Orwell Road: The Coppinger Row Guys Go South
Lisa Cope - 24th July 2022
What's the story?
At the end of 2021, the Bereen brothers who owned Coppinger Row (and still own Charlotte Quay), announced that the city centre restaurant where Queen Bey herself once ate, would shut its doors for good at Christmas, after thirteen years of trading. Rather than blaming bad business or anything pandemic related, a press release explained that the building was due to be redeveloped by the landlord, and the now familiar cries of "no more hotels" started to ring out. Memories were shared, the final Flo and Basys were ordered, and the doors shut, but soon rumours started to swirl about a follow up on the southside.
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They publically announced the details of Orwell Road in March, just five days before opening to Rathgar locals and anyone wanting to make the journey, and we were pleased to see Daniel Hannigan, formerly head chef in ATF fav Mister S, was leading the kitchen. They opened to plenty of positive reviews, but the prices were so punchy we reasoned we'd leave it for a special occasion. You guys had other ideas, and when we let our ATF Insiders choose the location of our next review, Orwell Road was the easy front-runner, so we set off for Rathgar for a weekend lunch.
What's the food like?
The menu is à la carte, which will please you if you're tired of set and tasting menus, or the demand to order three courses each including a main course (always the most boring part, is it any wonder we just want all the small plates), but prices are high, and they feel like a shock in somewhere pitching themselves as a "casual neighbourhood restaurant".
Some of the opening prices have risen even further in the four months since opening. Two croquettes have gone from €6.50 to €8. Côte de boeuf has gone from €70 to €75. A side of Ballymakenny spuds have gone from €5 - €6. Obviously inflation is high and food costs are rising, but consumers have never been more concerned about what's in their pockets. Meat and fish mains were €30, €34 and €35, and comparing this to other neighbourhood restaurants, in Locks, Spitalfields and Circa mains all stay below €30. In Volpe Nera the most expensive ones just hit €30. With all that in mind this level of pricing feels ambitious.
A snack of mackerel tart (€5 for two bites) with chilli ponzu was a snappy start, with fish aged by Karl Whelan in Saltwater Grocery down the road, and plenty of citrus tang from the ponzu and heat from the chilli. The only problem was a very soggy bottom - perhaps they went OTT on the dressing or it sat for too long before serving.
Onto starters and their signature seems to be the "chicken and scallops", served in two parts. On a top plate comes a deboned chicken wing stuffed with its own flesh - pleasant and richly flavoured, but added crunch like the version at Library Street would improve it.
On to mains and this is where the prices really started to sting. A €34 plate of turbot with girolles, taramasalata and chicken butter sauce (the same as earlier), came with a piece of fish no bigger than a small child's hand, seven mushrooms, a few leaves of savoy cabbage, and taramasalata so salty it was unpleasant. You will most likely need a side (€6), meaning this is a €40 dish with potatoes. We know inflation is high but this was a hard one to swallow. The fish was cooked perfectly, snow white and flaking away, but for that kind of outlay we expect a lot more.
We'd seen the new dish of kombu-cured cod with wakame and ginger on their social media feeds, and it's a visual delight, but we felt the flavours were too tame. While the wakame and ginger were pleasant and delicate, it was missing a punch of flavour that the meaty, ultra-fresh fish needed to cut through it.
The Cais na Tire tortellini in a burnt onion broth is a beautiful dish. The pasta is on the thicker side, and a thinner one would let the flavour of that beautiful sheeps' cheese filling shine through a bit more, but the broth is deep with a smoky, allium-rich flavour, and cheese and onion are bedfellows for good reason.
Where should I sit?
It's a small room and we imagine it gets quite cramped when all of the tables are full. The booths at the window and along one side are by far the most spacious, and the bar seats look appealing too, with a view directly into the kitchen.
