Dublin’s attempts to integrate the Liffey into the city have largely failed despite a valiant effort, but there has been a lot more success with the canals which create an informal border between the city and the suburbs.
The canals feel like a vital part of the city.
Patrick Kavanagh found inspiration here (his commemorative bench is at Baggot Street Bridge), and they are used throughout the day by runners, courting couples, fishermen, and lads and ladies sharing cans of lager while they watch the swans.
Locks has been a fixture on the canal between Portobello and Harolds Cross Bridge since at least the 1980s yet a number of chefs and owners have passed through the doors, particularly in the last decade or so.
The latest to take up the challenge are chefs Keelan Higgs and Connor O’Dowd who opened in September 2015. Both have done the rounds of the better Irish restaurants and so far it seems to be working well.
We were obliged to take a 6pm booking but this had the advantage of allowing us to opt for the early-bird Market Menu of two courses for €25 and three for €30 (the à la carte offers just a few extra dishes).
The chefs say on their website that they are striving for a laidback atmosphere and they largely succeed thanks to a welcoming room, warm staff, and some good comfort food elements on the menu.
We hesitated over ordering bread but thankfully our waiter convinced us — creamy textured and springy with a thick crust, it arrived with smoked trout butter.
While this sounds like an odd combination, the salty, pungent fish worked well with the almost fruity butter andproved a focused and enlivening wake-up for our palates.
Smoked haddock fishcakes with oyster mayonnaise were small spheres of lightly textured smoky fish in a light crisp crumb with an extra hit of fish from the mayo.
This was a highlight of the meal, especially combined with a glass of bone dry Antao Vaz from the Alentejo — one of those perfect food wines I wish we saw on more restaurant wine lists.
The wine list is creative and sourced well; our tasty bottle of Sibling Rivalry Pinot Noir from the Yarra Valley was served at a nigh-on perfect 14C.
Nettle soup with smoked eel and caviar was nicely presented, with the fish arranged decorously in the bowl and the brilliant green soup poured on top.
Nettles are distinctly earthy and slightly peppery (and not like spinach, despite what you may have heard), and they need a little help to be made palatable.
The fish elements combined well with the soup at first but once they had been eaten, the earthy flavours came rather strongly to the fore and I lost interest.
For our mains, the cod carrot and fennel with a langoustine bisque sauce was nicely cooked and expertly sauced, and my lamb neck suet pudding was proper old-fashioned and well-executed comfort food.
The moist sweet lamb was offset nicely by the soft-textured suet pastry although I’m afraid I only managed a forkful or two of the rather disappointing peas on the side.
Duck-fat chips were fluffy and flavourful but they rather lacked crunch — I’m guessing this is to do with the smoke-point of duck fat as compared to more refined oils.
It’s a balance — do you value crispness or rich duck fat flavour — the tubular shape also removed an extra edge of crispness. I realise I’m nit-picking, but chips are important.
Cooleeney darm darú and Coolattin Cheese incurred a negligible €2 supplement — fine, creamy, and nutty cheeses respectively, served with homemade crackers and paired beautifully with a glass of Castlenau de Suduiraut Sauternes (second wine of Ch. Suduiraut).
The star of my poached rhubarb dessert was the tangy fresh sheep’s yoghurt sorbet rather than the rhubarb, which I would have preferred a little less sweet and a little more textured.
There is some very good cooking at Locks and I know I have been a little tetchy, but there are refinements that would make this a destination restaurant.
At the moment, this is a laid-back, comfortable spot with good food — I think they should aim higher.
Early bird “Market Menu” dinner for two with three courses, one pre-dinner drink, one bottle of red, two white wines by the glass, and one espresso — €134.50
Tuesday & Wednesday — 5pm to late
Friday & Saturday — 12pm to 3pm, 5.30pm to late
Sunday — 12pm to 4pm
Food – 7/10
Service – 8/10
Value – 8/10 (early bird)
Ambience – 8/10
Modern Irish cooking in a warm and comfortable setting. with attentive staff.
Tel: 01 4163655;