Dublin’s restaurant scene continues to grow rapidly and Dee Laffan has the lowdown on some restaurants opening their doors soon.
It’s honestly hard to keep up with the number of openings, re-openings and refurbs. More restaurants mean more seats to fill and that in itself definitely begs the question if our population can sustain the almost-at-capacity cityscape of eateries. There’s a lot to be said these days for the lasting classics who are still going strong 20-30 plus years in business.
However, that’s a piece for another day. I had heard about a few new places opening soon, so I decided to touch base to see how plans are coming along and what we should actually be getting excited about. Turns out, quite a lot!
1. Liath, Blackrock Market
Ok, this one is actually open, just. But I couldn’t really talk about new openings without mentioning Damien Grey’s reincarnation. After only a month of renovations, it is incredible to see the transformation of the space from its former life into a more refined and chic restaurant. Liath is certainly looking sharp, like a finely-tailored suit, still has the charm and ambience that we all loved about H&G, but it just fits better.
I popped out on the fourth night of business and while the guys are still finding their feet in the new space, literally, and the absence of Niall O’Connor in front of house kind of made it impossible to truly get a feel for the overall experience, it was a very impressive dining experience nonetheless. Not surprising of course because of Damien’s talent with devising ingredients into a culinary journey for your palate. He is the only Irish chef I know that orders the menu based on the journey he wants our taste buds to take and that’s just one of the reasons it is special.
Backed up with a fantastic team in the kitchen, this is definitely a restaurant that will be a star(s?) of the Irish restaurant scene in 2019 and no doubt for a long time to come.
READ MORE: Damien Grey chats to F&W about Liath
2. Circa, Terenure, D6W
Opening: Wednesday, March 27th
Chef Gareth Naughton, “Circa is a venture with myself and my three business partners who have all worked in the hospitality industry for years in different aspects of it. Ross Duffy, who was the bar manager in Drury Buildings and floor manager in 3fe, among others; Robert Murphy, who worked with Danny Meyer in New York and was events manager for All Bar None; and Emmet Murphy, who works for Celtic Whiskey Store and also worked for L Mulligan Grocer.
The location for Circa is a space where Eaton Square was, beside Bellagio’s. We’ve done our best to make it as nice as we can. It’s a bit of a DIY restaurant. We don’t have huge amount of money so we’ve had to do a lot ourselves. I did the logo, we painted everything in here ourselves and someone we know who does set design to help do something on the walls.
“Circa”, the name, was something I had been thinking about for a while. When I worked in Melbourne, there was a place called Circa The Prince of Wales and I always liked that name and the word circa. The idea also is that further down the line we’ll have themed nights like ‘Paris circa. 1914’ or ‘New York circa. Prohibition’. That’s what we’re looking to do, but right now we just want it to be a really good neighbourhood restaurant using the highest quality Irish ingredients cooked with respect. I used to work for Gary Rhodes when I was a commis chef and the first thing he ever taught me was to treat every ingredient with the same level of respect, whether it’s a piece of beef or a pea, nose to tail or root to leaf, it’s the same across the board, that’s what we’re going for.
The menu will be pretty casual, smaller and larger plates and desserts, and if people want to mix and match and have a smaller plate as a main, that’s ok too. One of the dishes on the menu is buttermilk fried rabbit, with pea and bacon lettuce fricasse and tarragon mayo.
We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel here, we just want to cook really great food and make people happy. Another part of our ethos is we want to offer good old-fashioned Irish hospitality behind the bar and for people to come in and enjoy themselves. We don’t want people to feel ripped off or under pressure to spend a load of money, we want them to come and enjoy themselves.”
3. Rock Hill, Blackrock
Opening: April 8th-15th
General Manager, Paul Malone, “There are three business partners behind Rock Hill who saw a gap in a niche market to open a really authentic Chinese restaurant at a very high level. I think we can all agree there isn’t a huge amount out there at that level. The likes of Hakkasan Restaurant in London is more similar to what we are in terms of the style of food we offer and service.
