By George! Orwell Road is creative and exciting

Are we already there? I think we might be – the covid cobwebs are dusted off and eating out now feels as natural and fun as it did 36 months ago. There have been several new openings all over the country and getting a reservation is as difficult as I can remember. So there was good excitement when the shrewd engineer scored a reservation for lunch at the Orwell Road restaurant in Rathgar a few Saturdays ago.

Orwell Road is a former cafe (Howard’s Way) and rather compact but the space has been nicely transformed – it feels modern, airy and comfortable. At the helm is the talented Dan Hannigan, who was last talked about when he was perfecting the art of barbecuing at Mister S on Camden Street. Dan works with Marc and Conor Bereen who own the Charlotte Quay restaurant and were forced to close their popular Coppinger Row restaurant recently due to building redevelopment – if they can find a suitable space, expect a revival.

We started with snacks and you should too. The Andarl Pork Croquettes fermières (€6.50) were crispy ping-pong ball-sized balls of happiness filled with sweet, meaty pulled pork in crispy breadcrumbs topped with apple. A mini mackerel tartlet (€6.50) with cubes of mackerel in ceviche flavored with ponzu and chilli flavors was an almost perfect palate awakening, while the fried buttermilk with lion’s mane mushrooms (€5) with a tarragon emulsion made the physicist declare that all mushrooms should be fried like this – he wasn’t wrong.

Cáis na Tíre tortellini and burnt onion broth

As I write this and reflect on the several dozen flavors we experienced, my mind continues to think of our starters – they were so good I think we could have happily ordered them twice. The dry-aged beef Short Rib (€14) came with the added bonus of a fluffy beef fat brioche perfect for soaking up the meaty juices. The ribs had been cooked long enough that you felt you could almost bite into the bones – the intense beef flavors lightened a bit by the wild garlic and shimeji style mushrooms. Chicken & Scallops (€16) involved plump, juicy caramelized scallops topped with crispy chicken skin, while a herb-stuffed chicken wing added substance and extra layers. The tortellini Cáis Na Tíre (€13) meanwhile arrived in an umami-rich ‘burnt onion broth’, a dish that almost caused a fight as it was so good – order two.

Orwell Road anglerfish
Orwell Road anglerfish

Tender BBQ monkfish on the bone with smoked mussels and trout caviar sauce (€34), and succulent meaty rump of lamb (€34) cooked rare and served with asparagus and roasted cos lettuce with Caesar dressing, need to much more space than I can give them, as are the sides. The Ballymakenny free-range potatoes (€5) were roasted until golden brown and the zucchini had a subtle but lively lemon confit vinaigrette — simple vegetables aren’t allowed to taste that good .

The wine list is a nice mix of classic and modern styles and I’m told it will change with the seasons. At the top end you’ll find Róisín Curley Burgundies and Rausan-Ségla Margaux, but there are also left-field picks such as Ch. Ksara blanc from Lebanon and a Txacoli from the Spanish Basque Country. Prices start at €30 for the very juicy and drinkable Rafael Cambra Garnacha from Valencia and the ripe and smoky Monastrell “Crazy Grapes” from Jumilla in eastern Spain (€36).

Salted Caramel, Chocolate and Blood Orange (€9) offered delicious contrasts between subtle crème de caramel, rich chocolate and punchy blood oranges – whole and in sorbet. Orange and chocolate are always a killer combination, but this has gone one step further. Meanwhile, my feather-light vanilla parfait was enhanced with rhubarb and a sweet crunch with a light meringue.

So please put Orwell Road on the ever-growing list of places you must visit, there are flavors and complexities here, I would need twice as much space to mention them. There’s no trickery here, just a bullish emphasis on flavor – you’ll be wowed.

The tab:

A hearty lunch for three including five glasses of wine, three snacks, three starters, two mains and two desserts costs €198

The verdict:

  • Food: 9.5/10
  • Wine: 9/10
  • Serving: 9/10
  • Atmosphere: 9/10
  • Value: 9/10

In a sentence:

Orwell Road is one of the most exciting restaurant openings of the last 12 months with precise and creative cuisine in a modern and comfortable space – good luck with a reservation!

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