Herb Street Café

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Here’s a little secret for you non-Dubliners: autumn in Dublin is magical. The weather tends to be better than in the summer, the sun is still warm the air is brisk. We had a practically perfect October day over the weekend and I walked all the way down the Grand Canal to Grand Canal Dock for brunch with friends.

I didn’t know that Herb Street existed. It turns out I might be only one of a handful of Dubliners in my demographic who was not informed of it’s presence next to Ely HQ on the north side of GCD. My walk along the canal was peaceful; a few runners, some dogs and their humans, and pockets of activity at Grove Road and again at Baggot Street. But all in all it was a sleepy Saturday morning. Until I hit GCD and Herb Street. “Here are the people.”

We waited for twenty minutes for a table, but waiting in the sunshine is easier. We were seated inside, but the glass wall of the restaurant folds up on nice days which allowed for the buggy to sit outside and our happy party to feel like we were outside without being in direct sunlight.

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There was a dog bowl next to the table and hot sauce on the table. I didn’t even need to taste the food, I already liked this place. I don’t know if it’s Beyoncé’s (hot sauce) influence, but I’m ok with it. Swag. Etc.

The menu was full of classic brunch options. Most dishes are egg based if they’re not pancakes. There is the Dublin special “mexican eggs” which on this menu were “eggos mexicanos.” I am fairly certain that is a slightly racist way to pretend you don’t have Juevos Rancheros like everyone else.  I ended up ordering them–without saying “eggos mexicanos”–because they had the addition of slow cooked pork which tugged at my appetite more than Florentine’s hollandaise did.

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I was almost fully derailed in my ordering by the vision of a beautiful stack of pancakes placed on a table near us. I knew I could not do without tasting the fluffy, American-style tall stack. I hid my total Hungry Larry pancake freakout by suggesting that the table might all share a stack of pancakes? Wouldn’t that be FUN? My dining colleagues agreed without even questioning my motivation. #success.

The food arrived quickly. Mexican style eggs plus pulled pork for the ladies, and Full Irishes for the lads. I don’t know why most restaurants insist on re-naming the Full Irish other things like The House Grill, or The Big Breakfast. Call it what it is. Herb Street’s House Grill (Full Irish) arrived with a hockey puck sized black pudding. Extra points. It also had a plateau of corned beef hash. Double those extra points.

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My egg dish was very tasty and I was able to eat it with one hand while my kid ate his second breakfast of the day on me. The pancakes tasted fine but looked fantastic. They could have been tastier, and as usual the maple syrup wasn’t quite enough to satisfy my maple lovin’ buds. However, it IS pure maple syrup they are serving and the consistency of the pancakes was perfection. I would get blueberry on my next visit. I’m sure a side of bacon with those bad boys would make even the loneliest bruncher smile. Warning: if you are one person you do not need a tall stack, the small stack will be sufficient. In my opinion, sharing is caring and the tall stack is more fun.

All in all Herb Street is as good as any brunch venue closer to the centre of town. But on these golden autumnal days it might be just the thing you need to get you down to the water to enjoy the sunshine, the fresh air and some good old fashioned pancakes. ‘

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Herb Street Café

Union 8

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When we moved to Dublin 8, we knew what we’d miss most about Rathmines was the plethora of dining choices right at our finger tips. Dublin 8 has some great cafés and lunch spots but not many nice dinner options. Union 8 saves the day.

On the crossroads in Kilmainham, Union 8 doesn’t seem like the ideal place to stop. Located at a busy intersection that most people fly through on a bus, in a car or astride their bikes, it catches attention. The busy intersection is actually made a feature by the restaurant: the giant windows allow you to watch the world go by from the simply, classy interior.

For a restaurant pretty far out of town by Dublin standards, I was slightly surprised at how pricey the menu is. The quality would have to be pretty high to demand those prices, I thought.

The early bird menu, though, does provide a great deal. The early bird menu is also perfect for parents of small children. Apologies if this blog is getting a bit child centric.  It’s my life at the moment. And Union 8 makes this baby moment of my life feel slightly more grown up.

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We went for the early bird, four adults and one tiny baby. We were all treated with respect and a full welcome. I appreciated that the early bird menu is the same as the normal menu just for a different price: 23.50 for two courses. There is a seven euro supplement for the steak, which two of us had, but that is fair enough. The steak was a lovely fillet and the pepper sauce was thick and spicy. But that’s getting ahead of ourselves.

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Each of us had a different appetizer. My nettle soup with chorizo oil was heavenly. Summery yet warm. My mother had beautiful beets with fluffy goat’s cheese. We all agreed the smoked salmon wasn’t quite salty enough, and the scallops, though delicious, were overshadowed by the black pudding lump next to them. We were all satisfied with the openers, though. No complaints.

