Capel Street gets a sleek new steakhouse
What's the story?
Bovinity just appeared, fully formed, on social media at the end of June, and opened its doors to influencers and celebrities (Keith Duffy himself graced their presence on opening night) mere days later. With the neon signs, industrial chic fit out and high end cocktail shots it was clear who their target demographic was, but we struggled to get more meaningful information out of them - like who owns it and where they were sourcing their food.
We eventually found out through the grapevine that it's the same owners as All Bar Chicken across the road and in Stoneybatter, which we've never been to due to the absence of free-range chicken, and were told that their steaks are sourced from FX Buckley. Things were looking up. With all the eye-catching Instagram posts and reels, including some from those there on an #invite, you guys wanted to know what it was really like, and whether Hawksmoor have anything to worry about.
Where should I sit?
It's a big space and there are loads of seating options. High tables seating a max of four run almost along the full wall leading from the front to the back, where you'll find lower tables and semi-private seating areas that would be ideal for small groups.
There's also a lovely booth at the front inside the window that would seat at least six, but they might let you push it to more. Generally we're more fans of natural light than neon, so we'd be out front, but if you're trying to hide, talk in private or carrying out an illicit affair, head to the back. Decor is sleek, modern and industrial, and they've done a great job on the fit out.
What's the food like?
This is a steak house for the TikTok generation. It's simple, accessible, and there's no fancy information on there, like the provenance of their meat, fish and vegetables, or who the chef is. If you're a fan of Featherblade on Dawson Street you'll find the menu is quite similar here, with a little less flair.
We started with some "bits" - very good Nocellara olives, and slightly over-toasted sourdough with truffle mascarpone. Let's be straight, there is absolutely no need for bread in a steakhouse, but it disappeared almost as fast as it hit the table - that "just sat down and starving" hunger tends to do that. If however you feel as Irish Times food critic Corinna Hardgrave does about truffle oil (that it has no place in civilised society and should be extinguished from the planet) you might want to avoid it. (Read more about that here)
On "oyster shooter" came in a pleasant Asian style dressing flecked with chilli and sesame, but when we asked where it was from we were surprised to hear "France". Even in months not ending in R (the generally accepted best months to eat oysters) there are plenty of farmed oysters available across the country, so we can only assume the choice to use imported ones was for cost reasons, and this one was very small.
A starter of burrata, mixed heritage tomatoes, splodges of puréed basil and an olive crumb on the other hand hit all the right notes. A clever addition of pink pickled onions brought welcome sour notes to the plate of sweet tomatoes, creamy cheese, fragrant basil and that crunchy crumb, and this is exactly the type of summery starter you might want before diving into a steak - with a whole ball of burrata you could even share it.
Our other starter of "prawns pil pil" had enough chilli, garlic and lemon to wake up the most jaded palate, and we unashamedly cleaned the plate with extra bread, but the pedantic in us was irritated by the fact that this is not pil pil - there is no lemon or any form of creaminess in pil pil. Either cook the original dish in bubbling hot, spicy, garlic oil (bread on the side thanks), or just call this prawns with garlic, lemon and chilli and we'll chill out.
Onto mains and there was a choice of three steaks (one sharing), a double smash burger, and spiced aubergine for the veggies with dukkah and whipped feta. We started with the burger and were very pleasantly surprised at how good it was (we thought the steak would be the star). Two juicy patties (they would have been better if they were more pink but it takes a brave soul to do that with Environmental Health Officers breathing down your neck), excellent burger sauce, a single leaf of lettuce, cucumber pickle, melted cheese (there could have been more) and a nicely toasted brioche bun was almost faultless, and any burger chasers will want to add this to your beef patty bucket list.
For steak we'd been mentally eating the sharing Côte de boeuf (a bargain at €55-€65 we were told) since Bovinity opened, so there was much dropping of faces when we were told it wasn't on. Instead they had a sharing striploin or a t-bone, priced from €55 - €85, depending on the size). We didn't fancy paying top dollar for either of those cuts, so went with a 'chef's cut' which we were told was flank (€17), and a rib-eye (€23).
The chef's cut arrived and we doubted if it was actually flank - it had none of the grain, texture or mounded shape you would associate with that cut of beef. Instead it was very soft and tasted woolly, as if it had been cooked for too long in a water bath. It looked and tasted more like Featherblade, which is a beautiful cut when cooked right, but something had gone wrong here.
