Wildeside Café
1 St Gabriel’s Court
Dublin 18
Phone: 01 275 0128

Irish Daily Mail
19 November 2016

I’m not sure how many people on this side of the Atlantic have ever heard of Bobby Flay, the television chef who shares his surname with the character who heads the castle kitchen in Mervyn Peake’s bizarre fantasy Gormenghast.

He’s huge in the US and is rarely off the schedule on Food Network. Anyway, when he and his televison crew visited Dublin a few years back I brought them to eat at Alexis in Dun Laoghaire and I can confirm that Bobby, normally a man of relatively few words for a television presenter, couldn’t stop talking about how good the food was.

Well, of course, that was the reason I brought him to Alan O’Reilly’s restaurant in the first place, but the other reason was because Alexis never seemed to get the attention it deserved. I was filled with a missionary zeal to spread the good news of what was to be found on – let’s be honest – a pretty dingy side street in a seaside suburb several miles south of the city centre.

When a glossy UK magazine – I can’t remember which one – asked restaurant critics in several of the European capitals where they eat on their nights off, I chose Alexis and was photographed there tucking into something very good.

However, for all of Alan O’Reilly’s outstanding cooking and all the excellent reviews, Alexis folded. Maybe it was too big and almost certainly it wasn’t in the right place. 

In a city where most chefs are young, Alan O’Reilly is reassuringly mature. He gave Conrad Gallagher his first job when he came back to Ireland – in Morels, above a pub in Glasthule. He ran the restaurant at Brown Thomas for many years. He even had a fling with serious pizza, rather ahead of its time.

His energy and enthusiasm is such that I hesitate to say that he has now settled down but I have a feeling that in Wildeside he has found his true niche, cooking serious food at keen prices for an appreciative audience deep in south Dublin. It’s small and cosy, functions as a café during the day and has a proper buzz at night.

On the evening we visited, Alan volunteered to do the ordering for us and when a chef of his calibre does that, it’s foolish to resist.

His combination of classicism, quirkiness and love of robust, earthy flavours shone through, first in a kind of shared starter of little deep-fried beignets of fermented potato, bang on trend, airy, ethereal and delightful.

Then came a slice of cured organic salmon with a little salad of frisée flavoured with a touch of wasabi, soya sauce and ginger: delicate yet assertive at the same time, a palate cleanser for what was to come.

This was breast of wood pigeon, very rare, its earthiness highlighted by a little tart containing baby white onions, the whole dish bound together by a deeply flavoured red wine gravy.

Then came quail, amongst the best I’ve had in ages: pink inside, with the legs minced, seasoned and formed into something like a little pear, a sunny quail’s egg yolk and white framed in delicate pastry, the sweetness of the whole thing enhanced by silky celeriac purée.

Regular readers will know my small appetite and won’t be surprised that, by now, I was not so much eating as taking forensic samples. By the time the venison arrived – and very good it was too, impeccably rare and cleverly served with some very finely shredded savoy cabbage – I had pretty well ground to a halt.

I have a hazy but very pleasurable memory of a mini doughnut with an orange cream and a slice of fabulously dark chocolate parfait.

However, the point is that it’s great to see a chef like Alan O’Reilly back in the kitchen and bringing so much pleasure to so many people, and doing it entirely in his own way with the confidence and vast skill that comes from many years in the business.

By the time you read this, some of the dishes I mention here may have been eclipsed by others but that’s the nature of a good restaurant, always responding to the seasons and what is good at the time.

I want to go back and eat less and, in particular, rabbit, a meat that Alan O’Reilly does incredibly well. The dish that wowed Bobby Flay and, indeed, me all those years ago was a little pie of Wicklow bunny. I can still taste it. Yes, that good.

Our bill, with wine, came to €107.50.