Monday, March 9, 2015


At first glance, shakshuka might look like the result of a jolly in kitchen after a heavy night of drinking. Not that great things don’t come from cooking after a night out, but this particular dish (also spelled shakshouka) is in fact a one that’s much beloved across most of Northern Africa and the Middle East. Literally meaning ‘a mixture’ in Arabic Tunisian, it’s a simple combination of tomatoes, vegetables and spices which is then used to poach one or more eggs sitting on top. It’s easy to make no matter what part of the world you’re in and has countless variants that include additional ingredients like meats and cheeses. Although typically a breakfast dish, its popularity in countries like Israel have transformed it into something of an all-day affair, enjoyed in the evenings and especially during winter.

For this particular version, I included halloumi cheese to add a bit of creaminess. It’s such an easy recipe to make, comes out looking great and if you’re having a get together, is a really nice sharing dish that visually beguiles its simplicity. Ensure you have some bread to serve it with, that sauce isn’t going to mop itself up!

Serves 6

3 tbs extra virgin olive oil
1 red pepper, thinly sliced
½ large onion, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
½ tsp sugar
¼ tsp cayenne pepper (½-1 tsp if you prefer it medium-hot)
1 tsp cumin powder
1 tbs sweet paprika
1 tsp salt
¼ tsp black pepper
2 400g tins of peeled plum tomatoes
200g halloumi cheese, diced
6 large eggs
Coriander leaves for garnish

Heat the oil in a large pan over a medium-high heat. Add the sliced onion and peppers and cook for approximately 20 minutes, stirring occasionally until both have softened. Then add the garlic and stir for 2 minutes until softened. Now add the paprika, cumin, cayenne pepper, salt, black pepper and sugar, mixing it until the pepper and onions are well coated. 

The tinned tomatoes can now be added; ensure you break up the tomatoes well and stir until the contents of the pan are well mixed. Allow to reduce for 15-20 minutes or until thickened, stirring occasionally. Add the diced halloumi and stir it in. 

Before you add the eggs, make sure to push little indents into the surface of the sauce so that the yolks do not run away from you and become unevenly spaced. Now crack each egg and gently drop them evenly around the pan. Cover with a lid and allow the eggs to poach for 13-15 minutes, or until the yolks and whites have just set. 

Remove from the heat and season with salt and pepper to your taste. Garnish with the coriander leaves and serve with bread. 

Saturday, March 7, 2015

A Very, *Very* Belated Japanese Food Adventure

Shortly after I went on, er… ‘hiatus’ in 2011, I travelled to Japan to visit my brother who’s been working there for a good three years now at least (I’ll have to check up on him with that, it’s been so long!). It was a two week trip that was unfortunately punctuated by the Tōhoku earthquake but luckily we ended up being nowhere near some of the worst affected areas. I went there with grand plans to use the experience as a means to kick start myself into writing again by giving an in depth look at all of the different foods I’d be trying. Obviously, that never happened. Sorry everyone!

So, to make it up to you, here’s a very belated and condensed summary of places I went to and foods I tried. Japanese cuisine is one of my absolute favourites, so to say that I went there with tunnel vision is a bit of an understatement! I didn’t get to eat everything I wanted but in a country where delicious food is available on pretty much every street you wander down, it’s a fairly minor complaint to come out with.

First stop was Kyoto, featuring a nearly three kilometre walk along Teramachi Dori and the surrounding market streets. Here you’ll find anything from seafood to hand crafted kitchen wares and a rake of Japanese fast food stalls. The variety is incredible, and every stall is in some way unique from the next.

Fried kamaboko (kind of a seafood paste), Kyoto 

Plastic/wax food displays outside of most restaurants, Kyoto

Dorayaki pancake machine in Teramachi Dori, Kyoto

 Food display, a bit more cute this time! Kyoto

Octopus stuffed with a boiled quail egg on a stick (I'm sure there's a name for it), Kyoto

Kyoto is also famed for the diversity of its food, and it was here I probably tried the biggest range of dishes, from unagi to conveyor sushi and mitarashi dango. The city has such an amazing, old world feel to it, and restaurants are hidden in literally every nook and cranny; half the time it’s impossible to tell what might and might not be one!

