A couple of months back, my editor suggested that this week I review somewhere in Dublin that would make a good pit stop for anyone in need of sustenance during a bout of Christmas shopping.
I remember when the café in Brown Thomas, then located in what is now Marks & Spencer, was just that spot. BT in those days was home to the Callaghan’s equestrian shop, which had Grafton Street frontage, while Private Lives upstairs dressed the country’s most fashionable women in gowns of impossible glamour. (Or so they seemed to me. I’d done a stint of work experience in Sybil Connolly’s atelier in Merrion Square and considered myself something of an expert.)
My father brought me into Brown Thomas with him when he shopped for my mother’s present and we’d go to the café afterwards by way of reward for a stressful job done. The long-married know that Christmas presents for one’s spouse can be tricky, and the consequences of getting them wrong a disaster.
The memory of the French onion soup is the one that lingers. It was done properly, with a huge croûton topped with Gruyère bobbing drunkenly on its surface.
The food offering across Dublin has of course improved immeasurably since then, but I’d find it hard to summon up any great enthusiasm for the in-house cafés or restaurants in the big shops in the city centre today. And as Grafton and Henry streets become ever more populated with retail and food outlets from the UK, I know that I’m not alone in wanting to seek out places to shop and eat that are more individual, the ones owned and run by people rather than corporations.
Which brings me to South Richmond Street and the little gem that is Picado Mexican, where you can stock up on Frida Kahlo shopping bags and all manner of deliciousness in jars by way of gifts for food obsessives.
Across the road is Eatyard, rebranded as Yuleyard for the time of year that’s in it. Essentially a car park to the side of The Bernard Shaw pub, it’s home to an eclectic bunch of street-food traders and pop-up bars sponsored by different drinks companies, along with a few market stalls where you might pick up a gift or two.
The first stall is Lucky Tortoise, Thom Lawson’s Asian pop-up that’s appeared in venues such as The Hill Pub in Ranelagh and Berlin on Dame Street. By the time you read this, it will be open on Aungier Street, in a permanent premises, and the menu will feature more of the dim sum, bao and dumplings for which it is known. At Yuleyard, we try the pork and red cabbage siu mai dumplings — they originate from Hohhot in Inner Mongolia, a piece of trivia that you should store away for your next table quiz — and are a staple of Cantonese dim sum. The Lucky Tortoise version is juicy, tasty and delicious. The lemongrass pork — an Asian version of pulled pork — comes in a soft and pillowy bao, with great, not-too-pungent kimchi and white rice. Eight dumplings and the bao set us back €21.
Eatyard regular Box Burger is next. Box Burger central is in Bray, but the touring operation is equally successful — the burgers are hand-made and use cuts of meat with enough fat in them to ensure that they don’t dry out on the griddle. Be warned: The Mexican version — jalapeño, chipotle, guacamole and sour cream — is hot, hot, hot. Two burgers with shared fries cost €19. A free-range apple and mustard hot dog from Flamin’ Marvellous (€6.50) comes in a rather tragic seeded roll but is otherwise fine.
By this stage, we’ve run out of room so will have to return for Meltdown’s cheese toasties (remembering to pre-order the cheese fondue, which seems to be becoming a Thing in Dublin this Christmas, as it’s also on the menu at Joe Macken’s new natural wine bar, Giuseppe’s) and Wow Waffles. And for cocktails and karaoke, once the last gift is ticked off the list.
ON A BUDGET
That free-range hot dog is just €6.50.
ON A BLOW-OUT
The bill could add up if you hit the cocktails but it’d be hard to spend more than €20 a head on food.
THE HIGH POINT
The food is way more interesting than anything you’d find at a department store café.
THE LOW POINT
We’d have liked to sample the cocktails but we still have SO MUCH MORE shopping to do. Aaaargh!
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