The Old Spot
14 Bath Avenue
Dublin 4
Phone: 01 660 5599

Irish Daily Mail
9 June 2018

I don’t like the word “gastropub”. It’s too close to “gastroenterology” for my taste and in my early copywriting days I spent several years writing reams of persuasive stuff about stomach acid and ways of combatting reflux. Perhaps if I had stuck with writing patient information leaflets for inhaled steroids and antibiotics I wouldn’t have this problem.

The other thing about gastropubs, so called, is that the establishments which thus self-describe have, in my experience, a worryingly high chance of being rubbish. It’s as if by using the word, the awful food will magically taste acceptable and the punters will be happy to shell out a bit more for industrial soup and military grade burgers.

Today, however, I bring you an exception. The Old Spot calls itself a gastropub but I can forgive this. You see, it’s actually very good – which is not surprising because there’s a touch of Pichet in the kitchen and Denise McBrien, late of Old Street in Malahide, is one of the best and most experienced in the business as front-of-house.

Essentially, what you get is a pub – or, to be precise, a rather elaborate bar – to the front and, at the back, what is, to all intents and purposes, a restaurant. It also charges restaurant prices but I can’t imagine they could produce food at this kind of level for any less. The menu, to be frank, does not shout “pub”, nor does the hamburger which, I know from experience, is worth every cent of its €16.95 price.

Gastropub or not, if you want to provide food in a bar context you have to choose between reheating stuff in a battery of microwaves or deep-fryers and doing it properly. Properly costs.

Let’s just take one of our starters and consider how it would fit with the toasted specials and spicy wings. It was, and I quote from the menu: slow cooked octopus, nduja, homemade pappardelle, black olive tapenade.

See what I mean? I should explain, also, that it was bloody good. The octopus was tender but not verging towards over-soft, the nduja (a spicy, mushy sausage from the deep south of Italy), added masses of savouriness and a touch of chilli heat without overpowering the seafood element, and the pappardelle was spot on, perfectly al dente and an appropriate vehicle for all of the other flavours.

Simple? Oh yes. Easy? Not a bit of it.

Our other starter was more in the pub territory: prawn pil pil with sourdough bread and a little rocket salad on the side. Frankly anything with this amount of olive oil, garlic, chilis and parsley would be edible. But with prawns, it was delicious (not a word I use very often).

Let’s read straight from the menu again. We’re talking slow-cooked smoked pork shoulder, Old Spot sausage roll, cabbage, celeriac and mustard. You can see the appeal, I think?

Pork shoulder takes a lot of cooking but it yields up great flavour when it gets it and the subtle smokiness here was a bonus. Its natural affinity with cabbage was celebrated, there was just enough mustard to cut the richness and the sausage roll was a nugget of buttery pastry with all the seductive power of the best possible saturated fat. This was a dish to conjure with.

When I tell you that the dining companion followed the prawns with a steak you will be correct in assuming a certain conservatism in play. However, the 10 oz dry-aged rib-eye was ordered, as it should always be, medium-rare (rare doesn’t work with this cut). With Cevennes onions, proper chips (sorry, “fries”) and a pulse-quickeningly lovely bone marrow jus, this was not just a steak. The €30 price tag was justified.

A shared pud of pannacotta (maybe a shade too solid according to the Paolo Tullio scale which I always apply) and strawberries concluded a meal of solid, sound and well-grounded cooking with efficient, quiet service. With aperitifs and a bottle of Rioja, the bill just breached the €150 mark.