A white, egg-shaped sign on the corner of a pedestrianised street reads: “We’re now called Dubh, but used to be called Ubh.” It is as warm and personal as signs get, and it turns out to be a good indicator of what is inside.
If your only experience of Newbridge is its famous cutlery and Museum of Style Icons, venture one street in from the swarm of traffic on the main artery and you’ll get a sense of the historical heart of the town. George’s Street links the town hall to the market square – which has been promised a bit of love that will truly transform it – and a smart, green tile-clad building with black awnings and black framed windows gleams out on the corner with Eyre Street.
It took chef Emma Spain and her husband, Shane Byrne of Bad Habits coffee roastery in Naas, a year to refurbish the former pub, and by 2021 it became the new home for their cafe business, Ubh, which had resided across the street. More recently, they’ve opened in the evening from Wednesday to Saturday as a restaurant.
It is a glorious, light-filled room. Naked brickwork contrasts with the old pitch pine floors and crisp whitewashed walls, and copper lamps hang over a teak bar counter from the original pub, which forms a boundary for the open kitchen. Cookbooks such as Dishoom, The Noma Guide to Fermentation, and Polpo are book-ended on bottle green shelves by bottles of carefully selected low-intervention wines.
The menu is divided into snacks, smaller, bigger and sides. It’s the small-plates approach which is very much of the moment, but it doubles quite cleverly into a starter, main course and dessert format, keeping the appeal suitably broad.
From the “smaller” section, chargrilled octopus (€14) has flavour from grill contact, but I would imagine that, rather than just being cooked briskly, it first had a long spell of gentle cooking. Tapenade is a good accompaniment, as are chunks of sweet heirloom tomatoes.
Grilled peaches are cut into quarters and charred, sitting on top of whipped goat’s cheese and bitter endive, dressed with a very tasty walnut pesto (€10). It’s a nice blend of flavours, although I had expected the goat’s cheese, which is billed as a mousse, to take more of a central role.
For main course, the miso glazed aubergine (€17) is collapsing in savoury loveliness, dusted with white sesame seeds and holding very nicely against the crunchy green beans. Tomatoes are dressed with olive oil, chopped chives and a scattering of coriander seeds, and a smoked aubergine puree lurks beneath, perhaps a little lost with all of the strong flavours on top. It is the sort of vegetarian dish that I love to see on menus, something that is all about the taste and not just included as a token.
There are seven wines by the glass on a list that has four bottle options below €30, and a glass of Max Ferdinand’s Zeppelin Riesling (€12) turns out to be a very nice pairing with the aubergine. A note on the wine list indicating that it is off dry would be a good idea, as, even though it is well balanced with zippy acidity, it may not be to everyone’s taste.
Pan-fried hake (€24) is cooked beautifully, served piping hot with a fresh-tasting salsa verde, peperonata and green beans; for those who prefer their wine bone dry, a glass of Casa Novas Vinho Verde (€9) works well with this. Sides are an option on this menu; they’re just €4 and sound delicious – charred cabbage, olive-oil crushed potatoes and rocket salad with pear and Parmesan – but we’re keen to save room for dessert.
The dark chocolate cremeux (€7) is velvety and rich, with a few thick shards of meringue and blackberries to add texture; and a glazed lemon tart (€7) with a fragile brulee top is served with a few raspberries.
Dubh is a neighbourhood restaurant that has got the perfect balance between bringing a more modern approach and staying relevant to locals of all ages. Brian McCafferty, the head chef, brings considerable experience from his time at Dali, Chapter One and the Old Spot, and he cooks with ease. It is midweek when we visit, but I can well imagine this being a very lively spot at the weekends. The facts that it has not forgotten its roots and also has a very smart bar next door add to the appeal.
Dinner for two with two glasses of wine was €100.
THE VERDICT: The perfect neighbourhood restaurant
Music: Amy Winehouse, Lord Echo and chilled mix
Food provenance: Glenmar, Pat McLoughlin, Pigs on the Green, Ratsillafarm, Stradbally, Village Dairy
Vegetarian options: Generally one option per course, for example, the miso glazed aubergine, and dishes can be adapted for vegans
Wheelchair access: Accessible, with accessible toilet