O’Connell’s restaurant has been part of the Dublin dining scene for a good few years now, having begun life in Bewley’s Hotel in Ballsbridge in 1999 before taking up temporary residence in the nearby D4 Hotel, and most recently relocating to Donnybrook in 2010.
Run by Tom O’Connell, a brother of Darina Allen of Ballymaloe Cookery School, this remarkable Dublin restaurants motto is to use only the very best Irish ingredients – local, artisan, free-range and organic where possible – all cooked with great care.
Walking into the Donnybrook premises (formerly Madigan’s pub) the first impression is of a busy, brasserie-style space. The open-plan room is generous but cleverly broken up with potted ferns. Bentwood chairs, bare wood tables (covered with crisp, starched white linen in the evening) and gleaming brass fixtures complete the look with the old solid wood bar still having pride of place.
It’s an appealing package, with a cosy ‘Around the Corner’ bar, and an upper floor available for private dining as well as the characterful ground floor dining room, where the many fans of this dedicated team can enjoy what they have always done best: serving great, simple ingredients-led food, guided by the Irish seasons.
Producers and suppliers (some of many years standing) continue to be the stars of the show, along with house specialities including O’Connells Smoked Fish & Shellfish Plate – and Hereford Prime Rib-Eye, either roasted and served from a magnificent silver trolley, which Tom O’Connell himself carves at your table, or a char-grilled 8oz steak.
The menu sings of freshness and is extremely easy to navigate as most dishes can be served as starters or mains. Typically, it begins with a choice between two excellent homemade soups such as Mushroom and French Onion (around €5-€6), served with homemade, nutty brown bread.
Soups are followed by tempting choices which include a good choice of fish and seafood, such as crisp and delicious Smoked Haddock & Cod Fish Cake (starter/main); White Crab, Avocado & Smoked Salmon Plate; Bill Casey’s smoked organic Irish salmon with the classical accompaniment of lemon, capers and shallots (starter/main); and a bowl of Galway Bay mussels in white wine and cream sauce served with hand-cut chips.
Main dishes are generously accompanied by sides of vegetables and potato dishes which change daily - fresh Savoy cabbage, perhaps and beautifully creamy dauphinoise potatoes.
Home-baked desserts are also a real highlight at O’Connell’s – the selection varies but you might well treat yourself to a slice of the baked lemon cheesecake, sticky toffee pudding or a mixed berry compôte served with a dollop of softly whipped cream, or ice cream. Finish with a tea (the pot of Barry’s perhaps), coffee (ethically traded) or herbal tea from the beverages menu.
Rosemary Kearney, author of ‘Healthy Gluten Free Eating’, is a consultant, and O’Connells is probably Ireland’s most coeliac-friendly restaurant, offering home-baked gluten-free bread and menus that are almost entirely gluten-free.
Value for money has always been a key feature of O’Connells, on all of the various menus offered at different times of day - and also on the exceptionally informative wine list.