April 9, 2007

(March 27-April 1, 2008) Cities that have a direct flight from Nice pop up to the top of our list for short visits, and thus we found ourselves in Dublin. The star here is the layout and the architecture, and also the decided advantage over other European cities of never having been bombed (the Republic of Ireland was officially neutral during WW II).

There are more pedestrian streets than in any other city we have seen, and block after block and square after square of refurbished Georgian buildings. Young people abound, day and well into the night. We saw a queue of fifty or so waiting for a taxi at 4:00 a.m. on Sunday as we were en route to the airport for our too early flight home.

Drink is important as one would expect. Pubs were overflowing into the streets as we walked back from the theater. The theater itself, however, is not what we expected. There was one show we were dying to see but it was sold out for its entire run, Sam Shepherd and Stephen Rea make a box office bonanza. There were few other shows playing and many dark theaters.

We finally picked two Sean O Casey plays—“Juno and the Paycock” and “Shadow of a Gunman.” The first unfortunately was an amateur group performing in a church hall, with two of the cast barely acceptable and the rest terrible. We left at the interval. “Shadow of a Gunman” was presented in the back room of a communist bookstore. The cast was magnificent.

Food is an interesting story, not all meat and potatoes but potatoes seem to be still an Irish mainstay no matter what the advertised cuisine. We ate at several recommended restaurants, including an acclaimed one in our hotel, Brownes, that was always full, but only two of them are memorable.Every resaurant we dined at — lunch or dinner — brought one or two bowls of potatoes and vegetables along with your main course which is already garnished with vegetables and thus totally unnecessary.

In fact, the only memory we brought home from the rest of the restaurants was that the staff, with few exceptions, was all non-Irish, mainly French. It seems the Irish are so well educated and can get such good jobs that it is impossible to hire them for service jobs.

The two that were memorable, however, were world class. Derry Clarke serves up French-inspired Irish food at L’Ecrivain in a three-story building with soaring, peaked ceilings, rich wood paneling and Wright-like stained glass windows. The kitchen is open but not central, and the staff are friendly, French of course, and knowledgeable. The diners were mostly business lunch types who were enjoying their version of the three martini lunch. The amuse gueule, a velouté of celeriac with truffle foam, bowled us over. Gary’s gnocchi, stuffed with basil and Parmesan and garnished with butternut gremolata, spinach and blue cheese froth, were larger than most and sautéed. He enjoyed them so much he wants to try to replicate them at home, or at least the cooking technique. Varian’s roast quail, totally boned, was accompanied by a beet remoulade, goat cheese croquette and dressed with bacon and beet vinaigrette.

The feast continued with a dish of duck breast, foie gras boudin and a shallot tart tatin that were just right and a roast chump of lamb with small cubed ratatouille and garlic cream. Both tasted as good as they sound. Even here, though, there were two side dishes served—one of parslied mashed potatoes and one of mixed green vegetables.

We continued drinking our 2002 Penfold Shiraz (45€) with our final course—cheese. The trolley displayed several intriguing looking cheese but we asked to try only the Irish ones. Thus we had Millens, Coolea, Cooleney (sort of like Camembert) and Gubbeen. Gary also had an English Montgomery cheddar. The food price of 45€ for three such delightful courses seemed quite reasonable for a city restaurant.

Another day, another lunch—this one at One Pico, where Eamonn O’Reilly offers modern Irish and new world cuisine. The space, while plain is quite pleasant. Windows on two sides of a fairly small room give out to an alley. The wood floors and upholstered chairs melt into the beige and cream color scheme. Three courses here at 29.95€ was a real bargain. Varian’s watercress, dark green risotto garnished with a few parsley-coated escargots and tiny garlic beignets was a winner as was Gary’s terrine of smoked salmon with a gribiche mayonnaise.

For our main course, we enjoyed a braised Hereford beef with cauliflower and truffle and a roast chicken breast with baby leeks, and a parsnip and vanilla pureé. Of course there were two pans of side dishes; one roasted carrots and the other creamed potatoes. Interestingly enough the staff here were mainly Irish—a first in our limited experience.  Alas, there were only two Irish cheeses and one was the Gobbeen that we had already tried. The other was a smoked one called Dures that was very nice.

Now for the hotel we stayed in, Brownes. The staff was all foreign, French in the restaurant and at the desk Spanish, Eastern Europe, etc. Charming and helpful but staff can only do so much.

 Brownes is a small hotel, a member of the Stein Group, a group we have heretofore enjoyed, but we just cannot recommend this one. The desk had no knowledge of the city and how to get around. The room itself was their best but it wasn’t really ready for occupancy.  The bathroom had obviously been repaired but not repainted, a tile broken and gaping, and a shower curtain that fell down with each shower to say nothing of its ineffectuality at keeping the water in the tub.

We could go on and on, and did with the friendly general manager, but it is a matter of both capital and management.  The location is great but next time we would stay a few doors down St Stephen’s Green at the refurbished Shelbourne.


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