The rib-eye was much better, cooked perfectly medium-rare, nicely browned on the outside, and great flavour throughout. They're not huge steaks, but as city centre prices go it felt like value for money. We've been told by multiple people that steaks come from FX Buckley, and we're not sure why they're not shouting about that. The only problem with both steaks was the sickly sweet onion marmalade that came on the side, and would be far better suited to a cheese plate than a chef's cut of meat. It was completely over-powering, ruining the flavour of the meat, and we advise you to scrape it to the side or ask them not to bring it at all.
Especially because the sauces are so damn good. Both the béarnaise and chimichurri were textbook perfect, so automatically adding the onion stuff to plates is ill-judged. There's also peppercorn, mushroom, and we were very, very tempted to order the bone gravy.
Chips were good too, skin on, crisp and hot. You can get them naked or with truffle and parmesan (see earlier note on truffle oil), and one is clearly more wanton than the other so choose based on stomach space/satiety needed.
You're going to want to try the onion strings (more wanton abandon here), which consist of long strings of deep fried onion, just cooked so there's still the slightest crunch, and although we thought they would have benefited from being a touch crispier, this is a side of the "take it away from me or I'll keep eating it" variety.
The only bum-note came with the 'creamed spinach', which first came as a ramekin of 'dry spinach', flaking around our forks like tiny pieces of crepe paper. We called staff and said we didn't think it was right, and were told "that's how it comes", and had to persist until it was taken back to the kitchen and shown to the chef. Eventually we were delivered actual creamed spinach, and it was actually very good, with the perfect amount of cream and nutmeg - we were just left scratching our heads as to how it went so wrong first time round, and why staff weren't falling over themselves to take this dry pot of flaky greens away from us.
There are two desserts on the menu, both incredibly heavy for following steak and chips (and the rest), and we think they would have been wise to have something simple, straightforward and lighter on there to end with. Instead you've got a pistachio and apricot bread and butter pudding with crème anglaise and vanilla ice-cream. It's very good, we'd happily eat it for breakfast, lunch or dinner, but after a heavy meal you'll want a spoon or two at most.
The other one they're calling "The Marathon - If ya know ya know". If ya don't know, it's a bowl of very good (but again very heavy) chocolate ganache with whole peanuts, a light, creamy topping (somewhere between whipped cream and ice-cream), and more chocolate on top along with edible gold leaf. The same applies to this one - a few spoons and you'll be begging for mercy (or a second stomach). Basically you will not need a dessert per person, but they're worth trying.
What about drinks?
We were told by past visitors to try the bell pepper sour and it was excellent, with all the tang, bitterness and smoky depth you would hope for. It's clear that work and energy has gone into the cocktail list, and there's loads on there we would have liked to order, including their version of a Negroni with Valentia Island vermouth, and a Bloody Mary with tomato and pickle juice. The beer list is short but not the usual suspects either, with local options from Rascals and the Dublin City Brewing Company. An Irish craft cider would complete the picture.
Wines are sadly less exciting, and the two we tried tasted sterile, more like something from a supermarket than a quality steakhouse. We had to send back a Mencia as it tasted off, as if it had been open too long. A freshly opened bottle was better, but as Mencia goes this was not a great example. An Italian blend wasn't much better, and we found ourselves wishing we'd stuck to cocktails. Clearly they're focused on price/value rather than trying to create an award-winning wine list, but they could do better, and to not have something big like a Malbec or Cabernet Sauvignon by the glass seems like a big oversight.
How was the service?
Mostly pleasant but after having to call the server a couple of times to complain, there was a subtle sense of "here go the Karens" again. Situations could have been handled with more care and genuine apologies - instead we felt as if we were the problem. We've had far, far worse service experiences, but some training is needed.
And the damage?
€145.50 before tip for enough food to comfortably feed three hungry adults with a drink each. As the city centre goes right now it felt like decent value, but would be more so if they just tightened things up a bit.
Bovinity has brought a bit of glam to Capel Street, and many, many Instagrammable/TikTokable opportunities for anyone who walks through the door, phone firmly in hand. There's a lot of potential here if they can tighten up the food and iron out the creases in service, and we imagine they're looking at more sites, so hopefully this is their number one focus before any expansion plans. There's plenty of gaps in the Dublin market when it come to casual, quality dining experiences, on the lower side of spend and the higher side of fun, and if they put all of their energy into elevating the experience here, and forgot about getting screentime on influencer accounts, we think they'd get to where they need to be much sooner.
123 Capel Street, Dublin 1 bovinity.ie