Bamboo shoot kushiyaki with yam jelly, Kyoto

Musashi Sushi moving window display, Kyoto

Tuna tartare gunkanmaki in Mushashi Sushi, Kyoto

Mitarashi dango (grilled rice dumplings in a sweet soy sauce) Kyoto

Matcha green tea with rakugan at Kinkaku-ji Tea House

Tamagoyaki (omelette) over unagi and rice at Kaneyo, Kyoto

On a side note, If you haven’t ever had the pleasure of trying katsu curry yet, I urge you to check out your nearest Japanese restaurant and fix that problem. It’s the perfect blend of crispiness and juiciness, which when mixed with Japanese curry and rice becomes the most amazing comfort food. It’s quite probably my favourite dish, so no prizes for guessing which kind of restaurant I was on the lookout for. As luck would have it, our first hostel was a few steps up the road from a little placed called Café Curry Sakakura. Jackpot. For whatever reason, I didn’t take many pictures there but the menu alone just goes to show that if there’s any kind of meat or veg you like, chances are you’ll be able to get it fried up and served with curry.

Katsu curry everything!

The next major city we visited was Osaka. Known as the ‘nation’s kitchen’, it’s home to one of Japan’s most distinctive street foods, takoyaki. We’d already tried some in Kyoto so regrettably I passed up the chance while I was there, but I did instead try some fugu, the notorious puffer fish. This was in Zuboraya, one of many specialist fugu restaurants you’d find in Dōtonbori; the neon lit, night crawling central neighbourhood where eating, drinking, shopping and tourism all come together. If I’d had the money or the time, I probably would have ended up trying every single one of the restaurants there but as it happens, we could only spend a couple of hours exploring. Maybe next time!

Takoyaki street vendor, Osaka

Fugu shabu-shabu in Zuboraya, Osaka

And then came Tokyo. Halfway through our time there, Japan was hit by the Tōhoku earthquake so the city slowed down considerably in the aftermath. Nonetheless, we still got to eat in one or two izakayas, ramen joints and of course, a katsu curry restaurant. It was actually just as we finished having a lunch that the earthquake happened! And even though we had to high tail it outside into the street, we didn’t forget to go back and pay the bill.

Ramen, Tokyo

Yakitori, Tokyo

Gyoza, Tokyo

Yet more ramen, Tokyo

Vending machines, everywhere!

Last but definitely not least, the highlight of the trip for me was Tsukiji Fish Market. I wasn’t so dedicated that I got up at three in the morning to see the tuna auctions, but I did arrive early enough to experience its legendary organised chaos. Afterwards, we did the only thing one should do; had a sushi breakfast in a nearby restaurant called Tsukiji Sushi Sen. It was the first time I’d ever tasted sea urchin and I only wish it were easier to find in restaurants on this side of the world because it was every bit as delicious as I’d been told. Definitely not your traditional breakfast, but it ranks up there amongst the best I’ve ever had.

Tsukiji Fish Market, Tokyo

Sushi platter at Tsukiji Sushi Sen, Tokyo

All in all, the food of Japan was everything I had hoped for and my only regret is that I didn’t try more! But that’s a very convenient excuse to revisit someday, which I will. When that happens, I promise not to leave it another four years before I actually write something about it.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Smoke Potion Hot Sauce by the Chilli Alchemist

I’ve gotten used to receiving food related gifts at Christmas by now, but this year I got something from two of my friends that I’d never heard of before; ‘Smoke Potion’ hot sauce from a company called ‘the Chilli Alchemist’. No, it wasn’t anything to do with mysticism or Fullmetal Alchemist tributes. Rather, it’s a sauce made and sold by a chilli expert from Bristol. I was waiting for an excuse to use it and by sheer coincidence, a shoulder of pork magically appeared last week. Now that it’s just as magically disappeared again along with most of the sauce, I can finally talk about it!

