Words: Shamim de Brún
Images: George Voronov and Instagram
What makes a newcomer sounds straightforward; someone new to this business we call hospitality. But when you think on it more, is a newcomer a person or a place? Is it from a team that has more than one iron in the proverbial fire? Or is it the little guy breaking away from finance to follow his passion?
Realistically a newcomer is actually all of these people. Each presents their own challenges but all a vital part of the bubbling food culture of Dublin.
Brave is the individual to start a new business. Particularly a food business in this year of crazy electricity bills, the staffing crisis, and all the other hoopla. This year the newcomer section is tinged with a hint of cost-of-living crisis. Some places that would have swept up at awards season were forced to close after less than a year of trading. Others, who had new venues lined up, couldn’t feasibly take them on with the threat of a fifty-grand electricity bill looming over them. Since the recession, this has been the most challenging year for new entrants into the food sector.
But it isn’t all doom and gloom. Some looked austerity right in the eye and took up the mantle. Others made formidable returns during the industry’s thripple threat of crises unfazed.
Thankfully these brave individuals see a future and a vision for this city. They are happy to put their time, money and resources into building their tasty dream. Our contributing experts voted with their hearts on their sleeves for this round.
We have taken the answers fresh out of the box. Removed the sticker and recycled the packaging. All for your convenience.
Without further ado, here are CHAR’s Ultimate Newcomers:
Bovinity delivers a small classic Irish beef forward menu with a little flare. The bone marrow gravy is not to be missed, and the steak is quality. It feels more expensive than it is. The wine list is classic but well-curated. Cocktails are competitively priced and more well-made than many high-priced hotels. Overall it’s a solid addition to the capel street food mecca.
Richie from Bahay said it most succinctly, ‘cheap cuts of steak, good quality beef, a couple of sides done really well, reasonably priced. And I was happy.”
Order: Bone Gravy and a sharing steak
Location: Capel Street
Opening Hours: Tuesday to Friday, 17:00-22:00, and Saturday to Sunday, 15:00-22:00
So technically, this is in Kildare, but it’s run by two true blue Northsiders, and it got the legit votes, so we’ve included it here. Alumni opened early this year, spearheaded by Phillip Mahon, a sous chef in Mint, when it got its star. In an interview with the Irish times, he said he had “unfinished business” with the Michelin man, so Alumni Kitchen Table was born. You can see from their menu that they have been shooting for the stars.
Mick said Alumni Kitchen Table is “very much at the tip, tip-top, fine dining… it’s amazing”. As newcomers go, that’s some quality endorsement.
Order: The Tasting Menu
Opening Hours: By Appointment
This bear came out of seemingly nowhere, though the team had been working on the space for over two years. Anyone who has crusaded to the Dublin 6 spot has been bowled over by the curated interiors and wowed by the drinks and pizza combos. Sommelier Tara Deery was all kinds of excited about it picking Kodiak as her tip-top new kid on the block without hesitation.
Rob said, “the pizza in Kodiak is *chef’s kiss”, and that is all you need to know.
Order: The Mortadell Pizza
Opening Hours: Every day from 17:00
How long can you be called a newcomer? Bahay has been trucking for a few years, but they’re in the next stage of evolution at the moment. Lying in wait for the perfect space to open their full-on permanent venue.
I have written about Bahay countless times, so it’s no shock I am a fan. Gillian is just as giddy about them as I am, emphatically telling me how mushroom bánh mì kept her alive all through beyond the pale. Holly said Bahay was all she ate at the same festival, saying, “it’s like you don’t need to look any further.”
Richie Castillo, who had worked with Grainne O’Keeffe, head chef of Mae, created Bahay with partner in crime, life and romance, Alex O’Neill and have garnered a name for themselves, fusing a cusine rife with local and global influences with Irish ingredients for some of the most exciting dishes I’ve tasted this year. Both are on our expert panel because they are top of their respective games. Alex is in FOH, and Richie is in the kitchen. Don’t worry. They didn’t get to vote for themselves, so there is some semblance of objectivity.
Holly Was all about Bahay. We chatted with her, saying, “Bahay is an amazing newcomer, and we’re all very excited about them. Anything they do, we all want to take part. We all want to get involved”.
Order: Whatever’s on special
Location: Varies – Check their Instagram
Opening Hours: Varies – Check their Instagram
This one is a re-entry rather than a virginal newcoming. By nature, Dillinger’s is a one-of-a-kind, full of personality, making it incredibly difficult to categorise. We all love putting things in boxes to file away neatly, but Dillinger’s flies in the face of that. Before its closure, you’d have called it a Ranelagh institution. Now it’s got a whole new generation to captivate and lure in. Straddling the Italian American Classic Italian line with an Irish flourish, their new dishes are hitting the streets of metaphysical socials with force.
This was Rob from Big Fan’s top spot. As an OG stan, it didn’t surprise me. But he put it best when he said, “Dillingers is the new place I want to go most right now”. So if you haven’t checked out their new improvements, it’s time to hightail it to Dublin 6 and check it out.
Order: Seared Scallops in Rice Noodles
Opening Hours: Tuesday to Friday from 17:00 and Saturday to Sunday from 12:00
This is the place no one saw coming. Set up by idealists and friends Karl Wheelan and Niall Sabongi, it would be my personal top pick for this category. What they have done at Saltwater is bring the authentic and traditional craft of cooking fish to the people. From their cooking classes to their tasting menus and their house dry aged fish, this pair have not put a foot wrong in Saltwater Grocery. Anyone who has been knows it’s another micro restaurant, with only twelve seats at a push. Trying to get a reservation can seem pointless, but you should. I took a boyfriend who didn’t eat fish; now, he actively seeks out dry-aged fish when we go out.
