Why you should care
Because when it comes to fine cuisine, nobody’s first thought is Ireland.
If you thought Dublin was the capital of Guinness and boring potato-based cuisine, you’d be right. Yes, the traditional, diabetes-inducing pub meals — the pies, the chips, the ham-and-cheese toasties — still exist. Also, the inescapable franchised tourist traps. But hidden among the McDonald’s, Starbucks and KFCs of Dublin, Ireland’s capital is developing its own gastronomic oasis: the foodie triangle.
In a handful of streets just south of the legendary Temple Bar neighborhood are a number of establishments vying for foodie attention. You can’t go more than 100 meters without a restaurant trying to lure you in with artisanal craft Irish brews, and everything from East-meets-West fusion to Thai, Vietnamese, Moroccan and Mexican. Pablo Picante is an obvious favorite. And even if it doesn’t ace the fusion, Ireland is also rediscovering its own gastronomic tradition with fish, pork and potato-based dishes like coddle, Irish stew or potato bread. In the daytime, rain or shine, the takeout queue — a mix of businesspeople, students from the nearby university and some tourists — stretches down the alley.
You get all sorts of backhanded compliments, like, ‘This is the best food I’ve had in Ireland!’
The question is, can Dublin — not exactly known as a culinary mecca — produce the kind of food to make serious foodies swoon? Maybe not, but its chefs sure are trying. Séan Connaughton, manager of Saint and purveyor of hangover-curing brunches of patatas bravas and signature manzanilla cocktails, is accustomed to customers being surprised by the quality of the food. “You get all sorts of backhanded compliments, like, ‘This is the best food I’ve had in Ireland!’” he says.
Of course, not everyone is sold on Dublin’s foodie renaissance. “Some restaurants are really good [by] Irish standards, but Dublin still has nothing on cities like London,” says Howard McDonald, a 24-year-old British tourist who was underwhelmed by his tapas-style lunch. Also, fine dining is a luxury, and the country’s economy is still in recovery after a major post-euro crisis downturn. New chefs are starting to get the capital they need in order to take risks, but it’s a slow process, and there’s ample room for improvement. “There’s a general lack of interest in the drinks side of the menu,” says Irish food blogger and author Caroline Hennessy. She’d like to see more Irish craft beers and ciders — and more of the area’s good coffee. “I can’t understand why so many restaurants get it so wrong.”
Being an island nation that gets lots of rain has its perks — namely a range of fresh, inexpensive produce. Many restaurants serve local organic vegetables and locally sourced meats; one place even calls to mind a New York deli. Some are venturing into uncharted waters: ice cream. Murphy’s concoctions use local products for their ice cream flavors like Irish coffee (made with Jameson Irish Whiskey), sea salt (from the Atlantic) and even gin, produced in partnership with a local distillery. And their customers are fiercely loyal. “Irish dairy products and ice cream have nothing to envy the Italians for,” says Pat Swann, a 76-year-old regular customer. “We come and get ice cream in the snow in December!”
There are also old pubs renewing themselves into hybrid locals, including a bar/hardware store where you can, you know, buy a hammer while sipping a craft beer. It’s no wonder some of the locals refer to the area as “the hipster triangle.” But the ultimate staple of this foodie gentrification is, of course, coffee. With cool. Berlin D2 offers up its java with makeshift furniture, DJ sets, a Ping-Pong table, free yoga classes and something called “paleo coconut brownies.” Hipster indeed. “It’s my second time here, but I’ll keep coming,” says Claire Smith, a 27-year-old nursing student who’s nursing an Americano. “I worked as a barista in New Zealand, so I’m always looking for good coffee, and this is the best in town.”
But the Dublin Triangle isn’t just about restaurants. Corner shops and supermarkets have jumped on the bandwagon, too. On offer: fresh local fruits and vegetables, an array of fine foods from around the globe, talkative butchers, and overpriced homemade apple chutney.
So, if somebody thinks you’re crazy for visiting Dublin “for the food,” well, maybe they just haven’t eaten there in a while.