Okay, I admit. Part of the reason it’s taken two months to open is that it just looked so pretty and ornamental! I didnt want to ruin the wax they’d used to seal it, the effect is fantastic. What I’d been given is one of their ‘apothecary bottles’, which cost £8.50 apiece (sorry Eimear/Phil, I had to know). Normal bottles of their sauces will only set you back £3.99, but the premium you pay for the apothecary style is more than worth it if you know a chilli lover and want to impress them with your gifting skills. Part of me wants to buy all seven flavours and just use them as decorations for my kitchen, but we all know that they would only last for so long.

Taste wise, the Smoke Potion is fairly in line with what you’d expect from a smoky barbecue sauce. It’s not as sweet as your average commercial sauce and it has a nice tang to it. The chipotle chillies take over from there, leading into a low burn toward the middle and back of your mouth. It’s classed as a medium spicy sauce on the Chilli Alchemist website but I personally found it to be on the milder of medium. And of course it’s full of smoky flavour, as the name suggests! It went perfectly with my pulled pork and didn't get lost in the spicing that was already on the meat.

As I mentioned before, the Chilli Alchemist has a range of sauces available on their website with some pretty big hitters on the Scoville scale if anybody is feeling particularly adventurous (try ‘the Everlasting Flame’ or ‘Purus’ at your peril). The man behind it all, Jay Webley, has an obvious passion for peppers and it’s worth noting that many of the chillies used for the sauces are home grown! Do NOT attempt to nick anything edible from this man’s garden.

So with interest in sauce variety growing ever larger (just look at your supermarket's condiment section if you dont believe me!), it's great to see an independent business like the Chilli Alchemist adding a bit of spice to the market. I'm looking forward to trying some of their other sauces so this probably won't be the last you'll hear of them from me, especially since I've just noticed they're also experimenting with ice cream and popping candy! Whatever next?

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Pitt Bros BBQ Project

I’ve always dreamed about opening a restaurant. It seemed like a natural way for things to unfold what with me spending so much time in them, the joy of cooking and so on. Of course, I lack both the experience and vast funds necessary so I chose the only realistic alternative: keep on eating and become a blogger! *triumphant fanfare*

Not that I didn’t have a plan for if I did open a restaurant mind. We love adopting American culture here in Ireland, but I was always puzzled by the lack of an all-out American style barbecue restaurant, in Dublin or anywhere for that matter! Maybe I’d just spent too many evenings watching Diners, Drive ins and Dives, but I just didn’t understand how dishes like sweet pulled pork, smoked brisket and racks of finger licking, sticky ribs hadn’t already become a feature while other niche markets like gourmet burgers, burrito bars and grilled chicken were already exploding. No matter, I’d spotted the gap and if I won the lottery or somehow gained magical cooking skills, it was mine. Well, it had been until I was walking down George’s Street and noticed three neon red letters that spelled BBQ, framed by an equally neon pig shaped street sign.

And so I discovered Pitt Bros BBQ Project, the barbecue venue Dublin had been waiting for and I had been dreaming of running. Dammit! Ah well, at least I now had a good source of barbecued meat to soothe the pain, and that is exactly what it did. That was in 2013, and I’ve since eaten there at least five times. What better place then to visit so I can get back into the swing of writing? Not that I’m looking for an excuse to eat my weight in barbecued meat or anything.

This time, I went with my good friend Damien who is a confessed fan of barbecue but for whatever reason had never heard of Pitt Bros. I’d be lying if he was the first friend I’ve forced to go there, but thankfully none of them ended up regretted the kidnappings! And given the queue running out the door that greeted us when we arrived, I’m clearly not the only one doing it. My advice: try to avoid lunch time and dinner peak hours unless you can get there early or don’t mind waiting; I’ve never seen the place with a table to spare at either times and reservations are not taken so you might have fifteen/twenty minutes to kill. That said, the atmosphere is always buzzing and it’s a great place to have a social gathering if you can manage it.

