Is it weird of me to hate a whole decade? For me that decade is the 1980s, my teenage years. If I’m honest of course they weren’t all bad but much of the music from that period still makes my skin crawl.
This of course is a terrifically unfair way to introduce you to Spitalfields but on the night we visited the tannoy was playing very dodgy ear-worm ’80s music I’d hoped I’d forgotten (‘Mary’s Prayer’ by Danny Wilson, ‘Together in Electric Dreams’, etc.), they were still in my head days later.
Spitalfields is the new ‘Restaurant in a Pub’ from Stephen McAllister, who you will know from the telly (he’s the chef on Virgin Media One’s The Restaurant).
McAllister’s other restaurants are The Pigs Ear on Nassau Street and Mister Fox on Parnell Square, all successful and busy so his new venture has generated some excitement — even more so when news broke that he snagged Declan Maxwell (Chapter One, Luna, etc) to manage front of house.
It is not just the music that reminded me of the ’80s as Spitalfields allows you to bring in your vinyl to play on the turntable, and the menu includes Devilled Eggs, Cock-a-Leekie Pie, Pork Schnitzel (admittedly an Iberico version) and ‘Old Dublin’ Gravadlax — a reference to a long closed but rather iconic ‘Scandinavian-Russian’ restaurant on Francis Street.
Don’t let those throwback references scare you as the menu also includes Nocellara Olives, Côte de Boeuf (€68 for two), Slip Sole with browned butter and some creative veggie dishes such as Grilled Leeks with Burrata and Dukkah.
I’ve always believed that a good hands-on pastry chef can make a restaurant, especially given that bread is usually the first thing you taste and dessert is the last. In Spitalfields I’m told McAllister also does the pastry and everything from this section was outstanding, especially that morning’s Sourdough which arrived warm and crispy along with some Cuinneog butter dusted with dried leek powder.
Vegetable crisps (€4.50) with powdered vinegar were a very tasty ‘snack’ as were Devilled eggs — €6 for two halves of an egg, however, seemed a little steep. ‘Poulard Clams’ with Nduja & Parsley (€14) were briny-sweet and worked well with spiky Nduja, however I’d have liked a few more clams — these cost €1.50 each.
Although do bear in mind that we visited on only the third night and portion sizes always need tweaking in the early days of a restaurant — pricing for mains is actually very fair.
The Physicist’s starter was probably the dish of the evening — Beef cheek and Bone Marrow in a Parker House Roll (€14) — a puffy light brioche style roll filled with slow cooked beef cheeks and enriched with bone marrow. Most pleasingly of all this came with a little cup of rich gravy for dipping — imagine all the best beefy flavours of a Sunday Roast condensed and put in a fluffy roll and you will get an idea.
Iberico Pork Schnitzel (€24) was topped with diced smoked eel and refreshing gremolata and was textured and satisfying but Cock-a-Leekie Pie (€42 for two) vies with the Parker Roll for best dish on the menu — it was certainly the prettiest thanks to its immaculate latticed puff pastry top.
This could have fed three and we loved the rich meaty chicken flavours enriched with chunks of sweet leek and prunes. Chips are not on the menu and when I asked I was told they can occasionally be obtained by special request — they were chunky but crispy and fluffy so it’s worth asking.
The wine list includes Wine on Tap options starting at €26.95 and has a good mix of the traditional and the fashionable plus a couple of fine wine options including Lynch Bages 2010 (€350). The red wine list could do with a couple more wines priced between €30 and €40 although I was very happy with the silky smooth Est-Ce Domaine Burle ‘Baby Vacqueyras’ from the Southern Rhône (€34.95).
Crème Caramel (€7) was as you would expect, wobbly and creamy-rich with a bitter-orange kick and the Coconut & Lime Sorbet was even better with a perfect balance of flavours and rounded off an almost perfect meal, particularly impressive so early in their run.
Dinner for three including snacks, starters, mains and dessert pluspre-dinner drinks and a bottle of wine cost €196.95
Monday to Saturday: 12pm to 10pm; set lunch/early evening menu:12pm to 2.15pm/5pm to 6.30pm
A ‘pub with a restaurant’ in Dublin’s Liberties serving a mix of traditional and modern classics with flair anda laser focus on flavour:warmly recommended.