The Washerwoman
60 Glasnevin Hill
Dublin 9
Phone: 01 837 9441

Irish Daily Mail
16 May 2015

Some restaurants achieve mediocrity; some have it thrust upon them, usually by an owner who has “strong views”, this being one of the running themes on Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares. But most mediocre (and a great many downright bad) restaurants are that way because they try to be all things to all people.

Now, while staying in business involves keeping as many customers happy as possible, this imperative can have unfortunate side effects such as an obsessional urge to avoid doing anything that anybody might not like. It’s a bit like being a political party seeking power, I suppose.

One of the impressive things about The Washerwoman, and there are several, is the way that it ticks so many boxes for so many people. For example, the menu kicks off with”diner classics” like “Washerwings”, variations on the theme of chicken wings (as discussed, somewhat unhappily, last week) and proper hamburgers.

Then there’s the stuff that speaks to people’s inner gourmand, like “harissa and cumin rubbed Howth mackerel” and “John Stone’s lamb rump with pomegranate molasses yoghurt” and the like.

But The Washerwoman goes further and makes eating out with children fun, relaxing and not too dear. And if that’s not enough, it offers enough variations on real, proper, aged steak to have the patrons of Shanahan’s make a beeline for this new Glasnevin restaurant, were it not on the northside and, frankly my dear, embarassingly good value.

This venture, the logo of which is a clothes peg with a clever spoon symbol incorporated, is the brainchild of Elaine Murphy and her team, the people who have already brought us The Winding Stair and The Woollen Mills. The cooking and the ambience shares the DNA: it’s unpretentious, traditionally rooted, but eclectic in terms of influence and not afraid of occasional outbreaks of wackiness and exuberance.

Chicken wings (we were resolutely traditional and stuck with classic Buffalo style, accompanied by a dip made from an artisan blue cheese made in Newtownards. As this suggests, they were quite superior wings, crisp but moist and the dip was the best of its kind that I’ve yet encountered: delightfully intense.

The smoked fish plate is ideal for sharing and features, unusually, smoked oyster pâté and smoked queen scallops from Stephen Kavanagh in Limerick, Doran’s smoked mackerel, Terry Butterly’s smoked salmon and beetroot gravlax, all served with tart, crisp pickled beetroot and lots of excellent brown bread.

Garlicky Dublin Bay prawns came with roasted fennel and a crisp cake of potato liberally spiked with seaweed from Spanish Point and, unusually, sprouted sunflower seeds (deliciously nutty and crisp).

A beefburger, vast and traditionally adorned with tomato, lettuce, cheese, bacon and excellent relish, could easily have been swamped by all those competing flavours and, to be honest, that’s what usually happens because you might as well be eating cotton wool in the middle.

But this was properly dry aged beef (from Pat McLoughlin’s, the craft butchers) that tasted intensely of what it’s meant to taste of – beef. Thick, crisp chips, with fluffy insides provided even more sustenance and were a meal in themselves dipped in smoked paprika mayonnaise.

There was a simple, perfectly executed crème brulée with no fiddling about, and, unusually, a crannachan, the Scots dish of toasted oatmeal, cream, whiskey, honey and, in this instance, raspberries. And yes, it was as good as that sounds.

I’m not going to count the number of times I wrote the word “unusually” in this account, but it was – so to speak – unusually frequent by comparison to my average. And that’s the thing about The Washerwoman: apart from insisting on outstanding raw materials and cooking with commendable restraint, there’s a delightfully creative streak in what happens here.

This is really confident food. And the confidence is not just born of culinary skill but also of knowing food, and food cultures and how far to push innovation and experiment. There’s no “look at me, no hands!” kind of mallarkey, just deftness and, well, let’s call a spade a spade, an abundance of good taste.

The Washerwoman may be categorised as a “neighbourhood restaurant” (i.e. worth going to if within walking distance) but, to be honest, it’s miles ahead of that bland company. It may be in a north Dublin suburb, but it’s a destination restaurant, just like its siblings.

Our bill, with a serious bottle of red and a couple of glasses of(oh joy!) manzanilla sherry, as dry as dry can be, broached the €100 mark and was worth every single cent.