When you do get your seat, things work very much like they do at say Nando’s where you pick what you like but order and pay up at the counter. It’s a straightforward system in a restaurant that takes a similarly straightforward approach with its food and menu in general. You won’t find starters, mains and desserts here, no specials or drinks menu, all you get is just a single page with ten meal options and seven sides. It’s pure, uncomplicated barbecue and comfort food, exactly as it should be.

Yet still it’s hard to choose something! Every time I’ve been I find myself agonising over whether to get a bun filled with pulled pork or just a plate with a few big slices of smoked brisket. Even after that there are other items I’ve yet to try like their ribs, sausage, half chicken or burger. When everything tastes good, it’s a problem in itself! This time I eventually went for the brisket on its own while Damien opted – on my insistence – for the Pitt Master’s combo, a bun (courtesy of the not-too-distant Bretzel Bakery) filled with brisket, pulled porn and a fried onion ring. Both come with some pickles and slathered in the house barbecue sauce, of which you can apply more at your leisure from the squeeze bottles on every table (hot sauce and a Carolina dressing included!). All meals also come with at least one side included as well, so please, for the love of all things that are delicious, do yourself a favour and try the macaroni and cheese. I won’t even describe it, it is just one of those dishes every city has that you simply have to try at least once. 

As for the meat, it’s as tender, crumbly and absolutely delicious as you’d expect from a fourteen hour, overnight stay in a smoker. My brisket fell apart the moment I took a fork to it and it was deceptively filling, every bite an explosion of hearty, barbecue goodness. Damien absolutely loved his Pitt Master’s combo, though he did a better job at polishing off his food that I did! Serves me right for ordering a second side. Speaking of which, all of the barbecue support acts like slaw, fries and corn on the cob are there, in addition to some of the more decadent sides like burnt end beans or bone marrow mash. There’s even homemade lemonade on offer, along with a respectable choice of craft beers and some wine available if it takes your fancy.

All the while, none of this food will set you back any more than twenty euros. Okay, I’ll rephrase it, if you want to stand any chance of clearing your plate, it shouldn’t cost you any more than twenty. All of the main meals clock in between ten and fourteen euros which is tremendous value, considering they come with at least one side anyway. Want another? It only sets you back €3.50. Oh, and everyone gets a free soft serve ice cream for dessert! But be warned, the machine has a bit of a kick so you might end up covered in it if you aren’t careful.

One other thing that desperately deserves a mention is the smart design that’s gone into the restaurant. You can tell whoever’s behind it has a genuine understanding of what barbecue means, as everything from the steel drum light fittings and wooden log counter front to the tin plates and rolls of kitchen towel at each table gives off exactly the kind of relaxed and rustic vibe you’d expect of an actual barbecue gathering. I can’t think of one other restaurant in Dublin where the look and feel goes so hand in glove with the food it creates, and it’s a wonderful, oft-overlooked thing to see.

So that is Pitt Bros in a semi-nutshell. Vegetarians beware, meat loves rejoice! They may have dashed my dream somewhat, but in doing so they’ve made authentic barbecue much more accessible to the Dublin public and filled a niche that was painfully wanting. If you haven’t already been, go now. And if you know me, take me with you. 

Pitt Bros BBQ Project
Unit 1, Wicklow House,
George's Street,
Dublin 2

Tph: 01-6778777

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Just a Quick Update

Hi everyone!

Just a quick update; I know it’s been roughly four years since I last posted anything so before I jump back in,  I’d just like to reaffirm that yes, I am alive and (mostly) healthy, and have neither forgotten about this place or how much I enjoy talking/writing/thinking about food. Also eating it, minor detail! I may have tried to forget at times, but thankfully my long suffering partner Rebecca wouldn’t let me.

