Sad as Dubliners were to see the 2012 closure of one of the city’s most iconic businesses, the Dublin Woollen Mills (where James Joyce, no less, once worked), it is cheering to see Elaine Murphy and the team from the equally iconic Winding Stair next door serving up good, wholesome Irish fare here, where woolly jumpers were once on sale.
With characteristic verve and honesty, they have reinvented the four-storey building to create a cool, multi-faceted business with its own in-house bakery and takeaway as well as an informal restaurant in areas ranging from small dining rooms overlooking the Liffey at Ha’penny Bridge, to open air dining areas in both a restored iron and glass canopy over the wide pavement and a rooftop overlooking Liffey Street and a big ground floor bar/restaurant.
Industrial chic prevails, but the keen-eyed visitor will quickly spot plenty of promising details to soften the minimalism, including chunky salt and pepper mills on every table beside the burnt orange heavy duty paper napkins, and plenty of interesting artisan products on sale as well as their own breads and takeaway foods.
Fans of The Winding Stair who come expecting a feast of local produce should not be disappointed, with (‘too much’!) Cuinneog Farmhouse butter, Corleggy goat curd, Salter’s ‘free to roam’ chicken, and Peter Hannan’s 10oz Salt Aged Delmonico steak among the name checked treats on chef Ian Connolly’s inventive menus.
Visitors may be bemused by ‘Gruel@Ben & Mark’ dishes (listed in memory of the late lamented Dame Street restaurant), but they should be well pleased to find traditional Dublin favourites like a bowl of Ha’penny Bridge Coddle with brown bread and butter, and bacon ribs with savoy cabbage and mash among the wholesome and keenly priced offerings.
Meats tend to take the leading role but the fish dishes are unusual - who’s for mussel & leek pate with toasted rye, curried crab claws on toast with samphire or black sole tongues deep fried with saffron mayo & caper berries? - and so are the sides and vegetarian options, including house pickles, and punchy salads such as roasted cauliflower, celery & hazelnut salad with sherry-soaked sultanas, Young Buck blue cheese (from Co Down), and buttermilk dressing.
Popular desserts may include underused ingredients - a summer treat is gooseberry pie, for example - and the drinks list is equally pleasing, with craft cocktails like gin with nettle & thyme, or vodka & rhubarb sunrise offered alongside imaginative homemade soft drinks like blackberry & sage lemonade, strawberry & basil soda, or iced tea.
Interesting wines are offered in three sizes (from about €6.25 /16.75 /25), while a baker’s dozen of craft beer includes four from Ireland (three of them - Five Lamps, Liberties and Blackpitts - from Dublin) and Craigies Dalliance Cider, the pride of Co Wicklow.
All round, a worthy successor for a much-loved institution, and a gem of the modern Dublin dining scene for passing visitors to try.