We’re lucky to have three chefs on board from the Sichuan region in China. There will be other Chinese regional food on the menu, however, and that’s to have variety for our customers and a more combined menu. Where possible we’ve picked dishes that we think will work best for Irish and European customers, but also Chinese.
The venue is stunning. We’re based in the old post office building in Blackrock. The main dining area is overlooking the sea, with floor to ceiling windows, coming into summer it is just spectacular. Everything has been finished to such a high spec and standard. There was no expense spared. They’ve really invested in the place so that everything is as it should be.
The bar menu is going to be quite considerable too with 50 plus wines, a full cocktail menu and a large selection of craft beers, most of which are Irish.
In terms of food suppliers, we are also using the best, such as Higgins beef, Skeaghanore Duck… there are some amazing suppliers that we are affiliating ourselves with.
Now, in the final weeks to the opening, we’re in a good place. It’s time for staff training and things like that. We’ll have a number of tasting menus, some with beverage pairings, but also full a la carte menu in the evening, options of set lunch menus and a la carte so people can get in and out on their break.”
Reservations open this week for Rock Hill.
4. Little Mike’s, Mount Merrion
Opening: April 20th
Owner Gareth Smith, “The aim is for Little Mike’s to become a destination in its own right and it will be very customer-led on how it develops. We have a good scope on what the customers would like as we have the benefit of being a few doors up from the main restaurant, Michael’s, and have a great rapport with our regulars.
I envision it as a place to sit with a bottle, or two, of great wine, some perfectly ripened cheeses and select charcuterie, oysters and seafood straight from the boats – think Crab Claws, Chargrilled Whole Dublin Bay Prawns, Grilled Scallops.
It will be great to give our guests in Michael’s a spot to grab a glass of wine before their meal too or to bring their bottle down with them after their meal. That’s definitely part of the plan too. And being so close, Talha and myself will have a massive presence in both places. It’s literally ten steps away. I genuinely can’t wait for it to open now!”
5. Potager, Skerries
Opening: End of April
Co-owner Sarah Ryan, “The restaurant is where The Red Bank restaurant used to be and was owned by Terry McCoy for roughly 30 years. Cathal [Leonard] and I have been trying to suss it out for the last three years and have finally managed to do the deal and are reopening it as Potager.
Potager has two meanings, it is a kitchen garden and also, more historically, it was a soup or vegetable chef in a kitchen, so it’s kind of tying the two of those meanings together. We thought it was appropriate. It is going to be fine dining but relaxed in its approach. There will be a set menu, but the price will be reflective of where we are located. We want it to be accessible to people.
Cathal’s background is he’s been cooking for around 25-30 years. He was head chef in Chapter One for eight years and then he went to work for John [Wyer] in Forest Avenue. My background is I sold wholesale fish for a number of years for Beshoff’s, and now I am going to sell it to customers! [she laughs] Cathal and I actually met through the industry, I sold him fish when he was in Chapter One. We’ve been together for 10 years nearly and opening this restaurant is something we’ve wanted to do for a really long time.
Because we’re based in North County Dublin and we have a huge amount of fruit and vegetables being grown around us, we obviously want to use as much of it as possible. Plus fish, of course, because we’re on the coast, and the same with meat too, we’ve got Lambay Island meat and there’s a guy who’s started doing Dexter beef in Donabate, there are also a couple of pork producers not too far away in Cavan… that was the draw to opening out here as well. We wanted to move away from the city centre and be out where everything is coming from.
It’s not going to be super seafood heavy, but probably equal amounts of fish and meat. It will have a stronger emphasis on vegetables because that’s kind of what this area is known for. Not exclusively Irish products either, where and when we can we’ll use them, but for things that aren’t available in the country that can’t be grown here, we’ll look abroad. Cathal would die if he couldn’t use peaches again!”