In the time I’ve been absent, I’ve kept myself busy either cooking or eating out when I can, so all that’s left is to get some posts written and hopefully produce something useful. My focus remains restaurant reviews, but I’ve definitely learned a thing or two extra about cooking in the interim; fingers crossed you may actually get one or two half decent recipes out of it!

So thank you to everyone who’s visited and commented in the meantime, all the nice things you've said mean a lot to me and I promise I’ll be a lot more present going forward. Watch this space, with any luck (and a meal or two to write about) I’ll shortly be of some help in finding you all the best places to eat in Dublin and/or anywhere I go. 

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Hell (closed)

Kris Kristofferson once said that “the Devil haunts a hungry man”. He may not have delved into the specific food types that Satan uses to tempt us, but everybody has their own preferred indulgence; for some it’s chocolate, others a plate of curly fries. One dish you can expect to find its way into almost any list of sinful comfort foods is pizza, truth be told perhaps the most popular food in the western world! And here in Dublin, we have the added benefit of being able to order it piping hot from the ovens of Hell itself. No, not Lucifer’s cooking range; what I’m referring to is Hell pizzeria of Wexford Street (sorry, the devil’s in the details).

Now I must admit that the first couple of times I saw Hell, I thought it was just a normal takeaway with a catchy name. Then again, this had always been at ten o’clock on a Friday evening with more than a handful of banteriffic lads spilling in and out the door! It wasn’t until my good friend Áine invited us into town for what she described as a ‘hunt for gourmet pizza’ that I finally took the time to look at Hell’s menu and realised exactly what it was they were offering. Five pizzas later and I was kicking myself not only for never having taken a closer look in the first place, but also neglecting to bring my camera to take the mandatory snapshots of what we’d just eaten (not for the first, seventh or twenty-sixth time either). Ever since then I’d been itching to return and photograph the food for a proper review, not to mention enjoy it! Thankfully, my friend and DVD jockey Niamh was recently in the mood for a lunch outing and although I mentioned several possibilities, I’d already made up my mind as to where we’d be heading.

*Fade in AC/DC’s Highway to Hell*

Before I get into the nitty gritty, let me fill you in on a bit of Hell’s back story. Like many a modern ‘gourmet’ restaurant, it serves unfamiliar variations on a familiar food type. Think ingredients that you look at and wonder how exactly such a combination is meant to work, yet alone when introduced to something like a pizza base. It’s the hallmark of an adventurous cooking style that originates all the way from far flung regions such as California or – in Hell’s case – New Zealand. Before this recent visit, I actually hadn’t the foggiest that Hell is a very popular restaurant chain in the Southern Hemisphere with multiple outlets feeding Kiwis and Aussies alike. The Wexford Street branch is one of a few locations to have opened across the UK and Ireland since 2006 when the franchise was being expanded further afield. Officially speaking, ours is a ‘pilot’ store, but hopefully that will change in the not too distant future. If Callum, Stu and Otis (Hell’s Kiwi founders) are reading this then here’s advice/plea on the matter: open a branch in North Dublin City, preferably smack bang in the middle of Beaumont. There’ll be little to no competition and you’re guaranteed to have one very loyal customer! Anyhow, back to Niamh and I’s journey into the pizza inferno.

Half of the fun in visiting Hell is to simply witness how stylishly designed the restaurant’s interior is. No opportunity to exploit the devilish theme is wasted, with cracked mirrors lining the wall, bare bulb lighting, red velvet curtains and a trio of big LCD screens that – depending on the day you visit – will either be displaying tongues of fire or Murnau’s Nosferatu.

Food is served on beaten metal dishes with ‘remains’ given to you in coffin shaped pizza boxes. Even the landline phone number ends with a 666! Literally everything that can be done to earn Hell the right to its name has been covered, bar being a deliberately unpleasant place to eat. It’s an altogether remarkable dedication to an image that you seldom see in most modern restaurants, yet alone one of many in a franchise.

