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New Irish Cuisine

Mike Bunn

Photo: Mike Bunn

While no one was looking, Dublin blossomed into a bona fide cosmopolitan food capital. Want a Michelin two-starred feast?Book at Thornton's or Patrick Guilbaud. A restaurant-cum-lounge that looks as if it's been airlifted from San Francisco?Join the partying youth at Velure. You can even get a good bagel, and a pretty convincing Filipino meal. But did you really come to Ireland to eat Caesar salad, lumpia, or foie gras?We don't think so. At the following restaurants you'll delight in the sharply executed, terroir-suffused cooking that has come to define New Irish Cuisine. Call it sophisticated soul food. Or don't call it anything. Just start smacking your lips.

At the Tea Room, the linens are starched, the Arts and Crafts—inspired interior is seamlessly stylish, and most patrons look like the parents of kids who hang out at rock concerts. Only the perpetually distracted young staff—clearly more interested in rock and roll than in rock oysters—is a giveaway that the bosses are Bono and the Edge. (They own the restaurant's home base, the Clarence Hotel.)

Founding chef Michael Martin had such a devoted following that when he left the restaurant last year his shoes seemed far too big for anybody to fill. Anybody except Antony Ely, a Brit who last tended the stoves at the Square in London. Most chefs can make a nice salmon tartare (Ely's is exemplary), but it takes his wit and confidence to turn cakes of potato or fish into masterpieces. The former appear as two hefty, fried balls brimming with ham—the punch line is that they're lighter than any soufflé. The fish cakes are fluffier still, textured with bits of carrot and turnip and accented with a sharp, lemony, chive-flecked sauce. Ely deserves honorary Irish citizenship for his handling of fish, whether it's roasted salmon starring in a flirtatious warm salad with sweet-tangy red peppers and artichokes, or a spectacular piece of hake resting on bacony, shredded cabbage. And his daube Provençale would make a grand-mère weep with joy. Lucky lads from U2.

Clarence Hotel, 6—8 Wellington Quay; 353-1/670-7766; dinner for two $88.

Wear white. Streak your hair blond. You'll fit right in at Eden, a buzzy néo-moderne boîte that in the past few years has firmly established itself as Temple Bar's cathedral of cool. (To you, Eden might epitomize the New Dublin, but Dubliners see it as very New York.) Sexy sterility is what architect Tom de Paor was after when he clad the long, airy room in tiny multicolored mosaic tiles; the effect is of dining in a fifties swimming pool.

The food, however, is a lot brawnier than the surroundings would suggest. Chef Eleanor Walsh hails from Dingle (where her mum had a butcher shop) and is a dutiful daughter of Ireland. She is dedicated to using organic produce from tiny suppliers and treating it with a disarming throw-it-in-the-pan-and-take-it-right-out simplicity. Delicately smoky notes dominate her current appetizer menu: grapefruit makes an ingenious foil for smoked eel; pickled pear with smoked pork is a rustic match made in heaven; the "smokies" (vernacular for chunks of baked smoked haddock) are positively luscious with their cap of crème fraîche. The main courses—perhaps a bracing pork and apricot stew accompanied by a celestial mash, or flash-fried claws of prized west-coast crab dressed simply with splashes of garlicky butter—are the gold standard of modern Irish bistro cooking.

Meeting House Square, Temple Bar; 353-1/670-5372; dinner for two $58.


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