Words: Shamim de Brún
Fine Dining is no longer for the one per cent of white glove lovers. Over the past few years, social media has brought haute cuisine to the masses, as have shows like Master Chef. Nowadays, people of all social strata roll up their sleeves for some tweezered to fuge food. We, for one publication, couldn’t be happier about it.
What fine dining is really about is the food. It has to be next level to be fine. The service is vital to a fine dining experience. Unlike the stereotype, it doesn’t need to be white aprons-nose-in-the-air-vintage-wine-only level to qualify. It just has to be authentic, communicative, and fun.
What the Gastro Gays love about fine dining is “that it just feels like such an occasion. It’s going on a plane to go on your holidays or getting to go to the theatre for us. For avid eaters, going to a nice, good restaurant that’s one of the things we live for.” Preach it, lads.
Holly Dalton acknowledges that it can’t really be every day, saying, “If I were rich, I would go to fine dining restaurants all the time. Sorry. I love the service. You know, I love the white tablecloth. I love when they come along with the little scraper and they scrape the crumbs off the table. I love all the little spoons”. Don’t we all when we’re not doing the dishes?
Far from ruining the fine dining experience, the democratisation of it has led to a real revolution in the Irish scene. Where once there were only two or three places fighting tooth and nail to land in Michelin’s coveted books, Dublin has become a mecca for the gastronomic tourist. So much so that this list could have even been more than fifteen restaurants long.
While not without their controversy, Andy’s McFarland’s Glovers Alley has been synonymous with great food since it opened. This year that was validated by the highest validator in the land when they got a Michelin Star. This year they were Nomo’s Kevin Hughes’ favourite.
“And my wife brought me there four years ago. I think when they just opened, it was actually for my birthday and I got a phone. In fact, I got a bit tipsy during the dinner, and then at the end, Andy McFarland, the owner, came out and said hello to everyone and me, a bit oblivious and a bit tipsy. He came over to our table, introduced himself… And then, after about five minutes of talking, I turned around to him. I was like, ‘So what do you what do you do here’? He was so nice about it. He was like, ‘Well, my name is Andy. I run the restaurant’. Ever since then, we’ve been going back. That was always a fun, fun moment.”
Renowned in the industry for being open on what’s called the industry weekend. If you pop in here on a Sunday or Monday, it is a veritable wheres wally of the hospitality industry. It was high on Sommelier Tara Deery’s list and Kevin’s and Alex’s.
Alex notes them for their hearty portion size, which for fine dining is a big todo. Alex noted that they have levelled up recently, saying, Locks had “taken a step out of the stratosphere lately. It’s just amazing”. Tara said they strike a great balance between excellent food and excellent wine. A wine list that is coveted by a sommelier? That is something you can bet your hat on.
Kevin said, ” they’re a great place for me. Personally, a chef’s go-to! It’s just like great food, great atmosphere, great team”.
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The artistry behind Allta can’t be faulted. They went from the traditional location to Slane castle to Trinity car park. Everyone is at nail-biting levels of anticipation, waiting for them to announce what they’ll be doing next year. Richie from Bahay was all about it. He talked about its innovation of space and food. But mostly, he complimented its atmosphere; ” the food’s kinda casual, the environment’s casual, but you have all the fine dining elements like the service, the food, the wine, the atmosphere, haute cuisine”.
Holly said, “it was like the best wine plus food experience I probably had in Dublin.” ‘Nuff said.
Grainne O’Keefe has always been one to watch, but this year Mae became one of the hottest tickets in town. The small but perfectly formed restaurant is top of our creative directors must hit list and was firmly on our experts’ lists.
Alex said that there are some amazing fine dining spots in Dublin but was emphatic about Mae, which she called “Such an experience. She noted that “you can go down to the French paradox first, do a Champagne or wine tasting, then you go upstairs. They just take such good care of you. And it’s just a gorgeous atmosphere great location. I just love Gráinne’s cooking so much. We went to Mae recently enough, and it was just outrageous”.
The Gastro Gays recalled the fine details that only Mae has, calling it “a really, really great experience at the higher-end of dining”. They recalled choosing their steak knife was an experience that tickled their fancy. As well as the “great snacks” and the “intimate experience” to “great quality cooking that has Irish products at its heart, but is a real classic European style”.
Every word out of everyone’s mouth about Mae was full of awe and joy. We will be among the masses allowing people out of online queues to try this as soon as possible.
The best mean I had in Dublin this year was actually in Bastible. I had a reservation before they got their star and never felt more like I’d won the lottery. Every bite was literal bliss. But we are not here to talk about my favourites. We are here to consult the experts; Kevin agreed, as did Mick O’Connell, the Master behind Neighbourhood Wine.
Kevin fell in “love with that restaurant” because “they’re always doing something different. They’re always doing something new. And like one of their things is they, they often pickle a lot of their dishes, which I think is risky in the sense of cooking, but also really rewarding. And I think they do it super well”.