When it comes to the menu there’s no let up in the Satanic send off either; the first handful of pizzas listed are affectionately named after lust, envy, pride and the rest of the seven deadly sins. Further on you’ll find the likes of ‘serpent’, ‘brimstone’ and ‘Mordor’, which feature some of the more exotic topping combinations.

If you’re expecting to find a basic margherita in Hell then you can forget about it; the closest thing to your average set pizza on the menu is a double ham, pineapple and cheese affair. There’s a create your own option if none of the pre-made choices tickle your fancy, and all pizzas come available in two sizes (seven/eight euro for an individual serving, fourteen/sixteen for a double). Oh, and you can order a cute ‘333’ size for the kids. In addition to Hell’s main fare they serve a decent selection of sides, salads, beer and wine, not to mention ‘dessert pizza’ which I’ll tell you all about very shortly.

So, after spending the best part of a decade oogling at not only the menu but also the restaurant itself, Niamh and I made our choice. She went for the brimstone (a Mexican style pizza with the whole shebang; avocado, onions, salsa, Cajun chicken and sour cream), whilst I chose purgatory (sun dried tomatoes, spinach, feta, onions, mushrooms, garlic and kalamata olives). The last time I’d eaten in Hell we’d tried some delicious wedges called kumara chips but unfortunately they weren’t available on the occasion. Shame, they’re almost identical to your average sweet potato chip; something I’ve a major weakness for! We settled for some Cajun wedges with a garlic mayo dip instead.

Ultimately, both of the pizzas were a success. I put this down largely to the base, which slots nicely into perfect thickness territory. It’s substantial enough to withstand the loaded toppings in most cases, but thin enough so as to not preclude any flavour – a very important aspect when you serve pizza with the likes of apricot and stilton cheese!

Niamh enjoyed her helping which had a distinct Mexican twang to it, whilst mine was definitely in and amongst the more flavoursome vegetarian pizzas I’ve eaten. The only let down was the Cajun wedges, which were just a bit too much on the salty side to properly enjoy.

As good as the savoury pizzas were, the star of the show on this particular day was the aforementioned pizza dessert. Unlike most other pizzerias that stick to the usual formula of ice cream, cheese cake and pie for afters, Hell offers us an interesting twist on their food of focus by serving a normal bread base covered in lashings of custard and other delightful sweet toppings.

At only a mere four euro, the combination of banana, chocolate and mixed berries was too enticing to resist, and it arrived looking even better than either of us could have imagined! The taste: absolutely divine. What else would you expect of hot custard laced with melting chocolate?

In total we paid just over twenty five euro for what effectively ended up being a two course meal for both of us; exceptional value when you consider the quality of food you get. Niamh was both impressed, and patient enough to wait for me whilst I chatted with the staff and Bruce, the head chef. If I didn't enough at the time, I'd like to thank him for giving me a great photo opportunity with a wonderfully presented dessert!

Hell is a rare example of a catering franchise that has a very obvious soul and sense of humour behind the ins and out of how it's run. The philosophy of their gourmet pizza is to present us with inventive and unusual creations, whilst their dedication to a very novel and 'damned' interesting theme goes far beyond anything else I've witnessed on such a large scale. Most importantly of all, they've given me a fantastic chance to get a few terrible puns into this write up. So, if you're disollusioned with any other Dublin pizerrias, then all I can say is that you should go to Hell.

32, Wexford Street,
Dublin 2
Tph: 1890-456-666

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Da Enzo (and the Musings of a North Sider) (closed)

For somebody who aims to eat out as often as I do, you’d think I grew up surrounded by restaurants and visiting them from the day I could walk! As it happens, this couldn’t be any further from the truth. For one, I only began trying new places to eat in for a hobby some five years ago. It’s a good enough time-span in which to build up an appreciation for cooking and the restaurant industry but not a lifetime’s experience. The other is that I live, and always have done, in Beaumont; a small area at the heart of a culinary desert (not dessert, down foodies!) that seemingly covers a lot of what the locals like to call ‘dee Naarth soyid’.

Think for a moment about all of the best restaurant hotspots in Dublin.



