Open season for new restaurants

A vast eating house by the Ha’penny bridge and a tiny cafe in a former public toilet are just some of the start-ups planned in the coming months

Sat, May 17, 2014, 01:00

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‘I’m very, very post-concept,” restaurateur Elaine Murphy says with a grin. We’re sitting over tea at a table in her restaurant The Winding Stair on Dublin’s Lower Ormond Quay. Talking about the concept of your new restaurant isn’t Murphy’s style. “What we want to do is open a real eating house, a place with food hanging out of everywhere. Proper, honest and democratic.”

I’m getting a peek at The Woollen Mills, Murphy’s new restaurant. We reach it, Narnia style, through a new back door in The Winding Stair. As sister operations go this is going to be a big one. Lunch smells give way to paint and plaster. Builders with buzz saws are finishing the fit-out and it is due to open for business as a space for up to 250 diners at the end of this month. An enormous concrete counter has just been installed in the main restaurant and I put an elbow on it to take notes. “Don’t lean on the counter,” a builder in a high-vis vest warns before he heads off. We step away gingerly.

Murphy’s business partner Brian Montague rescued The Winding Stair from receivership several years ago. They opened The Grand Social in 2010 and bought this latest building, which links the two sites, in 2012. A well-known coffee chain offered to buy The Woollen Mills from them soon afterwards. But no-one wanted to flip the site for a profit. “Just like The Winding Stair, I feel like we are custodians of something very special,” Murphy says.

After a 10-month build there are small upstairs dining rooms with limed floorboards and huge sash windows. The river views make you feel like you could step out the window onto the Ha’penny Bridge. There’s the large bar (with that concrete counter) and restaurant area downstairs, an in-house bakery, a roof terrace overlooking Liffey Street and outdoor seating on the footpath under the restored glass and iron canopy.

The Woollen Mills’ chef will be Ian Connolly who worked at House in Howth and John Farrell’s Dillingers before he came to The Winding Stair. A section of the menu is given over to a Gruel list, a tribute to the late-lamented dinner joint on Dame Street which closed. The Gruel list will consist of “things you want to have for your dinner” such as pork belly with mac and cheese, and ham, egg and chips. The menu lists “herrings fried in oatmeal with brown bread and too much butter”. There are 13 vegetable plates, along with meat and fish offerings. They’ll serve 10 “craft cocktails”. What’s a craft cocktail? “Rhubarby and gingery things,” says Murphy.

Murphy and Montague don’t intend to stop there. Later in the summer they’ll open The Legal Eagle pub beside the Four Courts as a gastro pub with its own craft beer, offal, pies and slow cooked meats. Then they turn their attention to The Washerwoman in Glasnevin, bringing the gastro-pub treatment to this neighbourhood pub near the Botanic Gardens.

The three new ventures should create up to 100 new jobs, Murphy says. If they were a technology company they’d probably get a news item devoted to it.

What about the skills shortage in the restaurant business? “People are starting to come back from abroad,” Murphy says. And they’re bringing valuable experience back to the city’s new restaurants and cafes.

South of the river in Harold’s Cross Park one of the city’s most unusual venues is due to open its doors at the end of next month.

A former Corporation brick-built public toilet in the small park was put up for tender by Dublin City Council to be run as a cafe. Lizzy O’Sullivan, who runs the neighbourhood restaurant Noshington on the South Circular Road, won the bid. The small building will house around four or five tables inside with the rest of the seating outside. At the time of writing the name had yet to be decided, some kind of compromise between Harold’s Cross Tearooms (the Council’s preferred option) and Noshington in the Park.

Closer to Dublin city centre on Harrington Street, the former Cafe Tiesan is to become a sister operation to Capel Street’s Brother Hubbard. Owners Garrett Fitzgerald and James Boland are currently expanding their existing Capel Street cafe into the next door premises which will give them a bigger kitchen and a bigger menu, they say.

The new southside restaurant will be called Sister Sadie, continuing the nursery rhyme theme, and will be open by mid-summer.

In Galway, chef Enda McEvoy, who brought a Michelin star to the city with Aniar, is hoping to open his new restaurant Loam by the middle of the summer. Once the fire certificate is in place he’s hoping to have the build completed in eight weeks.

The 66-seater restaurant with a private dining room is going into a relatively newly-built retail space on Fairgreen Road near Eyre Square. The shop space, with occupied offices above it, has been vacant at ground level since it was built nine years ago.

What kind of food is he going to do? “I only know how to do one thing,” he says. “I’m a bit of a one trick pony.”

And how would he describe that one trick? “Focused, creative Irish cuisine based on the perfect ingredient, all year round.”

Several friends who have become food producers and growers will be supplying the restaurant. “They know what we’re looking for. And it sounds trite but the menu is going to be dictated by them.”

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