The pub and the pancake

EATING OUT: Smashing pub grub and some simple French fancies

EATING OUT:Smashing pub grub and some simple French fancies

GOING TO PUBS is like talking about property, something many of us don’t do much any more. It’s a Saturday night and I have come with a friend to Seán Mac D’s pub on Harold’s Cross Road in Dublin across from Our Lady’s Hospice. This busy, noisy stretch of road has long been a culinary wasteland. But the revamped pub has a big new menu in its window. A whisper from another friend about this place and the menu are all we have to guide us here tonight.

We rely heavily on the internet to channel us into our comfort zone when it comes to eating out these days. You can read a menu, see a photograph and find out what half a dozen people think of a place before setting foot in it. Not here though. The only thing I’ve been able to find out about Seán Mac D’s is that those infamous paintings of Brian Cowen now hang behind the bar.

At first the bar staff aren’t sure if the food is on. Then the answer from the chef is yes so we move to the back of this vast pub, passing a man with turntables and headphones, to find some comfortable chairs and settle in.

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Stephen McDonald, the young chef, comes out and things start to look up. “What’s good?” we ask. “That’s like asking a mother to say which is her favourite child,” he says endearingly, telling us instead it’s all made from scratch.

We get a bottle of French Sauvignon Blanc Les Chaises (€19.95). The music starts to play at a volume you can feel in your sternum. We ask if it can be dialled down a notch. Smokers keep leaving the fire door open when they head out to the beer garden.

At this stage I think the food better be bloody brilliant. Mercifully it is. We share the fishcake starter (€5.95) and get two sizeable fish cakes with tasty smoked haddock and potato-ey innards. A side salad is dressed with a proper punchy, mustardy vinaigrette. It’s a small thing but the fact that this salad dressing is home-made means a proper cook is in charge.

It’s the mains that really stand out at a level so rarely found in Irish pubs. Ali’s prawn linguine (€12) is fresh and delicious with plenty of garlic, fresh basil, pine nuts and Parmesan. There are whole skinned and roasted cherry tomatoes in it, adding an intense but simple tomato flavour. The only quibble is the prawns are the long-haul tiger variety rather than native.

My Sligo sea trout is cooked to a crispy-skinned perfection, and served on a great prawn and pea risotto with fresh rocket and topped off with a cross of Parmesan strips and a drizzle of white truffle oil (€13.50). The peas have been added at exactly the right moment, giving some flavour to the rice without being boiled to oblivion. It’s as good as any white-table-cloth restaurant version I’ve eaten recently.

There’s a good apple crumble (€4.95) with plenty of plump sultanas and an Amaretti and granola topping with brown bread ice-cream.

As we finish, we’re told it’s the first weekend they’ve had food on, which explains some of the teething problems. And there’s a 30th birthday on tonight, hence the thumping music. The following day, children under 12 eat free for Sunday lunch. All of which sounds like Seán Mac D’s will be worth revisiting. The food is good, the surroundings pleasant. If summer ever comes, the beer garden could be great. The gastropub concept has to work a bit harder these days as most restaurants are doing food at pub prices. But a good one can bring people back to their local. Dinner for two with wine came to €56.35.

ON A DIFFERENT tangent, Pancake Tuesday approaches and I still remember a trip to a creperie in Brittany the night before a wedding there with a noisy crowd of cider-slugging French people and stacks of galettes. The memories came back recently while sitting with my youngest in Fafie’s, a little French place on an unlovely crossroads of Lower Kevin Street and Wexford Street in Dublin.

My vegetarian galette came folded into the shape of a chef’s toque and was served with a small salad on the side. Inside was a fantastic filling of mushrooms fried in cream and garlic and raclette cheese, which came in gorgeous rubbery strings of flavour. My small companion had a pancake with butter and sugar that came with his own plastic cutlery, to his delight, and an unasked-for cup of water. He sat on the wooden settle bench swinging his legs in contentment and mmm-ing loudly in between mouthfuls. A large cup of coffee at €2.50 was great here too.

The buckwheat pancake or galette makes for a crisper, darker brown pancake, which is more suited to savoury fillings than the slightly softer wheat crepe. It also makes the pancake gluten-free and good for you. Unless you, er, order it with cheese and creamy mushrooms like I did. But there are plenty of less calorie-intense options. The place is small, charmingly French, and more child-friendly than a lot of the lunch joints around these parts. French music and photographs transported us all for a moment away from the noise and traffic on Lower Kevin Street. Le bliss.

Two pancakes and a coffee came to €14.95.

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Sean Mac D's Pub, Fafie's Creperie

69 Harold’s Cross Road, Dublin 6W, 01-4976832

2 Lower Kevin St, Dublin 2, 01-4763888.

Facilities:Unglamorous pub toilets in Seán Mac D's and a small basic washroom in Fafie's

Wheelchair access:Yes in both venues, but Fafie's has restricted space

Music:Loud and thumping in Seán Mac D's; French and crooning in Fafie's

Atmosphere:Friendly in both restaurants

Food provenance: Fafie's makes a point of importing buckweat from Brittany and using organic eggs in fresh batter.

The menu in Seán Mac D’s has some provenance including Sligo trout and Irish artisan ice creams

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