The city centre is a given, and I’m sure a few of you thought of Dundrum, Blackrock, Ranelagh, Dun Laoighre, Rathmines, Dalkey and so on. Coastal regions like Clontarf, Malahide and Howth excepted, how many areas could you think of that weren’t on the South side? I can say with years of certainty that you won’t find anything better than a chain of takeaways in Beaumont, whilst there isn’t much excitement to speak of in the surrounding Coolock, Artane or Ballymun. Further afield you have Killester, Raheny, Donaghmede and Finglas, all of which are simply no match for what some of the city’s more vibrant dining areas. Strictly speaking on foodie terms of course! There is a healthy collection of cafés and one or two evening restaurants in close proximity to each other as you near Drumcondra, but at that stage you’re getting to within walking distance of the city centre, not to mention being a few doors down from one Bertie Ahern’s residence. Just to give you a better idea of where the area I'm referring to starts and stops, here's a picture parading my wicked Google Earth skills:

The reality is that I’d be surprised if many of you named any of the latter areas listed, if one on the North side outright! Neither do I blame you; all of the above locales suffer from a comparative dearth of any exciting, modern restaurants. The occasional long standing but run of the mill Italian bistro will punctuate a street every few miles, but nowhere will you find something to compare with the dynamism of Dublin’s current food scene darlings, yet alone a collection of them. The gaping void that’s left is filled mostly with chippers, Chinese takeaways and McDonald’s, give or take an Eddie Rockets in a couple of shopping malls. If you need any proof short of personally driving around and searching for a reputable place to eat, look no further than Menupages for some rough statistics. It doesn’t represent Dublin’s eating scene in its entirety, but a quick add and subtract job reveals that there are approximated one-hundred and thirty reviewed restaurants in and around the areas I’m talking about, as opposed to the one thousand or thereabouts you’ll find in the direction of Dublin City Centre and the South side. 

In a nutshell, there’s a lack of good restaurants or general foodie destinations in and around where I live and, for the most part, it’s always been that way. That’s not to say there aren’t any places to eat outright; our Indian takeaway certainly isn’t the worst by comparison, but we have little to go by in the way of sit down eateries that you’d actually walk away from looking forward to the next visit, if indeed you find one to visit at all! So, you can understand why we greet any and all new arrivals with not only excitement, but a hefty dollop of cautiousness. Da Enzo – a curiously placed Italian restaurant sitting on top of a paint shop and crèche – is one such example, and although it did everything possible to look like the kind of restaurant you should avoid, it was only a matter of time before I cracked and gave it the benefit of the doubt. Never judge a book by its cover, right? Or a restaurant by its menu... Actually, scratch that and I’ll get back to you with a batter food analogy!

Rhetoric aside, the good news about Da Enzo was that it gave Rebecca and me plenty to discuss afterwards. The bad barely needs explaining; terrible food, a completely dead atmosphere and prices that flatter to deceive. Highlights included the dying plants on each window ledge, pictures of sushi on the fish menu page and, best of all, an electric pepper mill that not only grinds on command but also shines a spotlight onto your food! Speaking of which, you don’t need any more than summaries and a few pictures to tell where it all went wrong: 

Soggy, tasteless bruscehtta on a ciabba- sorry, cuisine de France roll; chewy chunks of plain chicken masquerading as a starter; ravioli cooked into a sloppy oblivion and oozing enough truffle oil to literally make you feel ill; the list continues ad nauseum, but there’s very little reason to spend any more than a few lines on discussing how Da Enzo gets it so badly wrong. No, my main concern is more to do with the potential influence it has on the locals of an area that offers little else in the way of proper dining alternatives.

Now I know what you’re thinking:

“but Rob, Dublin’s a small city and it takes only five minutes to walk from one side to the other! Surely one or two mediocre restaurants aren’t going to end up being the sum total of a north-side Dubliner’s eating universe?”

