A wine bar in an art gallery? Yes, I was a bit skeptical. The color-by-number version is definitely cheap panini and coffee by day, and dodgy vino and charcuterie by night. Wine may be poorly chilled, if my experience of openings is to be believed. But the folks behind Margadh at the Royal Hibernian Academy on Ely Place are a bit more demanding. And with a growing portfolio that includes Mamó and the original Margadh in Howth, Jess D’Arcy and Killian Durkin come with some provenance.
The glazed double aspect room offers views of the contemporary gallery on one side and a terrace of beautiful Georgian houses on the other. White shelves house rows of interesting wine bottles, breaking up the neutral floor with Mondrian precision. Wooden tables, dotted with flowers, have a similar minimalist aesthetic, and we end up at a high top that’s sized for two but would be tight for four.
The food here takes the small plates and tasting menu approach. At a reasonable price of €42 for an eight-course tasting menu, there is little evidence of price increases being felt in the hospitality industry. The liberal notion of choice is maintained with an a la carte menu, with nibbles from €3, and there are a significant number of wines in the often empty quarter of the €30-€40 price range.
I’m not sure I’ve ever savored every bite of a single anchovy so much.
Happy to share and curious to see what sort of evening would turn out taking a very lean line through the menu, we take the a la carte route, starting with the smoked almonds (€4.50) because they just feel right perfect accompaniment to a glass of Callejuela Manzanilla (€8). The Carlingford oyster with wakame (€3) is fresh and restrained, a taste of the ocean with a hint of acidity that comes with the bonito vinegar.
The Cantabrian anchovy (€4.80) is a kind of alchemy when paired with sherry, and it’s no surprise that Pujadó Solano, the maestro who put his canning skills to good use for these choice specimens, be named on the map. I’m not sure I’ve ever savored every bite of a single anchovy so much, and the Firehouse Bakery burnt sourdough finger with a few splashes of candied lemon aioli adds a nice crunch.
Small grilled leeks and large green onions are something we’re starting to see on menus in Ireland, much like you see calçots in Catalonia in Spain, sweet onions resembling green onions that have protected geographical status in under the EU PGI scheme and are celebrated as a delicacy. The young wilted leeks (€13) on the plate in front of me are a glorious celebration of the end of summer, sprinkled with a perfect diced smoked eel and Granny Smith apple, and a puddle of mashed fennel to soak. Just like the burrata with baby broad beans and sweet peas (€14), which hides under a cloud of summer truffles and grilled hazelnuts. It’s the kind of food you get in Italy, where every restaurant’s menu reads with the same regional and seasonal ingredients, but with a slightly different taste.
We drink well from the list by the glass of four whites and four reds (150ml pours); an El Castro De Valtuille Mencia Joven 2020 (€7) from Raúl Pérez, one of Spain’s most visionary winemakers, and Doravante Bairrada 2017 (€9). James Brooke, the sommelier who runs the wine list here, tells me that due to space restrictions in the restaurant, much of their wine is housed in the gallery storage area, along with paintings. Fortunately, the environmental conditions for storing fine art are also perfect for wine.
Margadh RHA is a really charming wine bar, where the cuisine, based on seasonal products, is precise and delicious
We end our savory dishes with Flat Iron steak tacos (€15), more South American than Mexican, charred, rare and deliciously juicy, garnished with chimichurri, marinated pepper, nigella seeds and crispy shallot crumbs. And for dessert, we share a nice slice of tiramisu (€7), hearty without being heavy.
Margadh RHA is a real wine bar full of charm, where the cuisine, based on seasonal products, is precise and tasty. It also helps that many of the wines on the carefully chosen list are affordable. The flexibility of being able to show up for a glass of wine and a few plates of food, or opting for what must be the most economical tasting menu in the country, means it offers something quite special.
Dinner for two with four glasses of wine was €90.30.
THE VERDICT Margadh has the wine bar genre down to fine art.
Facilities Clean and compact
Music Discreet mix of jazz, The Kinks and Steely Dan
Origin of food Kish Fish, Higgins Butcher, La Rousse, Caterway
Vegetarian options Limited, could include heirloom tomatoes, basil and pine nuts; and Mooncoin beet burrata. Vegan options with advance notice.
Wheelchair access Accessible, with accessible washrooms