The public’s preference for eating and drinking in an outdoor setting, rather than indoors, has influenced the entire redesign of House Dublin, the restaurant, bar and hotel on Lower Leeson Street in Dublin 2, which reopens in a week’s time, having been shuttered since March 2020.
"You're coming in, and you're not expecting to see that. It's a surprise, it's light, it's blue, it's quite 'holiday'." Publican and hotelier Alan Clancy has been entirely hands-on in his redesign of this venue spread over two Georgian townhouses, which now incorporates an extended and revamped outdoor dining area that can seat 90, within Covid guidelines. "We used to fill the building from the inside out, now we will fill it from the outside in," Clancy says. He is coy about the cost of the revamp, saying only: "It's been a lot, it's more than I expected to spend."
The outdoor space has Hatch Hall, being turned into a hotel by Red Carnation, the company that also owns Ashford Castle, as its backdrop. It is a riot of natural greenery, plants, creepers, mini trees and flowers in pots, dominated by a sky blue colour scheme that extends from the trusses that keep the retractable roof in place, to the soft furnishings and kitsch sun shade parasols.
Clancy cites Miami as his inspiration for the revamp, and was in the Florida city on a research trip in March 2020 when Covid took hold and he had to fly home. “I want you to feel like you’re away, you’re escaping, because there has been a huge cloud over us for the past 18 months,” he says of the multi-use space which also features a bar surrounded by edible plants - herbs and botanicals that bartenders will use to create and garnish drinks.
Bar manager Ken Herlihy points to three different types of mint - lemon, chocolate and regular, that will be used for cocktails, as well as tomatoes, rosemary, strawberries, chillies, oregano, and basil, growing in moveable troughs that can be replaced as needed with new stock being cultivated on the roof. "It's a very exciting thing for a bartender to step into that world of real meaningful sustainability," Herlihy says.
Clancy, whose NolaClan hospitality group owns the business, along with a string of high-profile premises including House Belfast and House Limerick, and Dublin hotspots Xico, 37 Dawson Street, 9 Below, believes that Covid concerns will dictate how hospitality fares in the coming months and beyond. “People want to be outside and sometimes they don’t come unless they’re outside,” he says, referencing customer preferences he has seen at his Navan pub and restaurant, Larry & Nora’s, named after his parents.
The sense of being elsewhere, and perhaps on holidays, also permeates the menu, which has significant international food influences. "It's been a bit of a collaboration because I would never have thought of putting on some of the dishes that Alan was pointing me towards, like the duck salad, the lobster corn dog, the Asian quinoa salad," says head chef Neil Mulholland, who previously spent 12 years working at Peploe's on St Stephen's Green.
That Silverhill duck salad starter (€12) comes with a rice salad with yuzu and sesame. “We marinate the duck first then confit the whole duck, very slowly, then it is crisped under the salamander,” Mulholland says. Before that, guests might have nibbled on the prawn crackers, listed as a snack. “It’s a bit playful, they’re not just prawn crackers, one of them is made with octopus, one is made with nori seaweed, and then we have the prawn ones. They’re made by Albert Adrià, Ferran’s brother; we serve them with a chilli spice mix on top.”
The lobster and crab corn dog (€18), comes with citrus creme fraiche and caviar. But Mulholland thinks the lobster linguini (€28) will be the winning dish for seafood lovers. “We buy whole lobster, blanch it, take it apart, use the shells to make a fond [deeply concentrated beginnings of a good sauce], roast lots of tomatoes and crush them and mix with the fond, reduce that down, then it’s hung in muslin overnight so it drips down and you have a clear tomatoey broth; it’s delicious.”
The vegan cheeseburger will be made with beetroot and millet. Mulholland is not a fan of meat substitutes. “We should definitely be eating less meat but I don’t like those fake meat burgers, a good vegan patty is excellent.” Meat lovers will find John Stone steaks and burgers on the menu too, alongside Irish free-range chicken, and grilled seabass. “When a menu has 10 good things on it, it’s plenty, there’s something for everyone. But they have to be all good, you can’t have weak ones,” Clancy says.
The revamped House Dublin will open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, with brunch at the weekends too, and food and drinks will be served throughout the ground floor of the building, indoors and outdoors. The indoor space, with a bar and several dining areas, has also been reconfigured and redesigned, within the limitations of what can be done with the Georgian property.
Floral wallpaper, mismatched jewel-coloured button-back armchairs, and dramatic mustard drapes meet guests at the entrance space, called the Parlour, with a library room just off it, from where guests will access the 16 bedrooms overhead. The main indoor bar and restaurant beyond is a dark, wood-dominated, clubby space, warmed by a plethora of light fittings and back-lit shelves giving off an amber glow. A conservatory can be screened off with full-length curtains. “I am trying to create private dining that’s not private, so that you’re part of the place but you’re not hidden away somewhere,” Clancy says. “My ethos is I sell an experience, I don’t just sell food and drink.”
General manager Andrew Fisher, previously of the Fire restaurant on Dawson Street and the Westbury Hotel, expects the operation, including the hotel, will employ between 55 and 60 people when it opens to the public on August 18th.