Pub food with an Iberian twist

Tapas to get out of the grave for? That might be an exaggeration, but the Gravedigger’s pub is serving a great take on the Spanish…

Tapas to get out of the grave for? That might be an exaggeration, but the Gravedigger’s pub is serving a great take on the Spanish speciality, for the price of soup and a sandwich

IT’S GENERAL WISDOM that an ornate sign reading, “purveyors of fine foods” since some-suitably-olde-date is code for “move along unless you like microwaved garlic mushrooms”.

So it’s a bit worrying to see an old iron delivery bike parked outside the Gravediggers pub in Dublin’s Glasnevin with the obligatory historic food boast on it. This is, after all, one of Dublin’s landmarks, prominently featured on iconic pub posters. John Kavanagh’s (its real name) is set in a lovely green square beside the wall of Glasnevin cemetery. I last visited on a hot night in the summer of 1995 when it was full of cigarette smoke and characters supping creamy pints.

Time has moved on and the place remains admirably unchanged, bar the clearing of smoke clouds. And now a tapas menu has come to the Gravediggers. Can it work? I’m a little afraid it could be like the Dubliners remixed with Gypsy Kings covers.


Behind the beautiful pub front is the best kind of Irish pub. There are wooden floors and comfortable solid tables. There is no television and no music. Overhead is that varnished flock ceiling wallpaper that seems to have unrolled from the tube already nicotine-glazed.

Hanging over the bar there’s a hint of a homage to food. It’s a painting of the iconic Bob Carlos Clarke photograph of a young muscle-bound Marco Pierre White with meat cleaver in hand and scowl on face. It’s a memory of the time when he was the poster boy smouldering chef. A time before stock cubes.

I settle with my pint to the best kind of waiting. I squint at the menu, which is written in small lettering on a chalk board – appetisers, colds, warms and hots all between €2.50 and €5 a plate. Then the mellow mood is punctured by a dead mobile battery and no sign of the friends. I ask the friendly waitress if anyone has a charger. “The skinny one?” she asks knowledgeably. She brings my phone behind the bar for a zap and then I can phone the friends. Turns out they’re two booths away to my left. (Oh for 1995 when we still had the ability to find people in pubs instead of sending “r u here?” texts.)

And so to eat. The friends have already ordered a bottle of Portuguese Pinot Grigio (Borgo Molino, €21.40) and it’s on ice in a bucket. They don’t hand out menus and the writing is quite small, so you get up and stand to order. The service is terrific, friendly and efficient. We get a range of dishes and fall on them hungrily. Luckily the friends have chosen a much nicer table, where you can see the treetops out the window and the lovely evening light is pouring in.

And the food is good. My top dishes are the pickled anchovies, wrapped around stuffed olives, two tasty smoked mackerel and salmon fish cakes, and a parcel of grilled asparagus spears wrapped in bacon. They all come on small plates and we get small side plates to try them out. I am joined in a grumble by one of the friends about the lack of dinner-sized plates, but we’re told not to be fusspots by the third member of the group who says small plates are where it’s at with tapas.

There’s also a portion of tasty spiced sweet potato with feta and rice that I would have preferred with cous cous. And we have a plate of pickled seafood, rubbery and vinegary squid, mussels, lobster and prawns.

The only duff note is the tortellini, which taste like the shop-bought ones you tip into boiling water for a five-minute supper. They come with a tasty spiced roasted vegetable mix on top, but at €6 a plate, I’m not sure they could afford to pay a chef to hand-make pasta and roll it around fresh ingredients, but the veg would have worked with some patatas bravas alongside.

Desserts are €3.80 each – a nice mint chocolate mousse served in a coffee cup and a white chocolate mousse which hasn’t set and is still like thick custard. It’s a little like spooning melted Milky Bars into your mouth, which isn’t the worst culinary experience you can have in this town.

One of my friends has explained the evening to her five-year-old as a grown-up play date. “You know the way you have play dates, well I’m going out to meet my friends.” As a venue for adult play dates, our generation tends to avoid the pub and heads to the cafe or restaurant. The Gravediggers could tempt us back. The tapas dishes are on weekdays until 8.30pm, with an oyster bar on Fridays. It is serving small plates of tasty, well-cooked things at soup-and-sandwich prices. It’s a case of rare oul stuff with some good new stuff added. What’s not to like?

Tapas for three with a bottle of wine and a pint came to €64.15 (cash only).

The Gravediggers

1 Prospect Square, Glasnevin, Dublin 9, tel: 01-8307978

Facilities:Basic, pub variety. Let's just say every expense has been spared

Music:None, happily

Wheelchair access:Yes

Food provenance:None

Catherine Cleary

Catherine Cleary

Catherine Cleary, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a founder of Pocket Forests