Home-inspired Afro-Caribbean food to feast on and to share in
What's the story with Bless Up?
With a history more steeped in emigration than immigration, Dublin has often sadly lagged behind many even comparably-sized UK cities when it comes to the diversity of food on offer. This has started to change and change quickly in recent years, but we’re still playing catch-up in many terms. That’s a big part of why Bless Up caught our eye as it opened in Tallaght back in September: this isn’t the first restaurant in Dublin to offer Sub-Saharan African food, but the scale of its fit-out suggests plenty of confidence that it could be the best.
The flashy décor speaks to the ambition to make this a community space as much as a restaurant, and there’s an impressive speaker setup in place to allow Bless Up to host all kind of music night events. The Nigerian-Irish and Nigerian-British owners have plenty of front-of-house experience from the likes of Carluccio’s and Fifty50 but this is their first time manning a kitchen.
Where should we sit?
Expect to walk in and be wowed – the space here has been transformed with low lighting and red curtains pairing with the smart seating and marble-effect tables for a premium late-night lounge vibe. To the rear there’s an area closed off by a sliding glass door that can be booked as a private room. The tables lining the walls have cosier seating than the wooden chairs of the handful of two-tops out on the floor; we’d recommend sticking to the wall that runs perpendicular to the bar to avoid the minor annoyance of an Instagram-friendly flashing welcome video projected on the wall.
What's on the menu?
We knew going in that half the mains were going to need our attention so for starters we stuck only to suya, a spiced and grilled meat dish made in this case with a mix of beef, chicken and goat. You’ll more often find this marinated in the characteristic dry-rub – a deep-flavoured powder of roast peanuts and spices including paprika and cayenne – and barbecued on a skewer but here it’s doner-thin slices layered up in a bowl. The meat is tender and juicy, teeming with flavour from the rich rub; the three kinds of meat make for a mouthful-to-mouthful variety that keeps it from ever seeming one-note. This is a great starting salvo apart from the tragic side salad – it’s there to add colour, but it’s really just taking up space.
For all its pitching itself as an Afro-Caribbean restaurant, there’s no doubt Bless Up skews solidly to the former part of that hybrid. Jerk chicken on the mains list is the major exception: this Jamaican dish is a classic of Caribbean cooking, spicy-sweet from a lengthy marinade in an allspice and hot pepper-dominated mix and smoky from the grill. Those duelling flavours play well off the thigh’s fatty richness but we would have liked a little more heat – especially given they asked if we wanted it really spicy (of course). “Rice and peas” (actually kidney beans, as per tradition) on the side are simmered in coconut milk and the same spicing for a complimentary, more mellow flavour – these work really well together.
Back to Nigeria for the efo riro, a seasoned and sauteed spinach with full flavours from a fried onion and tomato base. If we’re honest we had lowest expectations for this plate but the depth of flavour had us eating our words along with our greens. Our server suggested a side of goat meat to go with it and who were we to argue – this was a definite highlight of Bless Up’s simple satisfactions, gorgeous grilled slices of succulent meat with a sprinkle of spice. Goat remains a real rarity in Dublin restaurants and it’s a great shame – the quality take on it offered here is one of the major reasons to haul yourself out to Tallaght. Both efo riro and jerk chicken come served with a generous side of fried plantain – here they cook the starchy banana varietal to a caramelised crisp that’s positively addictive.
It's good news for the greedy that two of the mains are also available in smaller side form, and that’s how we opted to enjoy the jollof and chakalaka – both come with plantains and grilled meat when ordered as a full-fledged main. The jollof – a staple West African rice dish seasoned with spice and simmered in tomato sauce – is delicious, a warming feed of flavour we can see working especially well on those coming colder nights. Chakalaka, a spiced-up riff on baked beans from the south of the continent, has more of that stewed vegetable complexity and gets great texture from the corn and peas flecked through the bowl. We would have happily eaten both of these as mains.
We can’t tell you how much our eyes lit up when our server said the dessert of the day was a plantain split – we weren’t through with this delicious fruit yet. Three scoops of caramel-drizzled vanilla ice cream straddle the two wedges of banana, and if it isn’t quite as crisp-charred as its savoury dish cousins, it at least has all the same sweet softness. Puff puff is the menu option we most often saw praised by diners across early reviews on Google and TikTok and it’s hard to argue: these icing sugar-dusted deep-fried dough balls are airy, indulgent, and absolutely addictive dipped in the caramel on the side. Both desserts have a kind of confident simplicity that makes for a nice finish to a meal characterised by layered, complex flavours – a pared-back wind-down to send you out into the street well and truly stuffed.
What about drinks?
The wine list is relatively slim and with little of any real interest – we expected to see a bit more South African options but it gets no more attention than the other typical regions with three to four bottles and one or two by-the-glass each. Prices are fine, but there’s nothing here that’s good enough to count as a bargain.
How was the service?
Lovely! Everyone we spoke to seemed genuinely delighted people were trying the place out and keen to know how we’d come across it. Staff are attentive and all over the menu, quick with suggestions to help you try out as much as you can. Everything was ready in super-quick order too, though there was no speed the other side in trying to hustle us out of the place – you will feel very welcome here.
What was the damage?
What we ordered came to much more than enough for two – though we still ate every bite – at a very reasonable €88. Portion sizes are plentiful, so if you’re watching your spend you could happily fill up on just a main with plenty of change from a twenty. Families will be keen to know they’re very kid-friendly with high chairs on standby and a special kids menu offering goujons, jollof or fried rice for €6.95.
And the verdict?
At a time when slimming margins and uncertain outlooks are (understandably) pushing more and more new openings to go for the same style of small plates, it’s a thrill to see something as unique as Bless Up land in Dublin. There’s a clear confidence to both the space and the cooking here that seems to suggest those behind it know they’ve got something special on their hands. This is great hospitality, home-inspired food to feast on and to share in. With the broad range of cuisines that fall under the Afro-Caribbean remit we can only hope they continue to add to the menu – already since we’ve visited they’ve added gizdodo, the Yoruba delicacy of gizzards and plantains, and honestly we’re checking the timetables to Tallaght as we write.