THE WOOLLEN MILLS EATING HOUSE
42 Lower Ormonde Quay
Phone: 01 828 0835
A milestone in Dublin’s restaurant development, The Woollen Mills is big, busy, loud, fun, informal and driven by snappy cooking of things that are designed to be shared (if you can bear). You want modern Irish food. You’ve got it!
You know the way menus in this country are, for the most part, as boring as Father Austin Purcell? That’s right, the visitor to Craggy Island who talks about boilers.
The way you just want to say “I don’t think that will be neccessary” when you get asked “Would you like to see the menu”. Honestly, you could guess in most places, largely thanks to the “food services” sector that supplies restaurants with everything, even the ideas - if you could call them that. You could be eating anywhere at any time of year.
Right, you want to get away from all that mallarkey? Head for Elaine Murphy’s more recent place on the Quays (she of Winding Stair fame) and prepare to be surprised. This is very much a democratic, elbows-on-the-table but, above all, Irish restaurant.
How about this for an idea – and it was a shared starter at the end of the kind of long and arduous day when you just want something packed with flavour that goes well with a glass of cool white wine.
On a board is presented a little tin of those fabulous (non-hairy, neat, trimmed) Ortiz anchovies in olive oil, lots of Cuinneóg country butter, ditto of sourdough toast and – the coup de grace – a combination of finely diced shallot and capers. This sets the tone.
And then there’s curried crab, in the form of claws, served on toast, topped with crunchy samphire. Sounds risky, I know, but it was perfectly judged: the turmeric turning the gently spiced coconut cream a joyful, fluorescent yellow.
Air-cured ham from Connemara served with cold-pressed rapeseed oil from Co Meath is something that could hold its head up with the best prosciutto or jamon de serrano.
And how about ox tongue fritters (tongue in crisp breadcrumbs) with beetroot-pickled eggs? Or ham hock, slowly cooked and dismembered, presented in a heartwarmingly rustic and down-to-earth way as a kind of dense soup with potato and black pudding, all topped with a soft-poached egg and nicely tart apple sauce.
On my last visit there was a bizarrely lovely dish that comprised a wedge of iceberg lettuce (in the American manner) topped with a kind of slow-cooked ragu of shoulder pork (from the brilliantly named Pigs on the Green) with a blue cheese dressing. It was both lovely and utterly different; which is where, as they say, we came in.
The Woollen Mills is different. It’s like eating at your granny’s, provided that your granny combines all the requisite grandmaternal culinary repertoire with lengthy spells in some pretty cool places in New York City and San Francisco.
The downstairs dining room is bright and airy with those big windows; upstairs the views of the Ha’penny Bridge are straight from a John Hinde postcard.
I could read the menu from The Woollen Mills all day for sheer pleasure…
“Black sole tongues deep fried with saffron mayo and caper berries.” “Beef cheek burger…” “Lamb neck ragu with Corleggy goat’s curd, salsa verde and pappardelle.” “Baked Cavanbert with cranberry and pomegranate jam…” (That’s a Camembert style cheese made in… er… County Cavan by the great Silke Cropp, as it happens).
And “pork scratchings, homemade apple ketchup”. Oh bliss.
There have been a few firsts for Dublin here (and for Ireland, indeed). This was certainly my first sighting of goat’s curd on a menu, to say nothing of sole tongues (I know cod tongues are big in Newfoundland). There are dishes here from the repertoire of the late lamented Gruel (fully credited to Ben and Mark of that parish), the Dame Street landmark that is sorely missed.
I wouldn’t thank you for the lamb kidney stroganoff with boiled rice, to be honest but I know people who would leap with joy at the very thought of it; and the famous hot pork roll with pickles, scratchings and slaw.
The phrase “modern Irish cuisine” was invented years ago to describe the derivative cooking of many restaurants throughout the country. Elaine Murphy has redefined it. At The Woollen Mills “modern Irish” really means something.
The Woollen Mills is a milestone.