I’M OLD enough to remember when wine was only for Christmas day or perhaps when the posh relatives from England came for lunch during the summer holidays. The idea of a wine bar sounded impossibly fancy and the spiritual and cultural opposite of the Irish pub — they were for posing not pleasure.
Dublin did have wine bars in the 1990s but they were not places people with an interest in wine bothered visiting, with the exception perhaps of the (still excellent) La Cave on South Anne Street. Ely changed all this.
The first Ely opened in 1999 on Ely Place just off Merrion Row and at the time it was entirely novel — a well thought out wine list, quality (grape specific) Riedel glasses, organic beef and pork from the owners’ family farm in the Burren and staff that knew Riesling from Rkatsiteli.
Ely Bar and Brasserie opened in the CHQ (Customs House Quay) building in the heart of the Financial Services Centre (IFSC) during the boom years and seems to be thriving whenever I visit — and I visit a lot.
CHQ was built in 1820 as a wine and tobacco warehouse and as a listed building it feels like a warehouse but good lighting and quality seating means it is remarkably comfortable sitting downstairs under the vaulted ceilings. The new cocktail bar upstairs heaves with the after-work crowd and I can report that the cocktails are good and if the weather is nice the heated terrace outside is excellent for people watching — specifically all those bankers that nearly collapsed the world economy in their expensive suits, unpolished shoes and badly executed tie-knots (yes, I notice such things).
We visited for this review on a Thursday evening early as we had tickets to see the remarkable modern ballet Loch na hEala at the Abbey Theatre which is just a 10-minute walk away (beg borrow or steal to go see Loch na hEala by the way, it is extraordinary). I mention this because our meal ended up rather rushed and split in two.
We ate from both the à la carte and the Early Bird menu (2 course €29, 3 course €35) but don’t worry too much about getting in early, food in Ely is fairly priced. We began with perfect Organic Burren beef carpaccio with mushroom aioli and a lemon and herb salad (€12) — tender lightly cured meat that disappeared in around 30 seconds.
Seared Kilkeel king scallops (€14) were nicely caramelised and served with Burren bacon crisps, parsnip purée and chicken jus — sensible extras that enhanced the scallops.
For a main course the Engineer opted for Kilkeel Cod — a spanking fresh piece of fish perfectly cooked with light translucent flesh lightened further by a lemon and white wine sauce and rounded out by some crushed potatoes. My seared wild Atlantic halibut had the same sauce and potatoes but was badly overcooked and unfortunately we were in too much of a hurry to send it back — if I had I’m confident they would have fixed it. As I mentioned earlier I’ve eaten in Ely lots of times and such a faux-pas is a rare occurrence.
Slow cooked Boyne Valley ox cheeks were thankfully gloriously over-cooked as they should be — meltingly tender meat enhanced by sweet parsnips and offset by herby parsley potato mash and pickled mushrooms. Organic beef burger with smoked scamorza cheese, beef tomato, bacon, lettuce and smoked mayonnaise was also glorious — rich beefy flavours offset nicely by the other ingredients and served with crisp home-made frites. Our side dishes of crunchy green French beans and crisp fried onion rings added brilliant good and wicked angel elements to our meal and should not be missed.
When we returned after the show for our desserts we were in much more relaxed form and lingered over a wonderfully indulgent apple tarte tatin with Armagnac ice-cream while the boy had some chocolate torte with well-executed honeycomb ice-cream.
Barely room to mention skilled wine manager Ian Brosnan and the huge 500 bottle strong wine list and our fine bottle of Elias Moro Toro (from Wines Direct), but do go, you might even spot a banker you can point and sneer at.
Dinner for four people with four starters, four mains, two sides, two desserts, a bottle and a glass of wine cost €175
Monday to Saturday: 12pm until late; Sunday: 12pm until 6pm
Ely is exactly what you want from a modern wine bar — a brilliant wine list and good food