Billing itself as ‘where creative people meet – from musicians to designers - who create their own vibe fuelled by great food, drink, music and art’, The Meeting House (presumably named, ironically, after the Quaker Meeting House that this area was most famous for 'pre Temple Bar') is a high-octane bar and music venue serving punchy cocktails and affordable Asian-influenced plates in the heart of Temple Bar.
It certainly couldn’t be more different from the building’s previous incarnation of Eden, the Modern Irish restaurant that spilled onto Meeting House Square for much of the Celtic Tiger years before falling victim to the recession. Gone are the light-reflecting furnishings and swimming pool tiling, the airy minimalism and cascading greenery. Gone too are the lunching ladies and lounging legal teams celebrating business across in the Four Courts.
Instead, The Meeting House is the kind of place that your senses adjust to on arrival – your ears to the pumping party music and your eyes to the dim lighting accentuated by dark furnishings, eclectic decor and a closed-in terrace shaded by a heavy canopy to keep daylight outside where it belongs. Presumably the weekend brunch crowd welcome this perma-party atmosphere too.
It’s appropriate that the first thing you meet on arrival is the bar from which craft beers and imaginative cocktails created by award wining mixologist and General Manager, Aaron Hall, are dispensed with great enthusiasm. (The Teeling Swizzle is heartily recommended, and it’s nice to see unique Irish products such as Highbank Orchard Syrup giving classic cocktails a local twist, as in the Irish Apple Mojito.)
A pair of DJ decks overlooking the main dining room set the party tone, picked up by neon light fixtures, a revolving disco ball and painted wall murals that look like over-sized tattoos. The many nooks and crannies of this multi-levelled space are filling with candelabras and tribal-style art objects, and large-scale paintings commissioned from a Dublin-based Spanish artist bring the walls closer to create a sense of intimacy previously lacking.
Throw in a lively cocktail-swilling crowd and some regular live music performances and you have a versatile hang-out that can happily morph from ‘eating house’ to cocktail bar and party venue as early evening slips into late night – with food served from 5pm and the bar open until 2.30am on weekends. Social media tags written in giant lettering on the dining room’s supporting columns remind the social media savvy clientele to let their friends know where they are and just how much fun is being had.
If it’s food you're after, the dinner menu offers a range of small plates designed for easy sharing. They recommend two or three per person, which is about right if you’re good and hungry, but you could start with less and see how you get on. The culinary theme is broadly Asian, choosing Burma as a starting point (but stretching as far as Japan and even Mexico with prawn tempura and tuna tacos in the ‘dim sum’ section).
It’s not everywhere that offers Burmese specialties so the Htamin Gyaw is worth a try. Essentially a fried rice dish with tofu, vegetables and nuts and seeds, the kitchen could be a more generous with the fish sauce and tamarind glaze but it makes for a decent feed for a tenner – or just over, with the addition of chicken or prawns. Pair with the likes of spicy pork ribs glazed with punchy flavour and served with Sriracha sauce, or the excellent beef noodle soup was excellent, featuring slow-cooked beef in an earthy aromatic broth filled with wild mushrooms and crunchy sugar snap peas and balanced with ginger, lemongrass, chilli, lime and coriander.
A sampled crab salad was disappointingly dull, with neither the crab meat, the green mango nor the accompanying herbs and spices delivering the flavour they might have. But we would go back for the promising sounding yellow fin tuna sashimi served with seaweed, samphire, pickled ginger and a chilli and tamarind soya sauce.
And brunch sounds fun, with refreshingly original offerings such as pork belly with duck eggs and hollandaise alongside marmalade-flavoured ‘breakfast martinis’.
There’s enough good solid cooking here to warrant return visits, which should yield more firm favourites from the menu. Besides, the food is priced accessibly enough and the cocktails created skilfully enough to take the sting out of any disappointments you may fall upon.