark chocolate mousse and orange salad.

 The Mystic CeltPhoto Credit: Columbia Hillen
Celtic: The Mystic Celt

Around 30 miles south of Dublin, this two-floor restaurant in Wicklow is owned by Chef Paul Smith and his wife Sylvia—locals who developed their culinary skills in places as diverse as Brooklyn and Dingle, Kerry. The Mystic Celt’s rustic ambiance is achieved through a fire blazing in the lobby, an upstairs ceiling draped in white canvas, and sturdy wood beams, flooring and tables. The menu (written in both Gaelic and English) has a Celtic motif, with sections entitled “Bia na Deithe” (Food of the Gods) from the “Feasting Halls of Tara” and “O Mhalai Mhaoiloin” (Straight from the Barrow). A special dessert, “Children of Lir,” is named after an Irish legend. 

 The Mystic CeltPhoto Credit: Columbia Hillen

A bustling place with friendly and efficient staff, the restaurant features a comprehensive drinks menu that includes craft beers from the Wicklow Wolf Brewery and mead, a traditional Irish drink made from honey. Our Celtic feast began with “seafood symphony,” a generous medley of scallops, crab claws and prawns in roast garlic, lemon and a buttery basil cream sauce, with a seashell as a plate decoration. Our dinner companion chose Wexford duck salad: thin slices nestled on crispy cabbage laced with lemon aioli, pickled ginger and pomegranate seeds.

With images of ravenous Celtic warriors returning from battle in mind, the hefty “mystic Gaelic steak”—a 10-ounce Angus beef fillet—seemed appropriate, served with red onion tarte tatin, portabella mushrooms and a silky Madagascar pepper sauce. 

The Wild Goose GrillPhoto Credit: Columbia Hillen
Classic: The Wild Goose Grill

Though Ranelagh may be small, it still boasts around 40 eateries and has become a mini-mecca for food-lovers. One of the more established institutions is The Wild Goose Grill, which was named after successive waves of Irishmen who fought abroad in the armies of continental Europe. This two-room, 70-seat establishment takes pride in its wine selection, as indicated by shelves laden with bottles behind the small upstairs bar and all throughout the two adjoining dining rooms.

The Wild Goose GrillPhoto Credit: Columbia Hillen

An elegant atmosphere reigns with ash-gray walls, polished wood flooring, a low ceiling, and subdued lighting from wall fixtures and table lamps. In honor of the restaurant’s name, an amuse-bouche of smoked goose breast with mango and pear pearls was served. We suggest trying the scallops as a starter, which starred foam-like potato beds that sandwiched the scallops and complemented the flavor. The starter pigeon is also excellent, with the slices tender and slightly pan-cooked on a bed of spelt risotto and cranberry sauce. The dish blossomed thanks to its balanced blend of nuttiness from the barley beads and sweetness from the fruit.

We tried two main courses: the rump of venison that came as three thick coins of pan-seared meat on a bed of spinach and red beetroot; and the goose breast with green beans, wild mushrooms, fresh fig and red wine jus. Dessert came in the form of homemade pecan pie with cardamom and ginger ice cream, and a light New York cheese-cake. 

 Clodagh McKenna Photo Credit: Clodagh McKenna Official Facebook
Country: Clodagh's Kitchen

Clodagh McKenna gained a reputation as a celebrity chef (both in Ireland and the US) thanks to her cooking shows, cookbooks and food columns. Clodagh's Kitchen is her very first stand-alone restaurant, found in the coastal town of Blackrock just six miles south of Dublin center, and stars Mediterranean-style cuisine. The décor is casual, with a pre-dinner area just inside the entrance, allowing guests to enjoy cocktails before their meals. The dining room is a couple steps up, consisting of two spacious rooms separated by a partial brick façade. Muted tones of grays and whites adorn simple chairs, tables and cushioned booths, while large bell-shaped lamps hang from a ceiling that’s crisscrossed with metal piping. 

 Clodagh McKenna Photo Credit: Clodagh McKenna Official Facebook

The short menu—prepared by Sicilian chef, Giuseppe Galvano and his Irish colleague, Georgina Collier—features three starters, five mains and three desserts. Notable is the Asian-inspired twist given to the starter of chicken wings, oven-roasted and glazed in a sauce of honey and ginger, sprinkled with chives, chilli and spring onion. Dipping sauce of Cashel Blue was enriched by crème fresh and lemon. One of our highlights was the aubergine parmigiana, comprising of buffalo mozzarella, wild garlic pesto, and fresh mint instead of the traditional basil. The eggplant was well-roasted and generously layered with flavorsome tomatoes and melted cheese. 

Peperina Garden BistroPhoto Credit: Peperina Garden Bistro
Casual: Peperina Garden Bistro

Simplicity is the hallmark of the bright and airy Peperina Garden Bistro, which opened just two years ago in the Rathmines/Ranelagh area of south Dublin. Housed in a long, low-ceilinged room with expansive windows overlooking the main street, the restaurant features broad-beamed flooring with a mix of metallic and wood tables. Light bulbs dangle from red cords that weave themselves intricately around the ceiling, while decorations include shelves filled with potted plants and ornamental wall plates. Several steps separate the front half of the dining room from the rear, which features a glass ceiling dome and an open terrace with pots of various herbs, all used by the chef.

Peperina Garden BistroPhoto Credit: Peperina Garden Bistro

The menu is inspired by South America (peperina is actually an Argentinian mint plant), but simplicity and natural produce remain its core values. Co-owner Evan McAuliffe hails from a family of restaurateurs and launched this first venture with his Argentinian partner. Our opening gambit was flat mushrooms and chorizo soup with homemade wheaten bread served quaintly on wooden platters. It was followed by roast thyme and garlic chicken with herby crisp potatoes and grilled, 20-day aged, rib eye steak served with hand-cut chips and chimichurri (a South American salsa). The earthiness of the mushrooms was enlivened by the chorizo’s spiciness, while the steak was well seared on the outside and perfectly rare inside, retaining its inherent tenderness.