To which I would say that you’re absolutely correct; it wouldn’t surprise me at all if the majority of Dublin’s population spends as much time commuting to the city centre or beyond as I do, which is effectively almost every day I have to spare at this stage! Business or pleasure, we all do it. Nonetheless, working for a couple of years in Finglas and Donaghmede has made it quite clear to me that a vast collection of frazzled parents, nonchalant pensioners and generally unadventurous inner North siders find it difficult to follow suit, either by design or circumstance. When I suggest in work that they head into town to find a more specific DVD or CD, half of the time their faces will be painted with a look of disgust that implies I’ve just asked them to carry a cross all the way to Calgary! Normally I laugh at reactions like that, but after visiting Da Enzo it got me thinking about everything in food terms. Essentially, what you have is a number of people who live in the aforementioned North side ‘culinary desert’ who are either unable or simply don’t want to travel far enough to eat in any of Dublin’s restaurant hotspots. If they instead prefer to stay close to home and try the local eateries, what they’ll more than likely experience is something that falls far short of what the city’s best and brightest have to offer.

The part that I find particularly hard to swallow is that for a lack of any good, local alternatives with which diners can compare, restaurants that fill the gap like Da Enzo can not only afford to continue rolling out poorly executed food, but also charge prices that are vastly disproportionate to the quality of what you get. Most of their pasta mains hit in and around the fifteen euro mark; equivalent to, or more expensive in some cases than what you might find in Nico’s of Dame street, a reliable and well respected Italian restaurant in and amongst Dublin foodies. Of course, this is exactly the kind of establishment I’m referring to when I talk about what a lot of unknowing North siders are missing out on, both in terms of vastly superior food and the money you ultimately save!

Just as bad is that for all intents and purposes, Da Enzo presents itself as being an authentic ‘Italiano Ristorante’ (which is incorrect ordering, right?) with flowery descriptions detailing how traditional and wholesome each and every single item on the menu is. Anyone with experience in eating out would see right through this kind of wordy veneer before the food even arrived, but to the everyday, once-in-a-while diner it might as well be a ringing testimonial. And who can blame them for thinking so?  There doesn’t appear to be one restaurant in all of the North Dublin City areas I’ve listed that comes anywhere near to serving genuine Italian fare, yet alone any other

At the end of the day and despite the ins and outs of immobile or unadventurous locals, the mouths of North siders from Finglas across to Killester are there to be fed, no different to those of Dun Laoighre or Ranelagh. If any given type of restaurant were to open in a convenient location therein and serve reasonably priced food cooked with just a little bit of love and passion, then I have no doubt that it would be just as successful as any or all of Dublin’s current favourites. What is there to suggest otherwise? Like I’ve always said, food is one of the few things that unifies absolutely every person on this planet, regardless of race or caste. Appreciation for genuinely good food in Dublin is not something that disappears entirely once you cross the Liffey, and there’s a vast amount of potential in all of the unfilled spaces up there. Modern Irish, Indian, authentic Italian, Mexican; each a style of food that as of yet has little to no good quality representation on the inner North side, each a prospective goldmine for anyone gutsy enough to try and introduce them to an altogether deprived group of people.

Of course, all of the above is simply an ideal. The reality is that anybody looking to open a restaurant with serious intent in the way of genuinely good food will automatically feel inclined to target the existing demography and locate in and around the areas that are already bursting with culinary options. The Catering industry is, as things stand, a risky business to be starting up in and it's easy to understand how the added element of venturing into the largely uncovered territory of North Dublin City is enough to put most burgeoning restaurateurs off, yet alone experienced ones! What you have left are those who look to exploit the situation, and this unfortunately appears to be the trend that is set to continue. Only last week I discovered that a restaurant/café called D9 will be opening just around the corner from my house. As always, I'm optimistic and will definitely give it a try, however the ever-present cautiousness remains. So, here's hoping for a pleasant surprise and to be able to say that for once I have my very own good, local restaurant.

Da Enzo
25G, Sunnyside,
Malahide Road,
Dublin 5

Tph: 01-4420013