Review: a theatrical eatery that deserves its name in lights

A theatre cafe that is pared-back, but never loses the plot

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The Peacock Cafe

  • 26 Lower Abbey Street, Dublin 1
  • (01) 8797213
  • Irish

They’re all out of ham at the Peacock Cafe. It’s fine because there will be whole sides of it on stage later. They will be larding it on for laughs about Irish theatricality in Corn Exchange’s brilliantly hammy Dublin by Lamplight.

But first we’re downstairs in the basement of the Abbey for a pre-theatre bite and the involtini cured ham with goats cheese and melon is all gone. Sometimes a pre-theatre sitting can feel like a late lunch, something slightly less sophisticated, in the lull before the grown-ups arrive. But here pre-theatre is the only dinner they do, and only on nights when there is a show on upstairs (they close at 5pm the rest of the time), so it isn’t just a pretentious name for the early-bird.

There are two rooms in this cafe, one with a handsome large oak table and the other with tables for two beside a polished concrete counter. The lighting is good, as you would expect in a building where they have experts doing this kind of thing. The place has the pared-back feeling of something that could shape-shift into something else in minutes if someone were to summon an army of black-clad ninja stagehands to wheel things away.

Customer research

The menu is simple. It has to be. Like a theatre company run on a shoestring they are slightly hamstrung by the facilities. It’s a hotplate operation rather than a full kitchen, so everything is served either cold or piping hot. The emphasis is on ingredients that can hold their own in that less-than-ideal scenario.

And mostly they find the sweet spot. Tonight there’s white onion soup, a satisfying bowl of tart sweetness finished with apple and cider vinegar. I get the country terrine, two generous slabs of spreadable pork meat cut from a loaf studded with luscious blobs of fat. There are good sourdough toasts to spread it on and a small pot of what’s described on the menu as ploughman’s chutney but is a much nicer version than that jammy, sticky notion of chutney. Here there are tiny chunks of still-crunchy vegetables dressed lightly with a turmeric-spiced dressing, a chutney in the Indian rather than the Branston school.

Soupy bowl

Later, during the interval, a young American in an epic loo queue will muse aloud at how “these 400-year-old buildings” were not made with the modern bladder in mind. I’m not sure if bladders have changed that much over time, but the 1960s building was not built with modern eaters in mind. Melancholy musings about what the Abbey might have been date back half a century to its opening when architect Michael Scott dreamt aloud about the theatre that could have been had the site stretched all the way down to the river.

They’re doing a good job with their material in the Peacock Cafe. It’s the best pre-theatre in a district that’s still something of a food desert. And it’s small enough that you should book if you want to grab something before a show. Could it be grander, starrier, a little more epic? Maybe. But imagining a national cuisine in our national theatre will mean figuring out the meaning of both concepts. And that could take at least another 400 years.

Dinner for two with sparkling water and tea came to €53.25.

The Peacock Cafe, 26 Lower Abbey Street, Dublin 1 (01) 8797213

Facilities: Fine

Music: Pleasant background level

Food provenance: Great. Gubbeen chorizo, Burren Smokehouse fish and Durrus cheese all given menu star billing

Vegetarian options: Yes

Wheelchair access: Yes

Verdict: 7/10 – A good place to eat well before the show

Second Helping . . .

Gaillot et Gray on Clanbrassil St replaced betting slips with fresh baked bread when they took over an old bookie’s, and it seems to be the start of something new. As the betting trade moves increasingly online and betting shops close, the latest bookie’s-turned-baker’s is Kennedy’s in Phibsborough. Here the old William Hill shop has been transformed into the fourth arm in the northside empire run by my friend Sarah Kennedy and her husband Shane. They have plans to build out into the yard in the future, but in the meantime the place is a lovely, bright bet for breakfast or lunch.  

Kennedys Foodstore, 166 Phibsborough Rd, Phibsborough, Dublin 7