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My husband drank a really delicious house cocktail that tasted to me like Christmas morning. It came in a gorgeous, huge, glass. That’s what you want in a cocktail. It lasted until just before his steak arrived.

So, yes, then steaks arrived and the fish special for the other two. The fish portions were large and after the well portioned starters, almost hard to finish. That’s another thing I appreciate about Union 8: the early bird’s well-sized portions. It means a lot to hungry, tired new parents like us (there I go again . . .).

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We went back earlier this week with friends who also have children. The restaurant managed all of us and our three babes very well. We were out by 7.30. Home for baths and bed.

Ok, I’ll stop now. About babies and kids. Union 8 is obviously great for that, but I suspect it is great for date nights, meet-the-parents nights, or simply a treat yourself evening. It’s worth the trip “out” of town.

Union 8

Farmer Brown’s Lands in Rathmines!

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Another weekend, a new brunch spot for Rathmines locals. Farmer Brown’s has migrated up the canal from Bath Avenue Dublin 4* to make it’s home in the cursed location on Rathmines Road across from the Swan Leisure Centre. I use the word “cursed” lightly, ok? I’m not a practitioner of witchcraft, but there is something definitely unlucky about the location. Two restaurants in the past two years have tried to make it work there and nothing has stuck. Is it because it’s set back from the road and you can’t peek inside? Is it because the inside is actually tiny and not very well laid out? Is it because sometimes you walk right past and forget it’s there?

Maybe all of those reasons contribute to the fact that other restaurants have failed, but Farmer Brown’s has a good, solid reputation behind it. They also have twigged the fact that it’s a tricky location because they have gone for the hard sell by putting up HUGE signage which is hard to miss from the road. So fingers crossed the locals will swarm like moths to a giant neon sign.

I don’t think this location would be so cursed if it were not in Ireland. With it’s really lovely sun-trap front patio, it is ideal for warm weather. If it were in Portugal, or Greece, or even France in the summer, I’m sure the place would be hopping. But the fact remains that even on glorious spring days like we’ve enjoyed recently it can be too cold to sit outside. Even in a sun trap. Hence the restaurant immediately loses 50% of it’s space.

The FB’s team has made it look quite retro though, fitting it out with white and yellow tiles and little potted plants. On a sunny morning, it will be great.

We did not visit on a sunny morning, however, and my brunch dates and I crammed into a little table by the door. The place was packed, but it’s packed where there are about 15 people in there. It’s one of those eateries where you want to face a wall, not the room, so as not to see the chaos of people squeezing past each other to get to the service bar for coffees, up the stairs to the bathrooms, or past each other waiting in the queue for food. It’s cramped. That makes it not relaxed.

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The coffee is very good and the service was cheerful and pretty quick considering the cramped quarters. The brunch menu is heavy. There is a lot of bread, a lot of hollandaise, a lot of eggs. I ordered off the regular weekday breakfast menu, opting simply for eggs on toast with a side of sausage. Even that was not a casual breakfast. The bread was delicious and really buttery which I appreciated. Eggs are eggs are eggs, and the sausages were fine. I felt full when I’d finished.

C ordered the “healthy option” brunch which consisted of four slices of brown (not white sourdough like I had) toast, avocado (you simply cannot, will not, have brunch in this city without an avocado!), poached eggs, pomegranate seeds (interesting), bacon, tomato bits and rocket. It was also heavy. He was also full when he’d finished. The portions are downright American.

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I hope Farmer Brown’s Rathmines will be successful because I feel bad when places are not successful. I am just not sure how much I will be able to contribute to it’s overall success. In my older, more experienced brunching years, I don’t completely enjoy eating such heavy food packed elbow to elbow to elbow with strangers while knowing there are people waiting for my table. I don’t find the popularity relaxing. I know the stodgy brunches will appeal to many living in the area (read: the ones with hangovers on weekend mornings), and those younger and more vulnerable brunchers will surely not have the same issue with overcrowding that I do.

The prices are fair and, as I said, on a sunny day, you’ll get a tan with your eggs. What’s not to love?

Follow the giant sign and get your Rathmines brunch on.

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*The original Farmer Brown’s is still on Bath Ave in D4 if you are down that way.

Farmer Brown’s Lands in Rathmines!

Exchequer Ranelagh

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When I lived in Dublin in 2001-2002, there wasn’t a huge selection of brunch venues. Places that were open on Sunday late morning, early afternoon would serve a version of a Full Irish and variations thereof. Occasionally you would find a dish with hollandaise sauce.

