Review: The Washerwoman is bringing great casual dining to an old school Dublin pub

Elaine Murphy’s new restaurant on Glasnevin Hill is a good addition to the northside

   
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The Washerwoman

W e’re not between the canals anymore Toto. We are over the rainbow in the burbs looking at a menu with town prices on it. It’ll be interesting to see how this one goes. Weather and water are big features of The Washerwoman. The newly revamped gastropub is on Dublin’s Glasnevin Hill, across from Met Éireann HQ where the meteorologists are busy figuring out whether there’ll be great drying out tomorrow.

A large wooden clothes peg hangs down outside as its sign. Inside, everything that stood still long enough has been lime-washed, New England style. Legend has it that the pub was named after the washerwoman’s hill, where women from a local wash house brought their tubs to the banks of the Tolka, turning a tedious indoors job into a tedious communal one.

The new Washerwoman is the suburban sister of restaurateur Elaine Murphy’s Winding Stair and Woollen Mills restaurants. Tonight, it’s packed and they’re doing more than one sitting at their small wooden tables. Already a success then? “It’s because there’s nothing on the northside,” my friend says. She’s allowed because she’s a local.

The menu is smart. Along with those town prices (€27 for my main course which is a three-course price point in these parts), there are cheaper diner dishes and a €50 family roast option that has to be ordered before you arrive. So you can grab a bite, or settle in for a feed.

We’re upstairs in a tightly-packed space with dove grey painted walls, a vaulted dark wooden ceiling and a gorgeous old map of Ireland on its gable end. The food takes the same path as the Woollen Mills, earthy, un-finessed cooking where no-one goes home hungry. But they haven’t just cut and pasted the Liffeyside menu to here, which makes it feel more of its own place. Nearly everything we get is more ambitious than pub grub, as it should be for these prices.

On the mixed vegetarian platter there are truly tasty things, a cerise pink bowl of beetroot puree topped with smoked yoghurt with a burnt paper taste that I love but the friend doesn’t. She’s delighted with the tangle of aubergine flesh. It’s like a fishing net jewelled with a catch of pomegranate seeds. I think it should be smokier than it is. The third dish of sweet potato hummus hits the Goldilocks sweet spot of just rightness. There’s a crunchy celery stick and two halved carrots, a yellow one and a purple one. The jazzy carrots are not as crunchy or tasty as carrots can be and feel like something that was sliced a little too long ago. House-made flatbread is perfect.

We share two crab cakes that are small (small biscuit diameter rather than drinks coasters) but packed with thready crab meat rather than bulked out with mash. They come with my favourite side dish of the night’s munching: a crayfish and green shoot salad with sweet tail meat and juicy greens.

There’s a monkfish main course, fiery with chilli flavour and drenched in dill, with good pasta, slightly thicker than the spaghetti description on the menu, but gorgeous, with sprouting broccoli florets and other fresh green things in the mix.

I love the feathery sweet texture of my Dublin Bay prawns and the liqouricey roasted fennel and they come with a delightfully sticky charred lemon half. But it’s a dish pooled in melted butter and the Spanish Point seaweed is lagged in a mash-heavy breaded cake. Less butter and crisped seaweed nibbles would have nailed this dish. There’s an exemplary bread and butter pudding, tray-baked I’m guessing, and then sliced into a wodge of eggy comfort before being finished briefly in the oven so the edges are crisp. A light custard finishes it off.

My dessert is the duff dish of the night: whiskey cream with oats and raspberries sounds great, but it’s just a glass of fluffy dairy blandness with leathery raspberries and the occasional crunch of honeycomb to liven up the texture.

It’s no surprise that The Washerwoman is good. Once they iron out some wrinkles (sorry) I don’t think anyone will object to paying town prices in a restaurant that’s a brilliant addition to a great neighbourhood. Dinner for two with three glasses of wine, coffee and sparkling water came to €118.50.

Facilities: Nice

Music: Hard to hear over the din of chat

Food provenance: Impeccable. A menu sprinkled with producers’ names

Wheelchair access: Yes

Vegetarian options: Limited but excellent

THE VERDICT: Great ingredients and good cooking in an old pub setting