If social media is anything to go by, the opening night at new restaurant Orwell Road turned the rather timid decibel level in Rathgar up to 11. At the end of a 3km stretch that has found itself in the news recently as home to a pocket of anti-Russian sentiment, it is hopping as I enter the compact room that was previously home to Howard’s Way, where tea and scones would have set you back €3.
It's a smart room – as you would expect from Conor and Marc Bereen, the clued-in operators behind Charlotte Quay and the recently shuttered Coppinger Row – with tightly packed tables. The best options are the banquettes by the window and the rattan-backed tall stools at the green-tiled, marble-topped bar, with views into the kitchen. The sizable, monogrammed napkins and bottles of water on the table are a nice touch.
The spirits licence has yet to land, so it’s two glasses of white to start, a Verdicchio (€7.50) and a Vinho Verde (€8), from a wine list compiled by Brigid O’Hora. Without getting into the natural funky stuff, there is plenty of interest, with bottles from small organic producers, and a considerable number by the glass. There are also quite a few bottles under €40.
Essentially, the menu has a starters, main courses and desserts structure, with a few snacks to start, but it would also adapt very nicely to a small-plates approach, and perhaps one main to share. Whatever you do, make sure you order the delicious mackerel tart (€5). It's a ceviche take on mackerel that has been aged by Karl Whelan at Saltwater Grocery down the road in Terenure, cut into small cubes, soused in chilli ponzu, bringing acidity and a touch of heat, packed into a delicate, crusty tartlet and topped with pickled onions and seaweed, which absolutely sings. You won't want to share. And do add the Andarl pork croquettes (€6.50) to your snacks order - two crisp golden nuggets, filled with slowly braised meat, topped with a disc of pickled apple.
Our red wine, Rafael Cambra Soplo (€30), an organic Grenache from Valencia in Spain, arrives just in time for our starters. The beef fat brioche, sitting on a black matt plate, needs to be lifted up to reveal the short ribs in the dish below (€14). It has been cooked in a water bath, which normally wouldn't be my thing, but the fat has been fully rendered before it's finished on a hibachi, bringing plenty of crusty bits and grilled flavour, lifted with wild garlic mayonnaise. I realise, as I'm half-way through the dish, I should probably be piling the meat onto the savoury beef brioche. This is a clever dish, and an indication of who is heading up the kitchen, Daniel Hannigan, who previously worked in Richmond Restaurant and was head chef in Mister S.
Burnt onion broth
Less successful are the Cais na Tire tortellini in a burnt onion broth (€13). The pasta is too thick and could do with just a little bit more of the delicious filling, and the broth is a shade too salty.
Lamb rump for mains (€35) is served medium, crisped on the outside, with flakes of salt adding a crunch. The lamb belly, which adds a real depth of flavour, is lightened by a small Caesar salad, finely diced cucumber and two spears of asparagus.
It is really good to see a chef putting proper thought into vegetarian options, and the celeriac with pearl barley (€20) is likely to be popular with Gen Z vegans. It looks stunning, with dramatic red and white radicchio leaves and a generous topping of toasted hazelnuts. But for me, there’s just too much celeriac and it’s a bit one-dimensional. It feels more like a dish to share.
For dessert, the rhubarb, which was collected from an honesty box in north Co Dublin, sits beneath a rhubarb sorbet and a parfait, and is topped with shards of meringue. I love the tartness of this dish, it’s refreshing and restrained, a delicious end to the meal.
Rathgar does not know what has hit it with this smart new restaurant. As nearby Ranelagh has lined its streets with restaurants and bars, and Rathmines has continued to be the cooler, more indie neighbour, it was the one of the three Rs that somewhat lagged behind. But now, things are looking up. This is going to be a very popular restaurant.
Dinner for two with a bottle and two glasses of wine was €148.
Verdict: 8.5/10: Smart, tasty cooking in a buzzy room
Facilities: Smart and compact
Music: Good sound system and play list, Nina Simone, Sly & The Family Stone, Otis Redding
Food provenance: Good. Sustainable Seafood Ireland and Glenmar seafood, JJ Young, McLoughlin's and Andarl meat
Vegetarian options: One vegetarian snack, two vegetarian starters and one vegetarian main, for example the celeriac, which will change regularly. Can be adapted for vegans.
Wheelchair access: Room is accessible with no accessible toilet.