Underground gem on Clare Street
Blackboard Bistro is a good value joint that goes beyond predictable bistro fare
I’m in love with a new bike. If Farrow & Ball made high nellies they’d look like my new lady bike. Never underestimate the power of nostalgia. When they put it out front, the bike shop guy had to fend off two people before I arrived. It was partly the weather, he explained. As the blossoms burst women’s thoughts turn to new bikes, apparently. Old-style new bikes.
I’ll feel a twinge leaving the old steed at the trade-in workshop and pedalling away on my fake nostalgia model. The old bike once carried a child seat front and back. But my passengers have their own bikes now. We’re all moving on.
I visit the new bike on the way to dinner on Clare Street, in Dublin’s city centre, and I’m struck by how dead this beautiful old city district is after dark. Frank McDonald wrote in this paper recently about efforts to reinvent Dublin’s grand Georgian living space. And tonight the only life is in the basement restaurant I’m headed to: the Blackboard Bistro.
It’s across from the old Greene’s bookshop, which has been repainted with old-school sign-lettering on the stonework to make it look like a shirt shop has always been there. But we nostalgics, who remember queuing glumly for school books, know better.
Down its steep wooden steps, the Blackboard Bistro is old-school. The kitchen is behind the scenes, a distant idea rather than a showpiece. The lampshades are glass jars, which might have been repurposed from a home-brewing kit. The small room is painted and papered in tasteful greige, with mirrors on one wall. The tables and chairs are dark wood and the cutlery rests on a rolled-up, heavy linen napkins.
The good news is wine by the bottle is half-price tonight (a Tuesday and Wednesday wheeze). The other good news is the menu is not littered with predictable dishes, those McBistro cliches that make you want to hunt down the chef who first teamed beetroot with goats cheese.
There follows a meal of two halves: super starters, mains that don’t dazzle quite so much, and a cracking dessert.
A tongue salad (stifle the urge to giggle as you order it) is a warm circle of buttery potatoes and cubes of soft beautifully cooked ox tongue. The heat from the spuds wafts up through the raw red onion slices and sprig of fresh tarragon balanced on top. Every element on the fork works. A poached free-range egg sits atop another meaty salad, this time of smoked pork belly lardons. The tangy green dressed salad, smoke, pig and salt make a great set of flavours, the eggy finish bringing it together.