61 Upper O’Connell Street
Phone: 01 873 1388
Irish Daily Mail
2 April 2016
Dubliners take sides very seriously. I don’t mean the ones in arguments, nor those dishes of chips or spinach or what have you; I mean actual, geographical sides. It’s all about northside and southside in Dublin and ne’er the twain shall meet.
I was born on the southside and grew up on the northside but I’ve lived most of my life south of Liffey, latterly about 150 miles south of it, which for some Dublin purists may not count.
Southsiders, by and large, have an irrational fear of the northside. It’s true that O’Connell Street, as main thoroughfares of European capitals go, is a bit of a kip and open drug dealing has become something of a tradition in its immediate environs, but the north inner city has a lot to be said for it.
I’d include on my list the glorious Chapter One where Johann and I celebrated her birthday recently with what was one of the best meals of our lives. And, of course, the delightful Hot Stove, also on Parnell Square, where Joy Beattie cooks like an angel. In no particular order, there’s the Lane Gallery and Mr Middleton’s garden shop, the Lighthouse Cinema and the National Museum at Collins Barracks. All major draws for me.
Best of all is the look on the face of a fundamentalist southsider when I say that I’ve just been north of the Liffey.
My fellow restaurant critics, a fine body of men and women, have not been beating a path to Flanagan’s and I suspect that it has something to do with the location and the history. Flanagan’s is towards the northern end of O’Connell Street and it used to be, until quite recently, a kind of greasy spoon caff, the sort of place that did a busy trade in all day breakfasts.
It’s now changed, changed utterly. Well, changed quite a bit. And while a terrible beauty may not been born, the new Flanagan’s has a distinct appeal.
For a start, it’s the only ground level restaurant on the capital’s principal street that is not all about fast food. It has been completely revamped and redesigned and the menu, while retaining its mass appeal, has been extended. All of this has happened under the baton of Aidan Meyler who was for many years a significant part of the experience at L’Ecrivain. Aidan is in the premier league of maitre d’s.
Now don’t run away with the idea that Flanagan’s will be chasing Michelin stars or even bibs gourmands. Flanagan’s is all things to all people, cheerful, unpretentious, inexpensive and very properly run.
I visited with an afficionado of the original Flanagan’s, a man whose company is so engaging that it cancels out his complete lack of interest in food. Around us were sitting the most diverse cross-section of diners I’ve ever come across in a Dublin restaurant. An elderly lady eating fish and chips with strong tea. A young French couple larrupping into Irish stew and a bottle of Cotes du Rhone. Two country lads eating steaks with pints of Guinness. A wispy looking man having a pizza and a Coke.
I, like an old war horse sniffing cordite, had the chicken wings and they were good. Crisp, spicy, presented with de-stringed celery and blue cheese dip. The undiscriminating omnivore had breaded mushrooms, the cutting edge dish of 1978 (or was it 1979?) but no less pleasant for that.
He carried on with the mixed grill (yes, there’s a pattern emerging here) which was in his own words – and in a uniquely Irish sense – “grand”. The rashers had not shrunk away to nothing, the liver was, well liver. The sausages were fine… you get the picture.
On the other hand, my generous hamburger with cheese and bacon was very good indeed. Juicy, well proportioned and packed with flavour. Chips were fine.
Puddings were another trip down memory lane: a fine knickerbocker glory in a tall glass with a long spoon; and a particularly good bread and butter pudding that was a silky, decadent reminder of how this rib-sticking dish deserves to be seen more often.
We loved the place. We loved the sense of it being a place for everyone, its complete lack of airs and graces, the generous portions and the careful, if plain, cooking. You won’t find even a suspicion of polenta, a whisper of truffle nor a scintilla of wild garlic pesto here. Instead, you will get a warm welcome, brisk and friendly service, decent food and sense of being looked after.
And probably no more restaurant critics.