A Rathmines restaurant that will please all diets, and all pockets

Bethlehem captures the experience of being invited to someone’s home

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Address: 3 Wynnefield Road, Rathmines, Dublin 6
Telephone: 01 497 8805
Cuisine: Middle Eastern
Cost: €€

A portmanteau sounds like it could be an interesting dish, but as you probably know it’s a compound of words, brunch being a prime example. And then there’s veganuary, trotted out at the beginning of each year, encouraging us all to eat shoots and leaves, dump dairy and anything that breathes.

With all that’s going on at the moment this may not be your default setting for January 2022, but if you’re feeling just the slightest bit compelled to seek out somewhere with a passing acquaintance with healthy eating for a pre-8pm meal Middle Eastern food has the credentials.

Bethlehem is one of these places, tucked in on a small street around the corner from Slattery's pub in Rathmines. The old signage is still up. It was formerly Shakshuka, the reinvention of Little Jerusalem, run by the Silk Road Café people; it is now leased to Ihab Salah, who has a Palestinian chef, Mahamed Zidan, running the kitchen.

The cosy cushions in nooks and crannies have gone, but it’s still got that same transportational feeling. You walk through the door, and the music, the people, the aromas of grilled food all make it feel like the right choice within seconds. The dust of the weird world is left outside.


Like Silk Road Café – which does great takeaways, by the way, in case you’ve decided to stay put – vegan options are clearly indicated, and many of the dishes can be adapted for vegan and vegetarian diets. Dips, grills, salads, all the usuals are on the menu, which, while they don’t spell out “designed for sharing” in hipster, is exactly what it is.

Silky and creamy

The hummus, €6.95, comes dusted with sumac, and is silky, creamy and delicious with the flatbread, not the chalky, slightly raw tasting dip you can sometimes get. The babaganoush, €7.50, is particularly good; it’s got a bit of texture to it, there is a beautiful citrus acidity, smoke creeps in, and it finishes with a fruity zing from a handful of pomegranate seeds on top.

Falafel, €6.95, one of those sure-fire vegan dishes, is as it should be, crunchy on the outside with a nutty bite and fluffy inside; there’s a spoon of garlic sauce for dipping, and a fairly pedestrian salad.

Main course is essentially larger sharing dishes. Mujaddarra, €14, a vegan pilaf which Ottolenghi fans will know from his Jerusalem cookbook, is a delicious mix of rice, lentils and fried onions, heavily nuanced with toasted cumin and coriander seeds.

The mixed grill, €19.95, is loaded with two minced lamb kebabs, four chicken pieces and a lamb chop, all of them spiced differently before being cooked over the grill. Mint rings through on the kebabs, and the pieces of chicken, which have been marinated for just the right amount of time, are succulent inside and charred on the outside. The only minus, a big one actually, is that they are not free range.

Our third main course, kofta bil batata, €17, are patties of minced lamb that have been cooked in the oven in a tomato-based sauce.

If you’re being good you’ll be skipping desserts. We didn’t. Both were new to me. Katayif, €6, are pancakes that have been stuffed with walnuts and coconut, then deep fried and soused in rosewater syrup and dusted with nuts. Layaly lubban, €6, is a delicious semolina based pudding with a burnt sugar syrup and, again, a bit of that evocative rose water.

Someone’s home

The joy of Bethlehem is that it really does seem to capture the sort of experience you get in the Middle East if you’re invited to someone’s home. It’s a comfortable room, where you feel the genuine warmth and hospitality of being a guest, not just a paying customer. There is a table of three generations dining, chatting and sharing dishes, and a young boy investigating the fish tank.

It’s a place you could bring just about anyone, although unfortunately, not anyone in a wheelchair, which is a shame as it’s a ground floor restaurant. So while you could indeed get in the door and pull up at a table there are no accessible toilet facilities. Something I’m sure could be remedied.

It is a restaurant that is a joy all year round but particularly in January when you might be looking for somewhere not too expensive. There are dishes that will please all diets, vegan, vegetarian and carnivore. And if you’re not on the dry, you can BYOB with no corkage.

Dinner for three was €84.35

THE VERDICT: 8/10 Flavours of the Levant in a cosy corner of Rathmines

Facilities: Perfunctory and clean

Music: Middle Eastern

Food provenance: Could be improved, particularly the chicken. Meat from Cost Less, vegetables from Smithfield Market

Vegetarian options: Plenty to choose from, including a vegetarian mezze for two, and vegan options are flagged on the menu

Wheelchair access: Room is accessible but no accessible toilet

Corinna Hardgrave

Corinna Hardgrave

Corinna Hardgrave, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes a weekly restaurant column