Leslie Williams heads to Loretta’s Restaurant in Dublin - a self-described ‘neighbourhood restaurant’.
IF you ask a Dubliner to name the nicest parts of their city, for some reason Phibsborough rarely gets mentioned despite the rows of picture perfect redbrick houses and leafy side streets. The problem is the village crossroads which is home to one of the ugliest buildings in the country — Phibsoborough Shopping Centre, a mess of concrete brutalism mixed with day-glow plastic signage.
Thankfully the shopping centre is due a major revamp although I secretly hope that the Kung Fu Buffet survives in all its kitsch glory — all-day breakfast is €2.99 and if you don’t want a fry there are mounds of tempting crispy chicken balls and spring rolls in the window. Who wouldn’t be tempted by sweet and sour chicken balls for a hungover Sunday brunch?
Elsewhere the Woodside Café is perfectly decent and there are a smattering of casual diners and chain restaurants but nowhere to go on a date or to treat yourself on a wet Wednesday when you can’t be bothered to cook.
Enter Loretta’s, a self-described ‘neighbourhood restaurant’ owned by chef Jimmy Wiley ‘and family’. Loretta’s has some diner touches but is really more of a brasserie serving a mix of Americana and what is best described as modern Irish food.
Located in a former bank building on Doyle’s Corner opposite Doyle’s Pub, a lovely job has been done on the re-fit with the grandeur of the space kept fully intact — a fine parquet floor, comfortable bench seating and good lighting with an open kitchen just off the main dining area.
There is a full bar licence and some thought has gone into the bar menu with a selection of tequilas, whiskies and gins although I’d like to have seen more craft beers on the menu. The wine list is one page but solid with a clutch from the ever-reliable Liberty Wines and some wines that were new to me — our bottle of Meia Lua red from the Douro was solidly fruity and at a good price (€33).
The menu is manageable with four starters, six mains and three desserts and I suspect some specials will be added once they settle in. ‘Nashville Hot Oysters’ (€11.50 for three) were encased in a golden crispy coat and served in the shell with a pungent bone marrow tartare sauce nestled underneath. I’d perhaps have preferred the oysters fried with a lighter touch so they retained more moisture but this is still an excellent dish — I even saved the bone-marrow tartare for dipping chips in later in the meal.
A novel take on Mushrooms on Toast involved a thick slice of good sourdough topped with an aubergine relish and then piled high with oyster mushrooms and a creamy ‘Parmesan fondue’ sauce — packed with creamy rich umami mushroom flavours and a steal at just €8.
Thin slices of Skeganore Duck breast (€8) sat atop ember-roasted beetroots with dots of lemon cream and a streak of violette mustard on the plate to add a touch of spice. The smoke-tinged sweetness of the beets worked nicely with the rare duck breast and the lemon and mustard touches worked well.
Loretta’s Fried Chicken was done in the classic Southern style (the chef’s auntie’s recipe) with a light crumb encasing, tender and flavourful chicken and served with a grilled corn salad (I’d have called it a slaw). Best of all was the excellent buttermilk ‘biscuit’, an essential accompaniment to proper fried chicken but rarely seen in Ireland.
‘Beef and Pork Ragu with Pappardelle’ (€18) was a properly rich Bolognese style sauce (as you would find in Bologna) and while the Engineer adored it and called it perfect, the pasta was a little over-cooked to my taste. Dry-Aged Angus Striploin was tender, good quality meat and served rare as requested and came with sweetly charred ‘burnt’ red onion and proper home-made crispy chips.
We were offered three dessert choices so we took them all — an excellent darkly rich chocolate tart, a trio of creamy sorbets and a fine apple strudel — hot sweet apple chunks encased in crisp filo pastry.
The good citizens of Phibsborough must be delighted at their new addition — would that every neighbourhood had a spot like Loretta’s, long may they thrive.
Dinner for three including starters, mains and desserts plus a Margarita, a beer and a bottle of wine cost €170.50
Wednesday to Thursday: 5.30pm to 10pm; Friday: 12pm to 3pm and 5.30pm to 10pm; Saturday: 11am to 3pm and 5.30pm to 10pm; Sunday: 11am to 4pm
In a sentence: A solid neighbourhood restaurant with a mix of diner and bistro dishes in a part of Dublin rather starved of good places to eat.