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The Legal Eagle review: Top-quality Irish produce, a wood-burning oven and an impressive wine list

This gastropub, co-owned by one of Ireland’s top women in hospitality, is better than ever

The Legal Eagle
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Address: 1-2 Chancery Place, Dublin 7
Telephone: 01 555 2971
Cuisine: Modern International
Cost: €€€

I had forgotten how good the crisps are – home-made and salty with splashes of Burren peat vinegar (€6) – and how comfortable the room is, as I settle into a leather banquette with a good view of the bar. The Legal Eagle had closed, as everywhere had during the pandemic, and many believed it was shuttered for good after the premises was sold. The sale provided an injection of cash into the Winding Stair restaurant group, owned by Elaine Murphy and Brian Montague, and last September, with a leaseback arrangement in place, the doors of this classic pub were once again opened.

Murphy was the person responsible for putting a focus on quality Irish ingredients when she first took over The Winding Stair in 2006. It all seems so normal now, but at the time it was ground-breaking, naming the producer and serving dishes that were solidly Irish and proud of it. It is still, unfortunately, a rarity in pubs, and the term gastropub is generally muttered with justifiable scepticism.

At the Legal Eagle, a large wood-burning oven dominates the open kitchen and shapes the menu, which is structured around snacks, small plates and larger sharing options. There is a bit of an international bent to some of the dishes: three seared tuna tostadas (€15) on crisp tortillas being a most wonderful start to our meal, with an avocado purée, miso-pickled carrot, sriracha mayo and a dusting of togarashi pepper adding a real hit of flavour to the fresh bites.

We selected a bottle of Preisinger’s Puszta Libre (€39), an Austrian Zweigelt from a well-chosen wine list that includes small scale producers and has plenty by the glass. Generally, the margins are at the lower end, although we are faring considerably better by ordering a 750ml bottle rather than going for it by the 150ml glass. At €11.50 a glass, a bottle would cost €57.50 this way.

Kate Ruddy (ex 777 and Margadh RHA) asks if we’d like to have it chilled. Why yes please, light reds often benefit from a little chilling; I wish more places had the same approach to wine. At 11.5 per cent alcohol, it is a crunchy quaffable wine that pairs wonderfully with our food. If you’d prefer a beer, there’s plenty on tap.

I don’t think I’ve ever had fermented beetroot, and here it comes as a dip served with charred flatbread (€14). It is lactic, with its inherent sweetness held as a distant note, served with a dill and cashew dip, and punchy, pickled Japanese turnip. The flat bread is crisp and perfect for scooping it up.

The gambas (€14), though frozen and imported (as they invariably are), retain their succulence and are beautifully charred. They sit on a bed of slow-cooked onions, which perhaps are just a bit too sweet for the dish, although the burnt bitterness of a few blackened onions at the edge is very good.

There are just four options on the larger plates: wood-roasted chicken; wood-roasted monkfish tail; lamb rump; and stuffed Hokkaido squash. I find myself doing something I hardly ever do, ordering the chicken (€28). It’s half a free-range bird from Feighcullen Farm that has been spatchcocked and cooked in the wood-burning oven till the skin is golden and crisp, and tastes like it may have been doused with a little butter. The flesh is juicy and has a great flavour. Also on the plate are wood-roasted cavallo nero and shallot with a chestnut sauce.

A side dish of roasted baby potatoes (€7) is dabbled with roasted garlic aioli and dusted with micro-planed Parmesan. We ask for the truffle oil to be omitted, which they do (perhaps Rowen Babe, the executive chef, might consider doing this on a permanent basis?).

The apple and strawberry crumble (€8) comes with a jug of pouring cream. It is, as generally seems to be the case in restaurants, assembled in an individual dish rather than served as a portion from a large oven-cooked crumble, but it is still very good. The crumble, which is sprinkled over, is crisp and buttery.

The Legal Eagle is a gastropub to its core, with its inviting atmosphere, relaxed but attentive service, top-notch Irish ingredients, skilful cooking, and impressive drinks and wine list. Tourists trickle in and I feel relieved that they have somehow landed on such a good spot, circumventing the many tourist traps across the river. Elaine Murphy intuitively knows what works and delivers it effortlessly.

Dinner for two with a bottle of wine was €121.

The verdict: Food from a wood-burning oven in a relaxed room.

Music: David Bowie, The Cure and Hall & Oates at a moderate level.

Food provenance: Sustainable Seafood, Shines Tuna, Feighcullen Farm, JJ Young.

Vegetarian options: Lentil and rice stuffed Hokkaido squash, miso cabbage, kale and quinoa salad, and roasted baby potatoes; these dishes are also vegan.

Wheelchair access: No accessible room or toilet.

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