WAS born in a small(ish) town in the Midlands but I never felt comfortable in my skin there — that happened when I moved to Dublin. Much as I love Dublin, however, I abhor the fact that it is actively killing rural Ireland as its prosperity breeds more jobs and yet more prosperity for itself.
It wasn’t always this way. Dublin used to be rather shabby and bohemian and it was perfectly possible to find a flat for £20 a week in the early ’90s — my large basement flat in Harolds Cross cost less than £50 a week as late as 2002 — now you will pay more than that per day.
Harolds Cross was always the rather poor relation on the south side of Dublin, far overshadowed by Rathgar, Rathmines and Ranelagh. It remains less developed but at least now it has two excellent places to eat — Five Points Café with food overseen by Hilary O’Hagan-Brennan of 3FE and RTÉ’s What Are You Eating? and of course Craft, a Michelin Guide Bib Gourmand Bistro.
Now I’m not a fan of Michelin as they are utterly erratic in their decisions but if anywhere deserves a Bib and the extra business it brings, it is Philip Yeung and his team at Craft.
This was my fourth visit which is disgraceful given how good it is and the fact that it is just four bus-stops from my house. A recent Sunday brunch included classic fare such as ‘ham hock eggs Benedict’ and mixed grill, but also bacon, pumpkin and beetroot warm salad, a very fine meatball sandwich with Coolea cheese on sourdough, and an excellent
Venison Burger which was packed with rich meaty flavours offset by sweet melted onions, slices of ripe pear and served in a good quality brioche bun.
Craft describes itself as a ‘Neighbourhood Bistro’ and in keeping with this, there is an early bird ‘neighbourhood menu’ from 5.30-6.30pm which offers two courses for a paltry €22 and three for €27. The dinner menu is a little more expensive but if you are not greedy you can easily spend less than €100 on dinner for two.
The menu is short and seasonal and always includes a fish and a creative vegetarian option (on the night of the review it was Toonsbridge ricotta dumplings with
Jerusalem artichoke and chanterelles).
The wine list is from Liberty Wines (who appear regularly in this paper’s wine column) and is manageable with 20 well-chosen wines. Prices start at a carafe of Tempranillo or Verdejo for €24 up to Perrin Crozes-Hermitage for €58 or Moret Rully Burgundy for €62. Both the Verdejo and Tempranillo are good for their price (the red in particular) but I was treating my old foodie friend Spike so I opted for dark and rich Pruno Ribera del Duero for €46, a perfect match for the game heavy menu.
Nutty crunchy treacle brownbread started us off followed by ‘game sausage’ and a ‘ham hock and pork cheek terrine with pickled swede plum and celeriac which Spike devoured — the morsel I robbed was excellent, zinging with flavour. My game sausage (€12) was meaty and rich with complex game flavours offset by some stunningly good sweet chestnut gnocchi with some contrast from Swiss chard and slices of fresh quince.
Wicklow mallard (€24) was served pink and its rich flavours were given balance by some bitter chicory/endive, sweet orange, crunchy buckwheat and hazelnuts which added intriguing complexity and rounded out all the other flavours — a beautifully composed plate.
Wicklow deer (€26) was also nicely matched with salsify, crushed swede and the fine crispy duck-fat potatoes and side of charred sweetcorn turned the meal into a bit of an autumn feast.
For dessert, Spike opted for a crumbly chestnut cake with Jameson whiskey and pear (€9), and I took a spiced pumpkin custard with sweet-sour buttermilk ice cream and sticky crunchy honeycomb. Both desserts were delicious and perfectly balanced, with welcome touches of savoury as well as sweet.
Craft is a perfect neighbourhood restaurant but to be honest cooking this good would work anywhere — it is not just worth a trip from the city centre on a 49 or 16 bus, it is worth a drive from Dingle or Derry.