We were slightly disappointed to see that the Andarl pork croquettes we'd seen online had been demoted to "ham and cheddar", but they were very good, with spicy wholegrain mustard giving them an edge, and a cloud of more cheese on top. They worked out at €4 each though, which felt excessive.
The other dish, BBQ monktail with chorizo-stuffed razor clams and seafood bisque felt a lot more substantial for a euro more (€35), with the charred, meaty fish coming away in thick chunks and the baby courgette still al dente, but the razor clams tasted of chorizo and sodden bread, any fish flavour lost to the other ingredients. Monktail isn't something you see often, so it was nice to see it here and cooked so well.
Lift that and underneath scallops swim in a chicken butter sauce, with slabs of the crispiest chicken skin imaginable scattered on top. We thought that the scallops would have been a stronger dish on their own without the distraction of the wing - perfertly cooked, plump and juicy, in a sauce so rich (and a little over-salted) you'll want to tread very lightly with your spoon. The chicken skin is a masterclass in how to do it. No weedy shards around here, this is some seriously crunchy business.
As a side we ordered the obligatory spuds - these ones from Ballymakenny in Louth, with a black garlic mayo that was more sweet than pungent. They were good, appearing to be fried multiple times, but some were crunchy while others were soft and/or chewy. The crunchy ones were excellent.
Dessert is something that Hannigan has always excelled at (at one point during the pandemic he opened a dessert truck), so we presume at some (if not all) of the creations here are his. We tried his vacherin in Mister S, and it's gone up a notch again, this one with hibiscus on the outside, and strawberry sorbet and vanilla on the inside. Breaking it open with a spoon is very satisfying, as is eating it. Smooth sorbet, jammy strawberries and crunchy, scented meringue make for a delicately delicious dessert that's bang on season.
A salted caramel tart was also excellently executed, but again there was too much salt in parts. A cherry sorbet was bright and deeply flavoured, with macerated cherries underneath, and together they made for a lovely combination.
We hadn't ordered the third dessert, elderflower ice-cream with raspberry granita, but they brought it free of charge, saying we had to try it, and it was another perfectly pulled together plate - it's hard to imagine two more fitting desserts for an Irish summer than this and the strawberry vacherin. The flavours were pure yet punchy, the colour and taste of all the elements completely vivid.
What about drinks?
The wine list has plenty of interest, as well some less interesting crowd pleasers, and a large proportion is available by the glass, which is so nice (and relatively unusual) to see. We tried a Spanish blend from Cellar de Ruore, and the Sicilian Palmentino Rosso from Vino di Anna - the red won in the flavour stakes.
The cocktails list reads well too, and the 'Bamboo' with dry vermouth, Lillet Blanc, Fino sherry, banana and black cardamom cordial, and bitters was pleasant to sip while waiting for snacks, but on the sweeter side.
How was the service?
Our server could not have been more full of warmth, smiles and helpful information, and apart from one grave suggestion of serving the Vino di Anna over ice because they didn't have one chilled, didn't put a foot wrong. Dishes came out at a perfect pace, but we were the only ones there so can't speak for a busier period.
And the damage?
A few euro short of €200 before tip for two adults and a child, which is into the realm of two-Michelin-starred Chapter One by Mickael Viljanen, where you could have lunch for two with a nice bottle of wine for the same price.
There's a lot to like about Orwell Road, but much that could be improved too. As noted in the Woodruff once over a few months ago, the lack of a good value lunch menu is a major turn off for customers, and just bad business (Woodruff have since introduced one), and may explain why we were the only ones there for Saturday lunch. Dinner appears to be hopping and that night they were fully booked, but those weighty prices are easier to stomach in the evening. A good value lunch menu, an early evening menu, and more generosity in the plates of food would go a long way towards ensuring the longevity that Coppinger Row had.
48 Orwell Road, Rathfarnham, Dublin 6
Tue - Thu 17:00 - 22:00. Fri - Sat 12:00 - 15:00, 17:00 - 22:00. Sun 13:00 - 20:00.