6. Chimac, Aungier Street, D2
Opening: End of May
Co-owner Sofie Rooney, “The whole concept is that Chimac is a Korean dining experience. It’s a compound word that comes from Chi which means chicken and mac which means beer. Back in the 70s when all of the American GIs went over to Korea – there were something like 100,000 GIs stationed in Seoul – and as they wanted to eat American food, the Koreans very smartly came up with a version of fried chicken, but it’s not the same as Southern Fried Chicken. They made a version using local ingredients in Korean style. It’s a bit crisper. The whole thing has grown hugely in Seoul and there are over 30,000 chicken and beer shops around the city; it’s crazy, it's kind of like we have chippers here.
My business partner, Garett Fitzgerald, and I went over to Seoul – who happens to also be my boyfriend… an interesting business decision perhaps? We’ll see how it goes! – about two-and-a-half years ago for a wedding and we fell in love with the fried chicken. We would eat it every day. When we came back to Dublin, we thought about whether we could bring the idea over here. Irish people love chicken, so we figured it would work. That was over two years ago and since then we’ve been working on recipes and getting the premises, which took a very long time. But, here we are. We’re in the building now and work is underway. We’re on Aungier Street, next door to Chewbrew (Asian bubble tea store) and directly opposite Uno Mas.
Garett is a chef. He was the head chef in Bunsen when they opened and before that he worked in Tribeca. We then moved to the US for a while and he got into brewing and worked in a brewery in San Fransico. My background is in marketing and I’ve also worked in the service industry as a waitress over the years. We just thought the idea was the perfect lovechild project for us because of his love of beer and food and my love of food. He has a wonderful understanding of beer so we’ll have a wonderful selection of rotating local beers and maybe a couple of international ones sometimes too.
We will be using all free-range chicken from Manor Farm. We looked into organic, but there is no one able to supply organic for the amount we’ll need. The quality of the chicken we’re getting will be really good. We’re going to have chicken burgers, pieces, and wings on the menu, but we’ll also have vegetarian options as well – cauliflower wings and seitan from Moodley Manor, which is great because they make the vegan proteins in Ireland.”
7. Aimsir, Cliff at Lyons, Kildare
Opening: Early May
Head chef Jordan Bailey, “It’s moving fast now. Every time I walk into the building it has taken shape a bit more. All the wiring is done in the building and the big windows have just gone in, which look out over the orchards. We’re just waiting for the door to arrive and once that’s in then the building will be watertight so they can start finishing the floors and walls.
We’re hoping to get 24 seats, but it depends on the configuration of the tables, etc., but that’s what we’re aiming for. It won’t have a chef’s table, I prefer to give the same experience to everyone in the restaurant. That’s actually the main influence behind how the restaurant was designed. Instead of bringing people into the kitchen, we’re bringing the kitchen out to the guests. All the kitchen lines will be fully visible from the dining room, they’ll just be behind glass, but the actual pass where everything is going to be plated will be pretty much in the middle of the dining room with all of the tables around it. It’s not just to enhance the experience for the customer, it will enhance the flow of the restaurant because there will be less unnecessary communication between the front-of-house and the kitchen because I will be able to see everything. It will make us more efficient.
I think it’s a big shame if chefs don’t get to share in the experience and at least get some sort of emotion back from the guests. It’s a huge part of it. You are in there from early morning to late at night, prepping and cooking and everything, and if you just plate something on the pass and it just gets taken out, you don’t get the satisfaction back from the customer because you don’t see it.
I know what’s going to be on the opening menu at this stage. It has changed a bit because of the opening date moving and we’re now well into spring, so the ingredients are different. Spring can start at very different stages of the year depending on the year, so it’s hard to know from one year to the next what will be grown in a particular month.
I am really excited now. The rest of the team will be with me next week and we’ll be opening reservations very, very soon, but I can’t say when… keep an eye out!”