Una Mullally: Irish restaurants have lost the plot
Dismantling of generic Irish restaurant menu is to be welcomed
“Porndog encapsulates many food and restaurant trends in Dublin that need to just go to their bedroom and think about what they’ve done.”
Recently, a mob arrived at a cafe in east London in a protest against gentrification. The Cereal Killer Cafe has been an object of derision since its inception as a failed crowdfunding campaign. That didn’t stop Belfast twins Alan and Gary Keery, who were determined to pursue the gimmick, and succeeded. The protestors arrived approximately a generation late to contest the gentrification of Brick Lane, because Cereal Killer is of course the result of gentrification, not the instigator of it. It’s a ridiculous concept that falls firmly into the category of Hipster Nonsense and an easy target. There’s a certain pointlessness in getting het up about these things, but generally an idiotic cafe like Cereal Killer is also a harbinger of every fad dying at once, yet crystallising in one messy moment before they all disappear, like a star running out of hydrogen.
Recently, a new establishment opened around the corner from my house in Dublin city centre. Porndog would make steam come out my ears if I hadn’t recently written a column about having perspective and not sweating the small stuff. Ordinarily I would roll my eyes or even get a little bit angry at the word “porn” in the title of a restaurant serving “porndogs” (hotdogs) for €15, “porn-frites” (chips), and toppings listed as “doggy style” on the menu. Leaving aside the plain marketing failure of calling your business something that directs you towards bestiality videos when your customers Google it, Porndog (which calls itself a “dive bar”, gah!), encapsulates many food and restaurant trends in Dublin that need to just go to their bedroom and think about what they’ve done. I’m sure the Porndog people are excited about their new business and so I wish them the best of luck.
The generic Irish restaurant menu is a mess at the best of times. A curry. That classic Italian dish, creamy chicken carbonara. A burger. Goats cheese tartlet. Fish and chips. Chicken wings. Announcing her most recent awards, and after giving out about poor service, poor wine service and poor attitudes in “too many establishments of all types”, Georgina Campbell moved on to the bad food, “Equally worrying is the number of poor meals we have experienced this year, even in previously reliable establishments. Standards are very variable, which may be at least partly due to the current chef shortage, which is now an ongoing crisis.” There are an awful lot of brilliant producers, chefs, restauranteurs and retailers doing amazing things with and for Irish food, and I really feel for them having Irish people as an audience. The dismantling of the generic Irish restaurant menu is to be welcomed. But what are we replacing it with?
Irish people are slaves to fashion across the board. We consume things because they are fashionable, not because they are good. That goes for handbags as much as food menus. Having dispensed with the cheesy flashiness of boom time with its scorching cappuccinos and cajun chicken paninis, casual dining has come to realise that the Celtic Tiger’s stench is hard to wash off. We can’t escape Ireland’s slavery to bad fashion, by mounting the tiger’s head ironically on an exposed brick wall and clinking our jam jars in a toast to its demise. When it comes to eating, we’re replacing one slavish approach with another. The brash trash has been swapped for the hipster nonsense of trends that have already died somewhere else. Why can’t we focus on our own indigenous strengths without coopting other identities? I can’t cope with any more subway tiles and mason jars, skeuomorphism and distressed furniture, incongruous industrial design flourishes, exposed filament, and entire concepts that seem to solely rest on a throwaway gimmick. Some places do cheap-ish and fun very well, but the jumble sale approach to dining tropes is about trying to find an identity while merely exposing a lack thereof.
It’s pretty laughable that new bars immediately focus on gimmicky IPAs when we make the best beer in the world right here in our capital city. It’s kind of ridiculous that we produce amazing pork products, and then serve up trashy pulled pork and call it cool. It’s a bit of a joke that we produce some of the best beef in the world, yet it’s increasingly difficult to find a fillet steak in a restaurant. And our relationship with seafood is so dismissive and warped that you’d almost forget we’re an island in the Atlantic ocean.
Irish cities never experienced gentrification in the way other cities did. Because our housing boom was so rapid, we didn’t stop to look at sites that would spark the imagination as to what could be achieved. The warehouses, workshops and factories of the city centre were flattened in favour of the cold steel and glass. Now that shininess isn’t cool anymore, we’re fitting places out to look like a mechanic was evicted the day before. I can’t bring myself to cross the threshold of somewhere called Porndog. Mind you, I put myself through college by working in a restaurant called Mao. So make mine a double standard.