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 and Rory O'Connell of Ballymaloe Cookery School, and his wife Annette, 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 small Irish producer’s plate- Co. Wicklow Firehouse Bakery focaccia toast, Co. Cork Gubbeen chorizo, Co. Cork Toonsbridge fior di latte mozzarella, charcoaled courgette, Kelly’s of Newport Co. Mayo black pudding with apple compote & grainy mustard cream, Co. Laois devilled Granstown Farm free-range egg, Goatsbridge House smoked trout with a choice of side – 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 €6/€7), served with homemade, nutty brown bread.
Soups are followed by tempting choices which include a good choice of fish and seafood, such as Achill Island oysters (starter/main); Josperised (charcoal oven) Irish salmon and roasted za’atar squash, tomato salsa, josperised lemon; and Grilled Fillets of Irish Waters Plaice gf 19 Homemade tartare sauce and chips. Other mains might include braised shank of Irish lamb and white bean cassoulet with herb relish, mashed potato and josperised kale and rebel 100% Irish beef burger with smoked bacon and cheese, yogurt and mint winter slaw and chips (go bunless with gem lettuce)
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 with Wexford blackberry compote or Irish pear Belle Hélène served with chocolate sauce and Rossmore Farm vanilla 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.
It's unlikely that anyone would ever enjoy a meal at O'Connell's without getting a sense of the value placed on the great family cooks who have passed their skills and traditions down the generations, or the dedicated producers who supply the wonderful ingredients that make their way onto the menus here. But it's also worth checking out the 'About Us' page on their website, which is not only informative and reassuring - but also an inspiring insight into the very best of Irish food production.
Value for money has always been a key feature of O’Connells too, on all of the various menus offered at different times of day - and also on the exceptionally informative wine list.
A beacon of rural excellence in the heart of the city.