60 Glasnevin Hill
Phone: 01 837 9441
Carefully sourced, confidently cooked food that’s democratic, eclectic and delightfully nurturing, makes this cool, fun restaurant a northside gem – and worth a considerable detour.
When The Washerwoman (so named because it’s on what used to be called Washerwoman’s Hill) first opened, I fell upon it with what PG Wodehouse calls “glad cries”. This is because it’s on the northside of Dublin which, despite its many attractions is not overburdened with proper restaurants. And it’s within spitting distance (saving your presence, your honour) of the National Botanic Gardens, one of the country’s greatest and least known assets.
As if this were not enough, I grew up in these parts, many years ago when Glasnevin was all fields. (I made up part of that sentence).
The Washerwoman, 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 such happiness in The Winding Stair and The Woollen Mills. And 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.
And so I was amused, if not surprised, when some of our nation’s restaurant critics, who feel they need a visa to cross O’Connell Bridge, concluded that The Washerwoman is a great neighbourhood restaurant. Rubbish! It’s a great restaurant, full stop.
True, they don’t do sylphides a la crème d’ecrevisses normignonette de poulet petit duc (Wodehouse again) but one of the impressive things about The Washerwoman, and there are many, 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 and proper hamburgers. This is democratic food; and, more importantly, it’s done with great attention to detail.
Then there’s the stuff that speaks to people’s inner gourmand, like “harissa and cumin rubbed Howth mackerel” and “John Stone’s lamb rumb 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 Glasnevin restaurant, were it not on the northside and, frankly my dear, embarassingly good value.
Where the name checking of producers in certain restaurants can be as mechanical as a Tibetan prayer wheel, it feels right here.
Even the (very superior) chicken wings were accompanied by a dip made from an artisan blue cheese from Newtownards.
Then the smoked fish plate involves smoked oyster paté and smoked queen scallops from Stephen Kavanagh in Limerick, Doran’s smoked mackerel and Terry Butterly’s smoked salmon. Everything has a stated source.
And the reason why the burgers taste right (i.e. of mature meat) is because they involve properly dry aged beef (from Pat McLoughlin’s, the craft butchers). I can only imagine how good the steaks must be, coming from the same source.
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.
It’s 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.
I’m delighted to say that when I first reviewed The Washerwoman, I said that it’s a destination restaurant. And it still is. The only change is the introduction of an early bird menu offering exceptional value for money.