When I first moved to Dublin in the late 1980s there was no cooler part of the city than Temple Bar. It all happened by accident of course, CIE was buying up the place with a plan to flatten it all to build a bus station (with a tunnel under the Liffey to connect to Busáras).
While CIE waited for planning permission, it rented out the old shirt factories and warehouses at low rents and soon the place was full of vintage clothes shops, record stores, rehearsal spaces, art galleries and ethnic and vegetarian restaurants.
These days, Temple Bar is often criticised as a vulgar tourist trap but if you look hard you will still find that bohemian spirit clinging on — visit All City on Crow Street for example for all your graffiti and vinyl record needs.
There are dozens of restaurants, some dubious but others excellent including Piglet, Chameleon, Montys, Rosa Madre and the two Klaw outlets. For this week’s pre-Paddy’s Day review however, I visited one of the oldest — Padraig Óg Gallagher’s Boxty House which opened in 1989 — back then it was as just as novel and exotic as any of the ethnic restaurants.
I confess this was my first full visit in 25 years but I had tasted Padraig Óg’s food a number of times since at festivals and events and I was curious to see how the Boxty House was faring — that and the fact that it was a bitterly cold day and myself and food writer (and spud expert) Aoife Cox were in need of comfort food.
The room has changed a little but is still very comfortable with homey mismatched tables and a relaxed feel throughout. The menu is filled with classics such as oysters, Irish Stew, Smoked Salmon, Coddle, and of course Boxty every way you can imagine. There is a short range of wines but a fine selection of whiskies, micro and macro beers (Murphys rather than Guinness) plus some of their own Jack Smyth beers — a red ale, a blonde and a stout.
Aoife opted for a pint of the Stonewell cider on draught and I had two pints of the equally fine Jack Smyth Stout — a stout that managed to be both full-flavoured and creamy with a pleasing smoky caramel flavour while not overpowering the subtleties in the cooking.
Boxty potato cakes are a north-midlands and border speciality and here you can have them stuffed, baked, as dumplings or fried. Aoife began with the Boxty Sharing plate which consisted of tender dumplings (not unlike gnocchi), boxty bread and supremely moreish boxty fries — thin deep-fried strips.
I began with a well-executed Seafood Chowder made with lots of fish and potatoes and good use of Gubbeen chorizo and for main I ordered Fergus Dunne’s Offaly reared Freerange Bacon Chop (€19) — meaty and sweet and served with positively silky Colcannon, nutty roasted carrots and parsnips and a well executed honey and mustard sauce. The stout was a good match, but the cider might have been even better.
Roast Halibut was served with a tasty nutty spiced Pearl Barley and Pea risotto (€19.50) but sadly the fish was a little overcooked — I’d have sent it back but Aoife felt it was serviceable and decided against. I mentioned it to our waiter so she could inform the kitchen but without hesitation she insisted we would not be charged.
I allowed Aoife first-pick on desserts (€6.90 each) but regretted it when I tasted her glorious sticky toffee pudding served with cashew praline, wonderful Boxty ice-cream and salted caramel. To be fair my Buttermilk Panna Cotta with rum-glazed banana and pistachio biscotti was also good — velvety and light — both were washed down with flawless glasses of Longueville House Apple Brandy (€9.90).
Only when the bill arrived did we realise we had also been comped our desserts and brandy and all protestations were firmly ignored. This was beyond the call of duty given that we had not actually returned the food, but given how charming and super- efficient she had been all evening it shouldn’t have surprised me.
So as you have gathered I loved the Boxty House, yes these are familiar comforting dishes but there is flair and real accomplishment here and I’d say they have another 30 years in them.
Dinner for two with starters, mains, desserts, three pints and two brandies should have cost around €109 but actually cost €58.20 after we were comped a main, desserts and drinks.
Daily: 11am to 10.30pm
An Irish restaurant serving very well executed tasty traditional food made with well-sourced ingredients —
inevitably popular with tourists but deserves more Irish customers.
- 20-21 Temple Bar, Dublin 2; Tel: 01-6772762; boxtyhouse.ie