Rob from Big Fan was a genuine fan of this spot, saying he was so impressed by what they were doing, and we couldn’t agree more.
Order: The Tasting Menu
Location: That weird intersection that’s Terenure and Rathgar at the same time
Opening Hours: From Thursday to Sunday from 17:00
This is a wine drinkers paradise. Like the ultimate natty wine and small plates placed in the city. The clever use of space to create and deliver a wine bar and brasserie worth going out of your way for. The wine list is spectacular, with Mick O’Connell of Neighbourhood Wine actually coveting it when we talked last month. It is one of Note’s biggest draws, curated by Katie Seward, who has worked in various places, including Brawn in London. The cooking is small plates focused bold and yet is actually quite satisfying. Early on, they got a reputation for being expensive, but they have attuned to the will of the people by having a lunch menu that comes in at twenty-eight euros for two courses, which these days is a steal for Irish ingredient-focused food.
An innovator himself, Rob was very impressed with the way Note uses their space and collab with other chefs. This year they hosted a pop-up with Cuan Green and international sensations – Contra and Wildair. Anyone lucky enough to get a ticket for those events is likely still talking about them. That’s how much hype there was around them. And to do that in such a short time shows Note to be a newcomer of Note. Forgive the pun; I have a problem.
Order: Growers Champagne
Location: Fenian Street
Opening Hours: Wednesday to Sunday but time varies so keep an eye on their website
Terenure little darling of a spot was hot-tipped from the get-go because head chef Dan Hanigan has been a Dublin one to watch for a few years thanks to his work with Coppinger Row and Charlotte Quay.
This neighbourhood restaurant was five-star reviewed by all national publications from the get-go, including a glowing review from Corina Hargrave in the Irish Times. But it was his seemingly overnight inclusion in the Michelin Guide that had everyone gushing about the Terenure/Rathgar spot. While the inclusion was sudden, it wasn’t at all surprising. Michelin recommendations have punctuated Chef Dan Hannigan’s career for many years. His passion for provenance is evident in his menu, which features suppliers including Sustainable Seafood Ireland, Glenmar seafood, JJ Young, McLoughlin’s and Andarl meat.
Orwell Road was right up there on Richie’s list, with him name-checking their lamb as a dish of the year in his eyes. They also cater really well to veggies and, as a result, end up high on Alex’s and Tara Deery’s lists. Tara called Orwell Road “obviously one of the best restaurant openings in the last few years.”
Order: The Turbot
Opening Hours: Dinner 17:00 to 22:00 Tuesday to Sunday and Lunch 12:00 to 15:00 Thursday to Sunday
These lads opened precisely this time last year and hit the ground running like Husane Bolt. They topped everyone’s must-try list seemingly instantaneously. Alex, Gillian, Richie, and Rob were all on Library Street. In fact, Gillian said, “ Library Street! It’s like heaven in there,” which is high praise from anyone but from Gillian because she has some specific dietary requirements. An emphatic gushing recommendation from her means that this place is just as about the customer as it is about the food.
Food-wise, Library street is top-notch. I had a half head of cabbage there one day, and I am still talking about it. Library Street is a slow-burn industry favourite. The chef, Kevin, is a quiet overachiever who knocks out dish after dish, season after season, that people remember. Refreshingly, it’s one of the few high-end spots that doesn’t require a full-tasting menu. The actual dream.
Order: The Kimchi Cabbage
Location: Library Street Dublin 2
Opening Hours: Tuesday to Thursday from 17:00 and from 15:00 Friday and Saturday
Proprieter of Nomo Kevin Hughes grew up in Ireland, where his family had Chinese restaurants and takeaways but spent his childhood summers in Tsingtao. Painstakingly planning for years, the team had the whole internet whispering about their twenty-four-hour marinated eggs and noodles imported from David Chang‘s favourite supplier in the US – Sun Noodles as soon as they opened.
Nomo was my “have you tried it yet” spot since it opened. We got in early as a team and experienced the majesty of the seven-hour chicken broth. As did Holly Dalton. If you have been on her Instagram this year, you know this is the one spot that changed her life. She is prone to hyperbole, but here we don’t doubt it. As mentioned by Alex, Tara Deery, Rob, and the Gastro Gays, as well as Holly, they came out as the clear winner.
Tara Deery, who self-identifies as a “big ramen girl”, said Nomo was “a big one for sure” this year. It’s easy to see why. The food. Simply the best ramen place in Dublin. It doesn’t rely on spice or tricks to sell its wares. After publicly decrying Ramen on Twitter for years, even Gaz from Michaels was converted and singing in the choir by the time he finished slurping. The team are just that good.
They also seem to work well together. While Kevin abstained from this category for ethically obvious reasons, when he was in chatting with us, he mentioned ordering pizza from Vice for the team at lunch. Heartwarming and wholesome pizza party. The Joy.
Order: The OG Ramen
Location: Charlotte Way, off Camden Street
Opening Hours: Tuesday to Sunday from 12:00
Elsewhere on CHAR: Dublin’s Ultimate Burger