The Winding Stair: Stairway to food heaven

The reinvented casual cafe <b> at the Winding Stair </b> has cornered the market in feel-good Irish food

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The Winding Stair

  • 40 Lower Ormond Quay
  • (01) 8727320
  • Irish

Dublin I heart you. Every return a homecoming after I’ve lived elsewhere. Even the last time when we walked past a drugs search on our first night back, gardaí shining torches into the mouths of young men. Welcome home to “this glorified kip of a city,” as Rashers Tierney puts it in James Plunkett’s Strumpet City .

There are plenty of quintessential Dublin restaurants, but none in which Dublin itself is as much part of the scenery as in The Winding Stair. Through its high gleaming windows on a sunlit Sunday it’s as if all the landmarks have bunched up for a photograph. The Central Bank looms over the Ha’penny Bridge and the river draws your eye down to the sea or back towards U2’s Clarence Hotel.

The Winding Stair has just started doing brunch. So you get to see Dublin in all its glittering weekend daylight. And for the first time in ages warm sunshine has brought a smile to faces and dropped shoulders several notches.

I’m meeting two old friends and a lovely waitress has made several attempts to get our order. Partly because there’s a lot to catch up on but also because it all sounds so bloody good. For drinks, we go for a mimosa (Prosecco and orange juice), a delicious glass of red, a Sicilian nero d’avalo Borgo Selene and a freshly-squeezed orange juice.

Anyone with an Inter Cert remembers The Winding Stair as a cafe where you could sit by the rattly windows with a coffee and a book all afternoon. It was taken over by a developer, became a restaurant, wobbled into receivership and was saved along with the groundfloor bookshop by restaurateur Elaine Murphy.

The new brunch is typical of what they do here, Irish produce put together simply and served to a noisy room where the bare tables and bentwood chairs are packed together. I’d be surprised if there was a squeezy bottle in the kitchen. It’s hearty and homely, the opposite of the dots on the plate and micro-leaf school of presentation.

The stand-out dish is a large plate of sticky ribs, Fermanagh Black Pig meat comes smothered in a sweet brown lightly-spiced sauce. The difference with these ribs is there’s loads of meat on them, not the ribs where you have to gnaw tiny thready morsels free from the bone, but proper chunks.

The red cabbage is pickled to a translucent ruby glow rather than weighed down with sugary syrup like a more heavy-handed red cabbage can be. A kohlrabi coleslaw finishes off this plate with a clean mineral flavour.

Then there’s the Gubbeen chorizo rancheros bursting with texture and flavour. A large crisp flatbread has two fried eggs at smothered in chunks of chorizo in a tomato sauce topped with melted cheddar and a pot of mashed avocado.

Compared to these two triumphs my fish platter is a little disappointing. It’s an array of tasty things, an oyster pate which is gorgeous, beetroot gravadlax, tiny smoked scallops (divine) and lightly-smoked salmon. But the smoked trout and smoked mackerel slices are leathery.

A side of cheesy onion potatoes falls a bit flat by being too rubbery. On the upside there’s an excellent soil-brown deeply tasty dilisk bread on my fish platter and the pickled cucumber lifts the fish out of penitential mode.

Dessert is a shared sundae glass of rhubarb and clementine Eton mess, which makes me love The Winding Stair all over again. The meringue has that oyster creamy colour you only get with home-cooking. It’s also avoided the tooth-curlingly sweet road and gone for a gentler sugar element. This works with the tangy rhubarb, cream and clementine pieces submerged in thick cream.

We could sit in this happy place all afternoon and it looks like plenty of peoplehave the same idea. Dublin hasn’t had a brunch place so good you had to organise your whole weekend around a table booking. Now it does again.

Brunch for three, with dessert, drinks, coffees and a tea came to €91.95.