All the potential in this roadside restaurant with wood-fired food and great cocktails
What should we know about Eleven?
Named in tribute to its roadside position just off the N11, the latest addition to John Farrell’s portfolio of Dublin diners (Dillinger’s. The Butcher Grill, 777, Amy Austin, and the late Luna are among the others) opened above Whelehan’s Wines in Loughlinstown late last month.
Farrell’s MO is well-established by now, offering up conceptual dining experiences fronted by his own painstaking attention to interior design detail. At Eleven, it’s a smart-casual neighbourhood vibe they’ve gone for, with two distinct relaxed spaces set either side of a zinc-topped wraparound bar with counter dining. The Butcher Grill’s Atish Bhuruth has been drafted in to design the menu in an Executive Chef capacity, and the wood-fired grill as well as a couple of other menu items clearly bear his mark.
Where should we sit?
The bar’s 20-or-so seats make a good choice for solo diners or duos who delight in watching the magic of cocktails in the making - more on those later - while the main open dining space is saved for four-top tables. The combination of deep red walls, warm wood tones and geometric rugs make this main area an especially welcoming first sight as you walk through the door.
Down the back, there’s another area with two high tables that seat ten each, and are tailor-made for bigger groups or those who don’t mind sharing. Both areas are bright, open spaces by day and more intimate lamplit affairs by night - in the evening, there’s an ambient slide guitar soundtrack provided by a house musician tucked away in the corner.
What’s on the menu?
It’s a simple and streamlined menu neatly divided into small plates and mains, with standalone sections for the wood-fired grill and sharing steaks and fish dishes. The small plates mostly skew cold and cured, with seafood a recurring theme.
We started with a hamachi ceviche bathed in blood orange, red onion, ginger and tapioca pearls. While the firm-fleshed fish was flavourful and well-textured, the salsa was more mush than fresh, with overly assertive ginger spoiling the balance. Between that, the fridge cold temperature of the fish, and the sad puddle on the plate, we couldn’t help but wonder if this had been assembled earlier rather than being made to order.
We were surprised to see a summery dish like heirloom tomato, peach and burrata salad on offer in April, blue as the skies outside may have been. Neither the multi-coloured tomatoes nor the peach - served in both lightly-salted slices and a concentrated gel - at their very best this time of year, but the more muted flavours still played well off the mild bitterness of black and pink radish and lightly pickled lengths of fennel.
Amidst all that colour we almost missed the measly mound of burrata, less the centrepiece ball we expected than a subtle spoonful. We couldn’t fault the flavour, but the serving size did seem to take the idea of a small plate a little too far, especially at €14 a plate.
There were no notes needed for the sourdough on the side, with its crispy-chewy balance, and irresistible whipped smoked honey butter - a smartly sweet match for all of the small plates’ acidic overtones - keep this one on hand to balance out all the citrusy sauces.
Bhuruth’s a noted fan of the flavours wood-firing brings, so be sure to order at least one of those options for the table. We found the prawns the most tempting of the bunch (there's also tuna and steaks), and our expectations of "grilled prawns with lemon and herb oil" came true on the plate. The blackened antennae speak to the high and dry heat of the grill, caramelising the meat to emphasise the natural sweetness of the shellfish, and a zippy lemon and herb dressing complemented the smoky-sweet meat for a dish that really gets across what Eleven is trying to do.
We thought the same about the wolffish, definitely one of the menu’s standout attractions for us. You don’t see this ugly bottom-dwelling monster on Dublin menus all too often - more’s the pity, as its imposing size and diet of scallops and crabs make for sizeable and delicately sweet fillets. They’re given excellent treatment here, grilled to a perfect crust and bathed in a bonito butter so tasty we ate it by the spoonful. It's a great pairing of quality ingredients cooked in a simple style that let's it all sing.
On the side we went with the parsley-buttered heritage carrots and smokey beans. Your choice of the six options is served with the wood-fired grill plates, while the other mains come unaccompanied - a distinction that left the wolffish especially feeling a little short-changed, especially with the €30 price tag.
Both sides satisfied but neither were overly exciting - most of the choices have been brought over from The Butcher Grill’s menu and there’s a sense that these are meant more as supporting players than standout dishes in their own right.
Also imported over from that menu is the Sauternes crème caramel, the only dessert option on offer (an unspecified selection of cheese for €14 is also an option). It’s a pretty and unpretentious plate, with the sweet wine-soaked golden raisins bursting with beautiful, boozy flavour, and the simple custard flan offsetting the rich intensity of the caramel sauce.
What about the drinks?
Wine is supplied by Whelehan’s downstairs, with bottle prices starting out reasonable and heading sharply upward from there: if there’s an occasion to celebrate, you can definitely do it here. By-the-glass options are fairly middle-of-the-road, though the earthy and fruit-forward Château Beauchene Côtes du Rhône we tried worked well with the smoked sweetness of the prawns. If you're there for a long lunch from Wednesday - Friday and the wine list doesn’t take your fancy, they also allow you to bring in anything from downstairs for €10 corkage. That got our attention.
What caught our eye more were the cocktails. The bartender who’s developed them has previously been in 777 and Dillinger’s and was enthusiastically training up colleagues on his creations while we were in. He’s just as keen to walk you through what’s in them and tailor them to your tastes, right up to very considered non-alcoholic twists - an essential skill in a location likely to play host to plenty of designated drivers.
The concoction he crafted for our non-drinker was a well-balanced tart-sweet blend of yuzu juice and pineapple shrub, finished with a liberal misting of orange blossom water from a perfume bottle - as much a performance as a pour. From the alcoholic options we tried a brown butter-washed bourbon, sage and celery bitters short-serve, with a delicious depth of nutty flavour. It wouldn’t be the worst idea in the world to skip dessert altogether and drink it instead.
How was the service?
Friendly and informal, nicely grounding the atmosphere - a room like this might easily feel stuffy if the staff weren’t as warmly welcoming and ready to chat. Bar seats are best to get the full experience if you want to explore the cocktail options, while the main area has a slightly more formal feel with suited servers mainly keeping a low profile.
And the damage?
Our bill came in at €138 before tip, a little on the steep side for a feast that didn’t quite fill and three drinks (one N/A) - but we feel like we're saying that about everywhere these days. You could easily go beyond €100 per person with a few more small plates and another round of drinks.
There’s €2 oysters with €2 off cocktails from 17:00 - 19:00 Wednesday - Friday if you wanted to make it a little more budget friendly - or head in for the Sunday roasts, ranging from €23 to €27 and served with all the trimmings, to try it out for less.
What’s the verdict on Eleven?
There’s all the potential in this roadside restaurant, even if it might need a little more time to seek out and settle into its own niche. For a location like this to work, it’s going to need to become something of a destination - landing the Sunday roasts and making the most of the back terrace through the summer months might just make it that.
We’d love to see the same attention and unique personality put into the small plates, but for now we're betting the cocktails, top-quality mains and those Sunday roasts will be enough of a draw for the curious to keep Eleven buzzing for the foreseeable.
Bray Road, Loughlinstown