While Mick said, “we could sit here all day talking about how good they are at that level of fine dining.” Of course, he’s right, but we haven’t got all day.
Dublin’s original Michelin Star was top of the Gastro Gays list and up there with Mick and Rob. They have certainly been on an upswing since Mickael Viljanen took over in what the Michelin men called the most exciting thing to happen to fine dining in Ireland in years.
The Gastro Gays said, “It’s a combination of the food in the place, the setting, the service, the drinks. It’s a complex combination that really, really stands apart … The food, the snacks, everything just wows you from start to finish. And you have to have an Irish coffee. If you don’t, you’re doing it wrong.” While I haven’t had the pleasure myself, I will agree wholeheartedly because their Instagram makes me covet the fuge outta that Irish coffee.
Variety Jones is a gutsy, charismatic spot where the wines are natural and the food is awe-inspiring. It’s a fine diner with perfectly pitched portions that will delight and fill you in equal measure. It was opened by Keelan Higgs and his brother Aaron just before Christmas in 2019.
Last year they ranked among the honourable mentions, but this year, that has shot up to sit comfortably in the top five. Keelan earned his stripes and weathered storms in some of the top kitchens in Ireland over the past decade, and his hard work shines through in the food. Gastro Gays, Gillian, and Rob all ranked this Dublin 8 micro restaurant in their top three.
In fact, the Gastro Gays seem to end up in Variety Jones for “almost all of our special occasions “because star or not, it’s high-end, but the vibe and the atmosphere is so casual, so accessible, really, really understated, and just effortlessly cool”.
Gillian thinks fine dining can “be quite an intimate experience”, which is why Variety Jones is one of the first places that spring to mind for her. Because Variety Jones encapsulates “this new era of more casual fine dining incredibly well.”
What a place, what a wine list, what an atmosphere, what value! What can’t you say about Ettos little sister? Top of sommelier Tara Deery‘s list. As well as Gastro Gays, Rob and Holly. It’s no wonder it came out up top. The more relaxed style of service while still firing out high-quality locally sourced food with the kind of killer wine list that would make Jancis Robinson weak at the knees. It is a home run of a spot that you should hit up as soon as you can.
Holly Dalton, however, who “worked in fine dining for a very long time,” named Uno Mas as her top spot because of their food. She said, “Uno Mas is amazing. They’re Spanish omelettes. Oh, my gosh. They’re flan, too. So incredible.” So if you’ve got a reservation, be sure to order one of these.
Rob was just as into Uno Mas, saying, “I put them there because I just like how they operate the food and the attention to detail.” Which, to him, is the most important hallmark of Fine Dining.
Etto translates as small, but this little fella packs the kind of punch that landed him the second-place spot with our experts. Gastro Gays, Mick, Rob, Tara Deery, and Holly Dalton all ranked and rated this as one of their go-to spots. In fact, we have it on good authority that even Nigella covets the prunes on this menu. There would likely be riots among Dublin food enthusiasts if the famed prunes ever evaporate from the menu.
If you’ve never been, Etto opened in Dublin in 2013 to rave reviews from all relevant national publications. This list is a testament to the fact that there are a wealth of places to go in Dublin, but this is the one that people keep coming back to. In fact, in 2016, famed reviewer Katy McGuinness wrote a love letter of a review to this spot, calling it her “favourite restaurant.”
And our experts are inclined to agree with her. Rob praised them for their consistent attention to detail and Irish ingredients, while Mick talked about their “Irish kind of charm as well, which is brilliant”. The Gastro Gays summed it up best when they said, “Etto a hundred times, and that’s just enough because it’s just perfection. Every time we’ve ever been, it has just made our hearts sing. And it’s such a great place for a special occasion, a great place to show off. And those prunes, iconic! So iconic. And I hate using the word iconic, but they are ICONIC”.
Liath was the only place mentioned by pretty much everyone on the list. The Blackrock spot came, saw and conquered, garnering not one but two Michelin Stars in record time for an Irish restaurant. It is a beautiful, joyful chef and his stellar team show without snooty service or unnecessary reverential whispering. The wine list is an A1 among sommelier Tara Deery and MW Mick. While the food is respected and coveted in equal measure by peers such as Tara Gartlan.
Irish for Grey, Liath is named after the owner and head chef Damien Grey who is almost universally liked in the industry. A rare feat, if ever there was one. The place he has built is an experience worth saving up for. Alex said it best when she said people must think “we’re all lunatics” for paying this much, but “it really is an experience. You need to look at it like it’s an experience. You’re going there to be brought on a journey. You’ll be wowed and introduced to flavours that you may not have recognized”.
If you had to choose only one place to eat in Dublin before you kick the proverbial, then in 2023, this should be the place. It is everything.
Elsewhere on CHAR: Dublin’s Ultimate Burger