Dee Laffan reflects on the restaurant and foodie highlights from across the year in Dublin. There is no doubt that the restaurant scene in Dublin continued to see a lot of growth in 2017 and there were certainly the tourist numbers to support it during the summer season with Ireland becoming a premier tourist destination. In particular, the number of American tourists increased by 10%.
According to the Restaurant Association of Ireland’s President Report for the end of the year, two significant and positive decisions were made for the industry during the year. Firstly, the retention of the VAT rate at 9% for tourism related services and goods in the 2017 budget means continued support for the industry and is an incentive for job creation. The rate was reduced in 2011 from 13.5% to 9% and since then the total employment in the accommodation and food services sector increased by 33,600 between Q2 2011 and Q4 2016. The second factor is that the decision was made by the government to allow restaurants to open on Good Friday going forward. Sale of alcohol has been forbidden on this day, the Friday before Easter Sunday, in Ireland for decades as part of a religious tradition. Over the years, this meant that most restaurants decided they wouldn’t open on this day. This affected tourists and domestic diners alike, it was an archaic law that had long been sought by industry and the public to be changed.
In the capital city specifically, there were numerous new openings, some very exciting chef moves and a list of accolades awarded throughout the year. Most notably, all four of the single Michelin-starred restaurants – Chapter One, L’Ecrivain, The Greenhouse and Heron & Grey – retained their status, while Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud also retained their two stars. However, four new Bib Gourmands were awarded in Dublin to chef Barry Fitzgerald’s Bastible, Ciaran Sweeney’s Forest and Marcy, Philip Yeung’s Craft and Richmond run by Russell Wilde with chef David O’Byrne. The Bib is awarded for ‘good quality at good value’ by Michelin.
In new developments, the PressUp Group has had a particularly busy year, transforming an old former printworks building, overlooking the River Liffey in the city centre, into a multi-storied food collective with Dollard & Co food hall and grill on the ground floor, the beautifully designed Roberta’s restaurant on the first floor and Tomahawk steakhouse in the lower ground floor of the building. Not stopping there, they also extended their chain of Wowburger eateries to seven this year with the opening of two new locations in Dublin and one in Cork and possibly their most exciting opening of the year was the Stella Theatre in Rathmines. The Stella had been closed for a number of years in this buzzing local neighbourhood and has now been transformed to a true landmark for the area, with 1920s style glamour and architectural features restored. The cinema includes a table service menu and a vintage cocktail club upstairs, with a separate menu to boot. While not open yet, PressUp’s latest hotel The Devlin in Ranelagh has been under construction throughout the year and opens in summer 2018.
Chef and restaurateur Dylan McGrath opened Bonsai Bar, introducing luxury Japanese whiskeys, beers and world-renowned saké, plus Japanese-inspired bespoke cocktails and gourmet bar bites; while landmark food destination Fallon & Byrne opened a new food hall and casual self-service eatery in the Swan Centre, Rathmines. The 10,000 sq. ft. space boasts a south-facing extension featuring an outdoor terrace and the food hall will carry the best of artisan foods from Ireland and abroad. While Rathmines saw a few openings this year, Hey Donna! was the one that has had tongues wagging the most. Restaurateur Joe Macken did some chopping and changing of his portfolio transforming Jo’Burger, Rathmines – he still retains two others in Dublin in Smithfield and Castle Market Street – into this new “neighbourhood canteen.” He closed Bear to move around Crackbird and Skinflint locations and has still something up his sleeve for his last city centre location… No doubt a surprise for later in 2018!
Sticking in Dublin 6, in Ranelagh, this year saw two great additions to the village, Jutarat Suwankeeree and Conor Sexton opened Nightmarket, a truly authentic Thai restaurant, with regional, rustic food, the likes of we haven’t had in Dublin before, and the intimate and casual Host restaurant has been serving up small plates of delicious Mediterranean food to crowds of eager diners since opening.
The Legal Eagle is another infamous landmark in Dublin’s city centre, beside The Four Courts, that seen great life return to it this year as it was reopened by restaurateur Elaine Murphy, who also has The Winding Stair, Dublin Woolen Mills, The Yarn pizza and cocktails, The Grand Social, and The Washerwoman. Elaine has a way of really unveiling the historical character and story of buildings, while creating a more modern style to complement them in the restoration, but also through the menus championing Irish ingredients and producers while shining light on various culinary influences.
Lastly, from two opposites of the spectrum, another fantastic independent café called Storyboard in Dublin 8, which is already a favourite for brunch, while Dublin’s five-star hotel The Merrion opened the doors of The Garden Room. A less formal affair for the hotel than the previous Cellar Restaurant, but still the classic style of Executive Chef, Ed Cooney’s food, albeit with way more casual options available.
Rumours for 2018 are that the PressUp Group have taken over the Royal Hibernian Way, a small shopping mall off Grafton Street, with multiple outlets being renovated, while work continues on an old Victorian pub they acquired, formerly Aungier House, as part of a €1 redevelopment of the site. The highly anticipated €75 million redevelopment of the old Central Bank Building on Dame Street is still ongoing and due to be called the Central Plaza when completed, with shops, restaurants and cafés at street and basement level, as well as the creation of a “two-storey rooftop hospitality destination and viewing area.” Finally, London’s infamous restaurant and celebrity favourite, The Ivy, is due to open in a newly constructed block on Dawson Street. Dublin will be the first international location for the iconic restaurant brand.