Brunch is now a common weekend meal for most Dubliners, and there are plenty of wonderful choices around town. We are spoiled for choice!

Because we are spoiled for choice is is always a bummer to stumble across a Bad Brunch. C and I were in a bit of a fix on Valentine’s day. We’d already eaten Anguier Danger donuts in bed, and were about to head out for a big walk so we needed some sustenance. We were taking the Luas from Ranelagh so we decided to pop into Exchequer on our way.

Exchequer has a post on Exchequer Street in town. They migrated out to Ranelagh over a year ago. I had never been. We had the place to ourselves, being a bit early for Dublin brunch. American brunch starts about 11.30 or so. Dublin brunch usually starts about 1/1.30. The space is vast and well laid out. We sat under the skylights in the back.

The menu was largely variations on eggs. I chose a vegetarian breakfast bruschetta and C had the meat version which was the same as mine plus black pudding and a side of bacon. Neither of us was totally satisfied.

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I had gotten excited about the roast tomatoes and black olives, but the black olives on my plate were out of a tin. The beans were also from a tin and the side salad was straight from a plastic bag of mixed baby greens. C’s bacon wasn’t cooked enough.

The prices of the dishes are equal to most brunch prices around town, but the quality was not up to scratch. This brunch might have been super in 2002, but when there are so many fantastic brunch options, there really isn’t time for canned beans and tinned olives.

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Exchequer Ranelagh

Bow Lane Brunch

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At Bow Lane on Saturday morning, I turned into a Restaurant Jerk. I became the guy who makes a fuss about food, or argues over what can and cannot be served. I am never that guy. If my meal comes out and is missing an item promised to me on the menu, I won’t say anything. If my burger isn’t cooked perfectly, I let it slide. On Saturday, I ordered the Truffle Egg Toast, and this is how I morphed into Restaurant Jerk:

Me: I’d like the Truffle Egg Toast, please, but may I have the egg well cooked?

Server: Oh, um, I actually don’t know if you can. It’s a poached egg.

Me: Right, and I would just like it to be cooked a bit longer. I’m not supposed to eat runny yolks at the moment.*

Server: Well, you see, the egg is cooked in the toast, it’s all put under the grill, and if we try to cook it longer the toast will burn.

This was my moment to say, “ok, well, let me have a look at something else, then, give me a second. What might you recommend?”

But instead, I said, “is there really no way you could cook the egg first and then put it in the toast?”

Server: You see, they crack the egg in the bread and cook it all together. That’s just how it’s done.

I’m thinking “let it go, it’s fine, I’m bummed, but let it go,” and I’m saying,

Me: And there is no other way to do it?

Server: I’m so sorry. But the Eggs Benedict is really good and we can definitely poach your eggs longer?

Me: Let me see . . . . Um . . .

At this stage my husband and my friend are thinking “Annie! Decide! Who cares! Oh man, we’re sitting with the Restaurant Jerk.”

Me: Ok, fine. I’ll have the Eggs Benedict I guess. With the eggs well cooked. Please.

You know what? The Eggs Benedict was pretty darn tasty. There was plenty of slow cooked salty ham, wilted spinach, crispy sourdough bread in place of a muffin and just the right amount of hollandaise sauce. My eggs were cooked perfectly.

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The Eggs Benedict

C ordered the Eggs, Greens and Grains which was colorful on arrival and colorful in the mouth. The freekeh, a grain I hadn’t heard of before, was cooked with a kind of pesto and there were plenty of roast vegetables. It was also hilarious to watch C struggle with the full roast leek on this plate.

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Eggs, Grains, and Greens

Our friend had the pancakes and I’m glad she did. Someone had to provide desert. The ‘cakes themselves live somewhere between a crepe and an American pancake and were stacked tall before being drowned in a maple caramel sauce and some cream for good measure. There were also bananas.

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PANCAKES!

Our coffees were tasty, the room was dark and cosy. Though the brunch is delicious, I did feel that Bow Lane is somewhere you want to be in the evening. When the sun is shining outside it’s hard to sit in a dimmed room with dark wood and leather. However, I like to imagine myself surrounded by that dark wood and leather on a rainy night with one of the many cocktails on the list.

There is a bar menu and a restaurant menu for evening. Some items overlap. The space is large, so even though Bow Lane is quite popular, you should definitely try to squeeze in. I will, because you can’t judge a place just on its brunch, right?

 

 

*I am currently pregnant and have been told to avoid runny yolks, but like all pregnancy advice, there is always some wiggle room and frankly, I probably could have eaten the Truffle Egg Toast. The whole thing just became competitive for me. I turned into a Restaurant Jerk.

 

Bow Lane Brunch