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New Irish Cuisine

Mike Bunn

Photo: Mike Bunn

Only a few years ago, well-heeled Dubliners regarded the five-minute trek across the Liffey to Northside as a trip to Siberia. That was before the achingly hip Morrison Hotel opened its doors, in 1999. Today, the reawakening neighborhood is touted as the new Temple Bar, and Halo, the Morrison's see-and-be-seen fusion restaurant, is its hottest attraction. Dark polished wood, mirrored panels, Chinese lanterns, and swaths of brown velvet draped over white chairs make the dining room an exercise in opulent minimalism.

Having had a sublime duck-and-truffle risotto at Halo when it first opened, I returned recently for a frustratingly inconsistent lunch. The risotto, this time with pancetta and butternut squash, was as good as the one I remembered. But someone seemed to have emptied an entire saltshaker into the Thai coconut soup, and not-quite-rare tuna sat on black squid-ink pasta that had all the appeal of a floor mop. The best strategy: Let Dubliners ooh and aah over Sichuan peppered scallops with lemongrass sauce. You can eat better by taking a more traditional route—say, puffy little potato blini with smoked salmon, followed by an honest, delicious roast loin of lamb and a homey apple-bread pudding. Hungry for attitude?Join the preening crowds at Lobo, the hotel's downstairs supper club, dominated by a mahogany visage of Buddha.

Morrison Hotel, Ormond Quay; 353-1/887-2421; dinner for two $85.

A warming sensation comes over you the minute you claim a table at Roly's, a yellow-splashed Ballsbridge lunch mecca pleasantly cluttered with watercolors and prints. In front of you is a basket of swoon-provoking, just-baked breads—brown soda, spinach-and-raisin, tomato. Around you is Dublin's jolliest crowd: well-fed families, vigorous ladies-who-lunch, and corporate honchos looking like affluent sheep farmers, all blue shirtsleeves and not a jacket in sight. At your side are charming white-aproned waiters, tempting you with one of Colin O'Daly's unimpeachable cream soups, his high-octane prawn bisque, a plate of addictive gratinéed mussels.

The prix fixe lunch—possibly the world's best bargain at $15—might progress to an ur-Gaelic lamb pie bolstered by Guinness, or a pristine, deftly cooked piece of sole, skate, or turbot, all accompanied by old-fashioned gratin pans filled with cabbage, mash, and perhaps a gingered carrot purée. Halfway through my warm, not-too-sweet apple cake I decided that for lunch, this is the lustiest bistro in Europe, though I'm still trying to figure out why the place loses most of its magic at dinner.

7 Ballsbridge Terrace, Ballsbridge; 353-1/668-2611; lunch for two $30.


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